ST. GEORGE – A lawsuit that sought to block a measure legalizing medical marijuana in Utah from getting on the ballot was dropped by opponents Monday.
Though this potential roadblock has been removed for the time being, the fight over legalizing marijuana for medical use in conservative Utah will continue all the way to Election Day and possible beyond that.
The Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah decided to drop the lawsuit, but could refile at a later date, coalition attorney Blake Ostler told the Associated Press.
The lawsuit was originally filed in May after the ballot initiative was certified by the lieutenant governor’s office.
With the lawsuit out of the way for now, it clears the way for the medical marijuana ballot initiative, now called Proposition 2, to appear on the November ballot.
If the measure passes, the coalition could refile its lawsuit and fight to have the law overturned, Ostler told The Salt Lake Tribune. The coalition argues that Utah voters don’t really know what’s in the initiative.
Members of the coalition, which includes the Utah Medical Association, Utah Eagle Forum, Sutherland Institute, Utah Chiefs of Police and other groups, have argued the ballot initiative will pave the way for recreational marijuana use in Utah.
Among the reasons the coalition dropped the lawsuit are changes taking place at the federal level, Ostler told Fox 13 News.
Last week, the Food and Drug Administration approved the marijuana-based medication Epidiolex for use in treating rare forms of epilepsy in children. The medication is CBD oil-based and lacks the psychoactive THC component that also comes from marijuana.
While marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Drug Enforcement Agency, CBD-based products have become readily available on store shelves. The legality and enforcement of the law has become murky.
In Utah, store-bought CBD oil was addressed in a recent law passed by the Legislature.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition that has pushed for the ballot initiative, called the lawsuit frivolous and said proponents were looking forward to Election Day.
The prospect of medical marijuana in Utah is opposed by Gov. Gary Herbert and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Medical marijuana legalization in Utah has enjoyed high levels of support among Utah voters according to polls conducted by The Salt Lake Tribune and Utah Policy over the last year.
Support has generally ranged around 75 percent from poll to poll, though a recent poll by the Tribune and Hinkley Institute of Politics shows support has dipped to around 70 percent.
Mounting opposition to the ballot initiative in recent months is believed to have been a factor in the reduced support.
David Magleby, a political science professor at Brigham Young University, gave the measure 50-50 odds of passing.
“This is a Republican state, a conservative state and a moderate Republican governor and a very conservative Republican legislature are opposed to it,” he said. “And then there’s the LDS church that’s involved. For some people I think that position is going to be definitive.”
Magleby said the church’s involvement on medical marijuana has been more intense than on any other political issue in its home state in the last two decades.
The LDS church has said the ballot initiative raises some “serious adverse consequences” if approved, while Herbert does not support how the initiative is written. He says it doesn’t allow room for proper study and would put the state at odds with the federal prohibition on marijuana.
Supporters are planning to persuade voters by focusing on how they’ve narrowly tailored the proposal. People with medical approval couldn’t smoke marijuana if the initiative passed, but instead would be limited to edible forms such as candy, topical forms like lotions or balms, and oil in electronic cigarettes.
“The idea that it’s not smoked is a very Utah thing,” Schanz said. “That’s something that Utahns have a high aversion to; not so much the rest of the country.”
Nationwide, 31 states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana. Oklahoma voters approved a measure on medicinal cannabis last week.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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