A bill put forth in the Utah state legislature on Feb. 27 would force any medical marijuana initiative passed in this November’s election to have a seven month delay before it went into effect, on top of the other delays already written into the bill.
Despite the election being nine months away, one Utah lawmaker is already planning to halt the medical marijuana ballot initiative expected to appear on this November’s mid-term election ballot.
A Republican representative introduced a bill today that would force any citizen initiative on the ballot to go into effect — if passed — at least seven months after the November election. While Rep. Brad Daw’s bill is broad enough to target all initiatives that will be placed on the ballot by the citizens of Utah, supporters of the medical marijuana effort say it’s no coincidence the anti-pot lawmaker’s bill is attempting to shut down a successful effort early.
“Representative Brad Daw has reached a new low in his quest to insert himself and ego between the will of the voters and patients. He now wants to change the rules of the game, in the middle of the game,” said the Utah Patients Coalition in a statement on their Facebook page after news of the bill got out today.
“We think this is not only bad form, but bad policy,” wrote the Utah Patients Collective.
According to UtahPolicy.com, Daw claims the bill is because he doesn’t want people to pay two different tax rates in the same year. But after arguing his stance had nothing to do with usurping the will of the voters and was for simplicity in taxation, Daw referenced the last time lawmakers drew the ire of Utah voters. In 2008, a citizen initiative spearheaded by the state’s public school teachers association quickly repealed, with almost 60 percent of the vote, a school voucher law that the state legislation had passed in 2007. “No one has ever tried to deal with vouchers since,” said Daw, to UtahPolicy.com.
But in regards to the fate of Utah’s current citizen initiative for medical marijuana, the Utah Patients Coalition still needs to gather 113,000 signatures by April to make the November 2018 ballot.
Most people are expecting the Utah Patients Coalition to succeed with getting the initiative on the ballot. The Salt Lake Tribune said last month that support for legalizing marijuana in Utah “hasn’t budged,” with 76 percent of voters saying they were in favor of the move. This all follows the surprising news last fall, when conservative standard bearer and Utah U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch came out in favor of medical marijuana research and even pushing it as an alternative to opioid-based painkillers.
The actual ballot initiative put forth by the Utah Patients Coalition is also extremely strict. It will protect terminal and seriously ill patients via a doctor’s recommendation, and they will be able to access two ounces of flower or 10 grams of oil in 14-day periods. Utahns won’t be able to smoke it and there will be no more than one dispensary per 150,000 residents. If a patient doesn’t have a dispensary within 100 miles of their home by Jan. 1, 2021, they will be issued a permit to grow their own. There won’t be any taxes on the product for patients and the fee structure will offset the state’s expenses in maintaining the program.
The nation’s leading marijuana advocacy organizations are not impressed with the news coming out of Utah.
“If Utah officials need more time to implement approved ballot initiatives, they should do so on a case-by-case basis, not by issuing an unnecessary blanket delay,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri told Cannabis Now.
Altieri says if Utah’s medical marijuana initiative were approved as currently written, medical marijuana patient identification cards wouldn’t be required to be issued until 2020 and they wouldn’t have to start accepting industry applications until that year, “which should be more than enough time to get the proper infrastructure in place.”
“It is hard to imagine any valid reason why lawmakers would need a further seven-month delay on top of that to implement something that has already been successfully implemented in close to 30 other states,” said Altieri.
Other Washington, D.C.-based policy reformers echoed Altieri’s statements.
“It looks like a pretty clear-cut way for the legislature to basically veto power over issues that [they] didn’t want to address,” said Morgan Fox, the communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, in comments to Cannabis Now.
Fox said that it appears illogical to require further delays for cannabis programs, given that many states have proven that the programs can be built without substantial delay or resources needed.
“Even though marijuana issues do obviously do touch on taxation issues, there’s a clear precedent that pretty much every single medical program in every state has been cost efficient and be able to pay for itself,” Fox said.
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