ST. GEORGE – Supporters of a ballot initiative to legalize medical cannabis in Utah have decried an effort by opponents to persuade individuals to remove their names from petitions in favor of the initiative.
A video was released Monday that shows a canvasser making misleading statements on the doorstep of a petition signer.
The Utah Medical Association, one of the groups opposing the legalization of medical cannabis, denied that it hired the woman shown in the video. The unidentified woman makes misleading statements while attempting to get the woman who answered the door – and subsequently recorded her – to remove her support of the ballot initiative.
The UMA, along with the Utah Eagle Forum and others, created the group Drug Safe Utah and last week launched a campaign against the initiative. The campaign involves hiring canvassers and recruiting volunteers to go to the homes of petition signers and getting them to remove their signatures.
An argument made by the UMA is that individuals signed the petition without knowing everything written in the 28-page ballot initiative and wouldn’t support it if they did.
“A lot of the people that we have talked to, they had no idea what they were signing,” Michelle McOmber, UMA CEO and Drug Safe Utah president, told Fox 13 News last week.
Billed as an education campaign, UMA representatives have said they do not condone what is seen in Monday’s video and doubt that the woman was hired by the UMA.
“We doubt seriously that the video is one of our people,” Mark Fotheringham, a spokesman for the UMA, told KUER. “I mean, she’s not using any of our arguments and is totally distorting what the Drug Safe Utah campaign is trying to do.”
The UMA has argued that the medical cannabis ballot initiative will ultimately pave the way for recreational marijuana in the state. They also say the initiative will allow for a lack of state regulation over medical cannabis use and cultivation and would also let people without proper medical training grow and sell cannabis.
Canvassers are given a list of talking points from the UMA. According to Fox 13 News, canvassers who created their own lists have been fired.
Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, a major supporter of the ballot initiative, was behind the release of the video.
“The video is a powerful indictment of this appalling nullification campaign, which needs to cease immediately,” Christine Stenquist, TRUCE’s executive director, said in a statement accompanying the video’s release.
While the UMA has denied hiring the woman in the video, Dave Cromar, a St. George resident who helped gather signatures in Washington County, said he doesn’t believe it.
“The video gives you an idea of the kind of people they have working for them,” he said Tuesday, adding, “They (canvassers) have been given a script of talking points that makes no sense at all.”
Fotheringham told Fox 13 News the UMA had used third parties to hire canvassers and had no control over who those parties hire.
“If this is one of their canvassers, she is in serious need of training. None of what is portrayed on the video is in accordance with our name removal campaign,” Fotheringham said.
Cromar said he and his neighbors have already been approached by canvassers, adding that he believes they aren’t telling the truth about the medical marijuana initiative so they can get signatures removed.
“It’s underhanded and sneaky,” he said.
As for claims that petition signers did not know exactly what they were giving support to, Cromar said he and others worked hard to help signers understand what they were lending their names to.
To qualify for the November ballot, the ballot initiative must garner 113,000 signatures from across 27 of the state’s 29 senate districts. The threshold in 26 of those counties must also be met to reach the ballot.
While the initiative appears to have cleared the hurdle to get on the November ballot, Cromar said the UMA is targeting certain counties where the threshold was met by a small margin.
If they somehow managed to get enough signatures removed from two counties, he claims, it could derail the ballot initiative.
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