After a contentious battle, Utah’s medical marijuana initiative has finally been approved to go before voters.
Gary Herbert, governor of Utah, listens during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. (Photo by Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
After a weeklong battle over signatures collected for Utah’s medical marijuana ballot initiative, voters will officially get to decide whether their state will legalize medical cannabis in November.
In May, the ballot initiative’s fate was in question when opponents asked voters who had supported it to remove their signatures. Utah’s ballot system is set up so ballot initiative organizers have to collect enough signatures to make up 10 percent of the previous election’s voter turnout in 26 out of the 29 districts in order to qualify for the ballot. The initiative collected 153,849 signatures in 27 out of the 29 electoral districts, according to elections records, significantly more than the required 113,000. It was one of several legalization initiatives submitted to the state for consideration for the ballot.
“We’re ecstatic that our opponents’ efforts to thwart the democratic process failed and we’re looking forward to having a robust and hefty debate in the coming months,” said DJ Schanze, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which organized the initiative
The opposition group, known as Drug Safe Utah, is led by the Utah Medical Association (UMA) and also includes members from the conservative group Eagle Forum and the Salt Lake City DEA’s office. In a door-to-door campaign, they managed to convince just 1,425 voters to remove their names from the petition, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
As the race to collect and remove signatures ramped up in recent weeks, both sides accused the other of shady behavior. The opposition filed complaints with Utah’s Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox claiming that supporters of the bill had paid voters not to remove their signatures. In turn, Drug Safe Utah was accused of misleading voters into believing that the initiative was a front for the legalization of recreational use.
Among those who seem to have been convinced by Drug Safe Utah’s message is Governor Gary Herbert who voiced his opposition to the medical marijuana initiative saying, “I believe the consequences of this initiative, even if they are unintended, will do more harm than good.”
Herbert prefers to stick with a recently passed right to try law, a limited law which allows patients with less than six months to live to use the state Department of Agriculture’s approved cannabis. Yet in April, Herbert said he would not stand in the way of the medical marijuana initiative and allow Utahans to decide.
“Let’s have the vote. Let’s have the debate,” Herbert said. “I think it’s good to have the people’s voice heard.”
Recent polling on medical cannabis suggests that voters will approve the initiative in November, with 77 percent of Utahans voicing their support. For their part, the UMA has warned of the dangers of thinking about medical marijuana as a catch-all cure.
“UMA is NOT opposed to the idea or use of cannabis in medical settings where regulations are in place to discourage misuse and where the policy follows research and medical science can give adequate assurance of safety and efficacy,” the UMA said. “The current proposed initiative is policy pushed by the marijuana industry, for the marijuana industry.”
The opposition campaign is being financed in large part by a local real estate developer and pharmaceutical executive, Walter Plumb III. He has donated more than $100,000 to the campaign and is known locally for distributing hundreds of anti-cannabis propaganda booklets in the 1990s.
In addition to challenging the signatures collected by ballot organizers, Drug Safe Utah and Plumb have taken the unprecedented step of bringing a case to the state’s Third District Court to claim that a medical marijuana program would violate the Controlled Substances Act.