Over the past year, a cannabis advocacy group in Utah has been collecting signatures on a petition to allow the Beehive State to vote on whether or not to legalize medical cannabis. The Utah Patients Coalition has reportedly collected enough signatures to place the initiative on this year's ballot, but the idea of a comprehensive medical cannabis program is a step too far for many conservative politicians in the state.
Last month, Utah lawmakers passed three bills allowing the cultivation, sale, and use of medical cannabis in the state. This legislation is extremely limited in scope, however, and only allows the use of non-smokable cannabis products by terminally ill patients. The ballot measure being pushed by the Utah Patients Collective is much more expansive, and would allow patients with a number of qualifying conditions to use medical cannabis in the form of edibles, oils, or vapes.
Last week, Gov. Gary Herbert released a statement saying that while he was in favor of the new, limited medical cannabis laws, he would actively work to oppose the more comprehensive ballot measure. "I fully support the science-supported use of substances that, under medical supervision, can improve lives," the statement reads, according to FOX 13. Despite this, Herbert said that the ballot measure "lacks important safeguards regarding its production and utilization and would potentially open the door to recreational use… I believe the consequences of this initiative, even if they are unintended, will do more harm than good."
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Collective, called the governor's statement "another example of what Utahns have grown tired of: politicians standing between patients and their physicians," the Standard-Examiner reports. "Saying the most conservatively drafted initiative in the entire country would 'potentially' open the door for recreational use is a scare tactic that has no basis in truth."
A recent poll has found that 77% of Utahns "strongly" or "somewhat" support the legalization of medical cannabis in the state, and an unscientific Facebook poll by the Standard-Examiner found that 96% of respondents said they supported the ballot initiative. "It's surprising that a governor who prides himself on being so close to the people is ignoring the will of three-quarters of the state who are in favor of medical cannabis managed by a doctor," Christine Stenquist of advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) said to FOX 13.
"We have the support of the people," she continued. "We have the signatures for the ballot. And come November, we are going to see that Utahns are fed up with platitudes and insulting half-measures from weak-kneed politicians who have shown nothing but apathy for those who suffer."
Schanz has said that his organization has collected around 160,000 signatures on the petition, more than the 113,143 necessary to get the question placed on the ballot. County clerks have already verified 122,000 of these signatures, and are working to confirm the rest by an April 16th deadline. Once the ballot initiative is approved, Schanz told the Standard-Examiner that he intends to move on to "step two," which involves "running a traditional campaign to convince those on the fence — and to get the rest out to vote."