ST. GEORGE – Last week Gov. Gary Herbert said he will “actively oppose” a medical cannabis ballot initiative. On it’s way to getting on the November ballot, Herbert said the initiative is flawed and that it could open the door to recreational marijuana use in Utah.
Herbert’s statement against what’s known as the Medical Cannabis Initiative was issued by his office Thursday. The statement followed the signing of HB 197, Cannabis Cultivation Amendments. HB 197 allows the state to grow marijuana for medical research and terminally ill patients. It was a companion bill to HB 195, which allows terminally ill patients a “right-to-try” to marijuana-based medications.
“I fully support the science-supported use of substances that, under medical supervision, can improve lives,” Herbert said Thursday. “Consequently, I support efforts to allow medical researchers to better understand the medical properties of cannabis. That, in turn, will allow physicians and pharmacists to prescribe and dispense cannabis as a controlled substance in accordance to the highest standards of medical science. Our new law, HB 197, is an important first step in this effort.”
The Medical Cannabis Initiative, on the other hand, is “significantly flawed,” Herbert said.
“It lacks important safeguards regarding its production and utilization and would potentially open the door to recreational use,” he said, adding that he believes the ballot initiative, no matter how well-intended, will do more harm than good.
“Because our new law, HB 197, promotes medical science and public safety in ways absent from this initiative petition,” Herbert said, “I will actively oppose the Medical Cannabis Initiative.”
Herbert’s worry is shared by many of Utah’s state-level lawmakers, including those in Southern Utah.
Rep V. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, previously said he believes the initiative to be “too lenient,” making it too easy for someone to get a medical cannabis prescription.
“If its medicine, then let’s treat it like medicine,” Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said on repeated occasions, referring to having regulations governing prescriptions and dosage.
Vickers co-sponsored HB 195 and HB 197, both of which have been signed into law.
There are no shortage of claims concerning marijuana’s medical applications and its ability to ease pain related to various medical conditions. And while Utah lawmakers say they are empathetic to patient needs, they also say the bulk of these claims are anecdotal and lack needed scientific evidence.
Like Herbert, they are also concerned that the ballot initiative may open the way for recreational marijuana use in Utah.
While the state’s lawmakers have their doubts about the ballot initiative, a recent poll published by Utah Policy showed 77 percent of Utahns support the idea of legalized, doctor-prescribed medical marijuana.
According to the poll, 46 percent of Utahns “strongly” support legalizing medical marijuana where 31 percent are in the “somewhat” supportive range. Twenty-one percent of those polled were “strongly” and “somewhat” opposed while a remaining 3 percent responded that they “don’t know.” The poll’s margin for error is 4 percent.
The poll mirrors results of other medical marijuana polls held in Utah throughout 2016, which have typically garnered around 75 percent support.
The Utah Patients Coalition, the group that introduced the ballot initiative last year, was not thrilled that Herbert opposed their efforts.
“While we appreciate the Governor weighing in on medical cannabis, his comments are another example of what Utahns have grown tired of: politicians standing between patients and their physicians,” said DJ Shanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition.
“Saying the most conservatively drafted initiative in the entire country would ‘potentially’ open the door for recreational use is a scare tactic that has no basis in truth,” Shanz continued. “Neither the Legislature nor the Governor should undermine the clear will of voters as demonstrated in over a dozen public polls. Utahns are ready to vote on this and set aside the misguided positions of elected officials who are apparently comfortable with criminalizing sick and suffering Utahns.”
Alliance for a Better Utah voiced its disappointment over Herbert’s decision over Twitter Monday.
We were incredibly disappointed to hear that @GovHerbert does not support legalizing medical marijuana. Utahns overwhelmingly support MM, and such a response from the head of our state is tone deaf. #utpol #MedicalMarijuana
— Better Utah (@betterutah) April 2, 2018
Let me be clear, I support a scientifically-backed, measured approach to legalizing medical marijuana in Utah. I signed HB197 as a 1st step in a measured process. I don’t support the current ballot initiative because it poses a host of unintended legal and law enforcement issues. https://t.co/KXl2K0Rehc
— Gov. Gary Herbert (@GovHerbert) April 2, 2018
76% of Utahns support the @utahpatients medical marijuana initiative. The initiative would help countless suffering Utahns, not just those who are terminally ill. It would create a private dispensary system, rather than another clunky DABC.
— Better Utah (@betterutah) April 2, 2018
The ballot initiative needs over 113,000 signatures to qualify to get on the November ballot. Last week the Utah Patients Coalition reported it had collected nearly 160,000 signatures.
The Utah Patients Coalition is currently in the process of getting those signatures verified in the counties they were gathered.
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