ST. GEORGE – Supporters for medical marijuana recently got the green light from the Utah lieutenant governor’s office allowing them to gather signatures needed for a ballot initiative aimed at putting the measure to a vote in the 2018 election.
Petitioners with the Utah Patients Coalition must collect a minimum of 113,000 signatures in 26 of the state’s 29 senate districts by January to get the proposed Utah Medical Cannabis Act on the ballot.
The group has scheduled a petition drive from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 1731 S. Convention Center Drive, St. George.
If passed, physicians would be given the go-ahead to prescribe cannabis for certain specified medical conditions. Some of the proposed qualifying medical conditions include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and autism. Recreational use would remain illegal.
The proposed initiative would allow limited numbers of dispensaries and cultivators. The placement of those facilities would be largely dictated by local zoning laws governing the footage between the buildings and any nearby schools or churches.
The drug would be highly controlled by the state and would likely have an established cap on the amount of medical cannabis patients can transport bringing it in line with a common 30-day supply on pharmacy drugs.
Public use would be prohibited as would driving while intoxicated by medical cannabis. Likewise, home cultivation and smoking marijuana by patients would not be permitted.
Topical products, oils, edibles and vaping supplies would be permissible under the measure.
The approval to gather signatures by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox followed several extensive meetings with election officials, state taxing authorities, and legal and budget analysts for Gov. Gary Herbert. There were also 10 public hearings held across the state.
Supporters of the initiative made two technical changes to the measure, based on feedback they received in the meetings with state officials, including removing a provision on tax deductions, in part, because it would have required a legal interpretation of federal tax law and action by state tax authorities.
Advocates said they plan to revisit the issue with lawmakers and the state Tax Commission if the ballot initiative passes.
For many supporters, legalizing marijuana isn’t about having the chance to get high, Dave Cromar, Utah Patients Coalition volunteer, said, but about healing their bodies to be able to live a functional life.
“I don’t know one person who uses cannabis for medical purposes who is looking to get high,” Cromar said. “They’re looking to just have a life, for clarity and for the ability to function like a normal person.”
Cromar has a 10-year-old son who suffers from severe epileptic seizures and after dozens of failed attempts to find medication, he said, he finally surrendered and placed his son on the cannabis oil. The boy’s life improved immediately.
“We had no life. Our son had no quality of life before we found the cannabis oil,” Cromar said. “Our son (was) unresponsive before, sleeping all day. He was unemotional and very much in a zombie state. But that all changed – all of it – when we got him off all those medications and started using the oil.”
Barry Short, a coalition volunteer, has seen close friends “healed” from severe conditions and diseases after using the cannabis, often, following a long history of taking other medications that all failed.
Short, the vice chair for Utah’s Libertarian Party, said he would like to see marijuana legalized for both medical and recreational uses.
“I don’t think the government has any business telling anyone what they can put in their bodies,” he said.
A former political candidate, Short said he thinks Utahns will pass the initiative once it’s on the ballot.
As to whether or not legalizing marijuana medically will eventually open the door to the legalization of recreational use, Short said he doesn’t think so, adding that he believes Utah will be one of the last holdouts in the nation.
“I think they will make marijuana legal but it’s probably going to be awhile,” Short said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, if the initiative passes Utah will become the 30th state as of July to legalize medical marijuana in some form, including its bordering states such as Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. The District of Columbia has also passed laws making the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes legal.
A summary of the initiative can be found on the Utah Patients Coalition’s website.
To sign the petition, donate or get involved in helping gather signatures the Utah Patients Coalition maintains a volunteer list with contacts throughout the state.
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