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Despite Strong Opposition, Utah Approves Medical Cannabis Ballot Initiative

Anti-cannabis groups' attempts to block the initiative failed, and advocates are now confident that Beehive State voters will approve the measure this fall.

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Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox just approved the inclusion of a medical cannabis initiative on this year's state election ballot, despite numerous challenges from anti-marijuana groups. The Utah Patients Coalition (UPC) collected over 150,000 signatures in favor of allowing residents to vote on a comprehensive medical cannabis program this fall, but many important figures in state politics, including Gov. Gary Herbert, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Utah Medical Association have all come out against this initiative.

In order to qualify for inclusion on a Utah state election ballot, a petition must have over 113,000 voter signatures, and must also meet specific thresholds in 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts. The UPC exceeded this amount, bringing in over 150,000 signatures, but Drug Safe Utah, an anti-cannabis activist group supported by the Utah Medical Association and the DEA, hired a team of canvassers to try and convince locals to sign documents rescinding their support for the measure.

Drug Safe Utah failed to convince enough of the petition signers to withdraw their support, so they filed an emergency injunction to stop Lt. Gov. Cox from approving the petition, arguing that it should be rejected because cannabis is still federally illegal. Despite the lawsuit, Cox approved the medical cannabis initiative this week, counting a total of 153,894 final valid signatures and 27 out of 29 valid Senate districts. Opponents of the initiative were only able to get 1,425 signatures removed from the petition.

"Today's announcement is [a] victory for patients and their supporters — including our organization — who have worked hard for years to make sure Utah law does not treat patients as criminals," Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, said in a statement. "We are pleased to learn that our opposition's shady tactics to remove signatures and mislead the public about what's in the Utah Medical Cannabis Act were unsuccessful. We respect those with differing opinions, but believe it's time for Utah voters to take the issue into their own hands and change this unjust law that criminalizes our loved ones and neighbors."

"We are excited, but not surprised, by the Lieutenant Governor's conclusion to certify the more than 150,000 signatures gathered and place the Utah Medical Cannabis Act on the November 2018 ballot," UPC Director D.J. Schanz said to Fox 13 Salt Lake City. Schanz added that he expects that Beehive State voters "will side with patients as they vote in November to allow them to legally and safely access medical cannabis under doctor supervision and without the fear of criminalization."

Still, a number of prominent state politicians are continuing to voice their opposition to the ballot measure. In a recent Republican primary debate, rival U.S. Senate candidates Mitt Romney and Mike Kennedy both said that they planned to vote against the initiative, even though each said that they supported limited medical cannabis legalization. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Romney said he felt that the legalization of medical cannabis was necessary, but also argued that the Utah Medical Cannabis Act was "going to open the door for corner stores selling marijuana-laced brownies and gummy bears," rather than allowing "real" doctors to prescribe cannabis-based medicines.