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Cannabis advocacy groups in Utah have been fighting hard to give Beehive State residents a chance to vote on legalizing a comprehensive medical marijuana program, but opponents of reform have been struggling just as hard to block them. Over the past year, the Utah Patients Coalition (UPC) collected over 200,000 signatures for a petition to place a medical marijuana initiative on this year's election ballot. The organization successfully followed all of the steps required to put the question to voters, but anti-marijuana groups have been using every trick in the book to prevent the measure from coming to pass.
Earlier in the year, Utah legislators approved some of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws ever seen in the country, allowing terminally ill patients the right to use non-smokable cannabis treatments. Any further attempts to expand the state's program have been shot down by lawmakers, and Gov. Gary Herbert announced that he will be actively working to oppose the ballot measure — despite recent polls finding that three-quarters of state voters support increased access to medical cannabis.
Drug Safe Utah — an anti-cannabis group backing the interests of local medical and law enforcement groups — is alleged to have used “deceptive tactics” to convince anyone who signed the petition to change their minds and officially withdraw their support; a charge which the group has denied. Regardless, these attempts failed, and the petition still has a sufficient number of signatures to be approved for a public vote.
Undeterred, Drug Safe Utah filed an emergency injunction to block Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox from approving the ballot measure, arguing that all forms of cannabis are entirely prohibited by the federal government. "It requires state employees to essentially violate federal law because they have to cooperate with people who are violating federal laws in selling medical marijuana," Blake Ostler, an attorney representing Drug Safe Utah, said to The Spectrum. "That in and of itself is a crime called aiding and abetting."
The Utah Patients Coalition has filed a motion seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, so that they have a chance to defend the initiative. “Having failed to remove enough signatures to stop our progress — and after engaging in deceptive tactics to persuade petition signers to rescind their support — the opposition has now filed a frivolous lawsuit,” said D.J. Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, to News4Utah.
“As the organizers of the medical cannabis campaign, we intend to defend against the opposition’s continued false claims and assist the Lieutenant Governor in helping the judge to see why this lawsuit should not undermine the ability of Utahns to vote on this issue,” Schanz continued. “Accordingly, we have filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit and eagerly anticipate the opportunity to preserve the right of Utah voters to say if patients and doctors should be criminalized for using cannabis when treating serious medical conditions.”