As it does seemingly everywhere else in America, medical marijuana enjoys broad support in Utah — deep-red Utah, conservative Utah. Here in Utah, where U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, unapologetic Trump supporter, thinks medical marijuana is a good thing and once laced a statement with weed references, 76 percent of the same voters who haven’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1997 say they’d support a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis for medical purposes.
Luckily for them, they may have the chance to vote on just that this fall, but they also might not. Yes, that’s vague, and it’s confusing. As is the situation unfolding in Utah, where both the campaign to put medical marijuana on the ballot and a competing campaign to keep medical marijuana off of the ballot — not to defeat medical cannabis on its merits, but to deny voters the choice at all — have spent the last few weeks accusing each other of dirty tricks.
Let us try to explain. The Utah Patients Coalition submitted 200,000 signatures from registered voters ahead of an April 16 deadline. Only 113,134 need to be verified valid for Utah’s medical marijuana initiative to appear on the November 2018 ballot — and so, tentatively at least, the signature campaign has won. The initiative has qualified. All that’s left is convincing voters to vote for it.orrin
Or so you’d think, but you would be wrong! In Utah, voters have until May 14 to change their minds and ask the county clerk to remove their names from the petition. And that’s exactly what Drug Safe Utah is trying to do.
An effort of the Utah Medical Association, a group representing doctors, some familiar nationwide anti-cannabis zealots and, it would appear, a Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force, Drug Safe Utah has hired counter-canvassers to go door-to-door to coax at least some of those same 76 percent of pro-cannabis voters to have second thoughts.
Their main arguments, other than weed is bad and that medical cannabis will “open the door” to recreational marijuana (both a hard arguments to make, considering the Utah medical-marijuana measure prohibits smoking and severely limits who can access cannabis, though it does allow for home grow) is that the measure’s supposed supporters have no idea what’s in the petition they signed.
“They don’t know what’s in it,” said Gayle Ruzicka, a cannabis opponent and local political activist, in comments to the Salt Lake Tribune. “People need to know what they’re signing and what they’re voting for.”
“You are dumb and don’t know what you did” seems like a difficult sell anywhere, particularly in a place where a relatively simple proposition has such strong support. But if not a good case to make, Drug Safe Utah has resources to make it. The campaign is supposedly paying canvassers $25 an hour to go door-to-door to cast doubt on the proceedings — and there’s at least some institutional support.
The Mormon church, a potent political force in Utah, where almost 61 percent of citizens are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, hasn’t outright endorsed the opposition measure (which is a smart thing for a tax-exempt religious organization to do) but has praised its arguments.
Tensions ratcheted up this week, as both campaigns officially accused the other of deception and bad-faith efforts. On Wednesday, the Utah Patients Coalition released video of what it says is a Drug Safe Utah canvasser. The canvasser claims that the medical-marijuana supporters forged signatures to put the initiative on the ballot — an accusation they flatly deny.
For their part, on Wednesday, Drug Safe Utah also officially accused the Utah Patient Coalition of attempting to pay their canvassers to turn over what signature forms they’d gathered. The complaint, filed with the state Attorney General’s office, was in turn blasted as “fraudulent lies.”
What does it all mean? Who to believe? Keep in mind what’s at stake here – merely the chance to allow Utah voters, more than three-fourths of whom say they approve of medical marijuana, to have their say on the ballot.
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