Utah voters are likely to get a chance to vote for the legalization of medical cannabis in their state this fall, even though Gov. Gary Herbert and several other leading state politicians remain opposed to cannabis reform. Last year, the Utah Patients Coalition (UPC) began circulating a petition to place a question on this year's state election ballot that will allow voters to decide for themselves whether or not to legalize medical cannabis in the Beehive State.
State law requires over 113,000 signatures statewide, as well as a specific number of signatures from 26 of the state's 29 senate districts, in order to successfully place a measure on the general election ballot. Data from the state Lt. Governor's Office shows that the UPC collected over 200,000 signatures, and has validated a sufficient number of signatures in 27 districts. Before the ballot initiative is final, the Lt. Governor must officially certify it by May 15th.
Utah legislators have already passed several medical cannabis bills this year, but the regulations imposed by these laws are extremely restrictive. The state has legalized the sale of hemp-derived CBD oils, as long as they are tested and labeled under state regulations. More comprehensive forms of medical cannabis are only available to terminally ill patients who have six or fewer months to live. The state also enacted a limited law allowing limited cultivation and production of cannabis just for these terminally ill patients, but final sales of these products are a long way off.
The UPC's ballot measure would enact a much more comprehensive medical cannabis program, allowing patients to obtain up to two ounces of cannabis from a licensed dispensary every two weeks. The initiative would also allow patients who live more than 100 miles from a dispensary to grow up to six plants. The initiative would still prohibit the smoking of medical cannabis, however.
The petition drew immediate opposition from Gov. Herbert, who has vowed to oppose the measure. Last month, Herbert released a statement saying that he supported medical cannabis in general, but that he believed that the ballot measure "lacks important safeguards … and would potentially open the door to recreational use." The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), a major influence in the state, has also announced that they will oppose the ballot measure.
In an unscientific survey of "political insiders" in the state, UtahPolicy found that 80% of Republicans said they believed that opposition from the LDS Church would decrease the chances of the ballot measure's success. Democrats disagreed, with 56% of those polled believing that the Church's' opposition would not dampen support for legalization. A more comprehensive poll of the state found that 77% of Utahns are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.
"We felt like we had a very supportive populous and it was just a matter of getting out there and getting the job done," UPC director DJ Schanz said to Marijuana Moment. "We feel very strongly, despite Utah being a very red state — probably the reddest state in the nation — that [passing the measure is] going to send a very clear message to the rest of the country that, regardless of political affiliation, patients should have access to the medicine that they need and not be characterized as criminals."