ST. GEORGE – A ballot initiative asking Utah voters to legalize medical cannabis was filed at the Lt. Governor’s Office Monday. It’s the first step in a long process that will include a series of public meetings and the gathering of over 113,000 signatures required to get the initiative on the 2018 ballot.
The coalition of patients and advocates pushing the initiative believe Utah voters will succeed in passing medical marijuana policy where the Legislature has not.
“We feel strongly here as patients and advocates that the time has come to help alleviate the pain and suffering of the most vulnerable in our society,” said DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition during a press conference Monday. “It’s time to start the process of legalizing medical cannabis.”
Earlier this year the Utah Legislature passed a bill allowing colleges and universities the ability to study the possible benefits of marijuana for medicinal use. However, some say the measure harms Utah patients because the time taken to research the potential benefits would also delay the help medical marijuana could provide them.
Attempts to get the Legislature to approve medical cannabis have not gone as desired, said Michael Melendez, director of policy for the Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank that supports the ballot initiative.
Melendez said, in part, in a statement Monday:
Unfortunately, our attempts have been unsuccessful, thwarted in part due to a political group of physicians who want patients to suffer while more taxpayer-funded research is conducted first — despite thousands of years of anecdotal evidence, and substantial research on cannabis conducted in places like Israel, demonstrating the efficacy and safety of cannabis. Patients cannot — and should not have to — wait any longer.
Last month the Utah Republican Party was presented with a resolution supporting medical marijuana during their May 20 convention in Sandy. It was soundly defeated in a 70-29 percent vote by state GOP delegates.
As reported by Fox 13 News, supporters at the time told stories of how medical cannabis has helped or could help them, while opponents called it a gateway drug and a step toward state legalization of recreational marijuana.
“This is not a medicine,” said Dr. Paul Clayton of the Utah Medical Association, who is also a GOP delegate who spoke against the resolution.
With the exception of a cannabis oil extract used to treat epilepsy (and has to be obtained in states where it is legal to sell), use of cannabis for medicinal purposes remains illegal in Utah.
Once filed with the Lt. Governor’s Office, the ballot initiative will be reviewed to make sure it is constitutional. A fiscal note concerning how much it may cost to implement policies advocated by the initiative, if passed, will also be produced.
Once reviewed by the Lt. Governor’s Office, seven regional public input meetings need to be held across the state, and a total of 113,143 signatures from across 26 of the state’s 29 counties need to be gathered.
The signatures need to be turned in by April 15, 2018, Schanz said. However, the coalition hopes to turn the signatures in Jan. 1, 2018, so no potential “monkey games are played during the legislative session.”
It is also anticipated that it will takes $3 million to push the initiative through.
Supporters of the initiative believe Utah voters will pass it, as previous polls have indicated the majority of Utahns support the idea of medical marijuana.
The Utah Patients Coalition released its own poll that showed an estimated 73 percent of respondents “would vote on a ballot initiative to allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis as a treatment for cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other serious illnesses,” according to a press release.
“Utahns are compassionate, and medical cannabis is ultimately a question of compassion. Voters in our state support allowing sick Utahns to legally and safely access medical treatments that alleviate suffering,” Schanz said. “The patients cannot wait any longer, so we are proposing a conservative medical cannabis initiative that Utahns across the political spectrum will approve at the ballot box next year.”
Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who sponsored this year’s medical marijuana research bill, told Fox 13 News Monday that he saw the ballot initiative as “completely unnecessary.”
“We have research going on right now and we intend to have treatment available, cannabis based treatment available, after the next session,” Rep. Daw said. “I’m puzzled why they’re going for it.”
Highlights of the initiative
- It would allow whole plant marijuana.
- Require physician oversight for prescriptions, as well as limit the number of physicians who can prescribe it.
- Limit how much medical marijuana a patient can obtain over a 14-day period.
- Limit dispensaries to one for every 150,000 residents. Also limit where a dispensary can be located.
- Caregivers who administer medical cannabis to patients must be able to pass background checks.
- Maintain prohibitions on the public use of cannabis, driving under the influence of cannabis, and smoking cannabis.
- Authorize the cultivation of cannabis without a license by a patient only after Jan. 1, 2021, and only if a cannabis dispensary is not operating within 100 miles of the patient’s home, as long as any cultivation is not within 300 feet of an area zoned exclusively for residential use or within 600 feet from a community location. This cultivation must take place in an enclosed and locked space.
- Qualifying illnesses include: HIV, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, epilepsy, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and other ailments.
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