Top Shelf Dope: The Fight to Legalize Medical Marijuana in Utah

In 21 states, including Utah, there’s an imperfect path to euro-stepping the normal legislative process and going directly to the people. It’s called an initiated state statute, and it has the power to create new state law through a ballot initiative process. It takes 113,143 signatures to get an initiated state statute on the ballot in Utah. Once on the ballot, the public votes to decide whether the proposition should become law or not. It’s like when your parents tell you not to eat candy before dinner, but your grandpa, who DGAF, sneaks you a Jolly Rancher because eff authority.

The Utah Patients Coalition, a political issues committee, led the effort to collect the required number of signatures to get Proposition 2 on the ballot in November. Ballotpedia, a nonpartisan and nonprofit online political encyclopedia, summarizes Proposition 2 as follows:

“Proposition 2 was designed to legalize medical marijuana for individuals with qualifying conditions. Individuals could receive a medical marijuana card with recommendation from a physician. Under the measure, a medical marijuana cardholder could not smoke marijuana or use a device to facilitate the smoking of marijuana. During any one 14-day period, an individual would be allowed to buy either 2 ounces of unprocessed marijuana or an amount of marijuana product with no more than 10 grams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol. After January 1, 2021, individuals with medical cards would be allowed to grow six marijuana plants for personal use within their homes if there are no dispensaries within 100 miles.”

Unless you’ve been spending your entire summer on Donovan Mitchell’s Instagram, you know the various actors in this fiery debate featuring accusations of fear-mongering, religious overreach, and distortions of truth. Lawsuits have been filed and battle lines have been drawn. It’s heated and complicated. On one side stands the Utah Patients Coalition, Marijuana Policy Project, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) Utah, and Libertas Institute; and on the other side stands Drug Safe Utah, Utah Medical Association, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Utah Eagle Forum.

(For additional resources, we found these links to be very helpful and informative.)

The Beehive is dedicated to following this debate, gathering stories, and facilitating meaningful dialogue from now until election day. We want to share the stories of patients and families who will be affected by the outcome of Proposition 2 in November. And we're going to need your help. Should Utah legalize medical marijuana? Is Proposition 2 the right approach? Please reach out to clint@thebeehive.com and rachel@thebeehive.com to get us pointed in the right direction.

We’re also asking the leaders and organizations at the center of this debate important questions and making those questions public (see below). We’ve reached out to these folks directly requesting a response, and the answers we receive will be published without edit or comment from The Beehive. We believe Utahns have a right to know the intentions and motivations of the major players on both sides of this issue.

Utah Patients Coalition

  • Drug Safe Utah says “initiatives to legalize marijuana in other states have led to increased drug use among youth, higher risk of impaired driving and an increase in hospital emergency department visits, among other significant health and safety concerns.” Is it the position of the Utah Patients Coalition that this statement is inaccurate and chances are slim that what the statement describes will happen in Utah if Proposition 2 passes?
  •  
  • Opponents of Proposition 2 claim this initiative is nothing more than a ruse to legalize recreational marijuana in Utah. Are you concerned that Proposition 2 could lead to medical marijuana cards being fraudulently obtained for the purpose of engaging in the recreational use of marijuana?
  •  
  • After the fate of Proposition 2 is decided, will the Utah Patients Coalition advocate for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Utah?

Utah Patients Coalition has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read the organization’s answers.

Drug Safe Utah

  • At a recent Drug Safe Utah press conference, Sister Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the Primary general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said, “Proposition 2 does not provide the protections for children and youth and families.” What protections are lacking in Proposition 2 in regard to children and families, and what type of protections would you like to see in order to support an initiative legalizing medical marijuana?
  •  
  • At the same Drug Safe Utah press conference, Dr. Adam Taintor of the Utah Medical Association said, “Proposition 2 is not about medicine. It is a poorly disguised initiative to allow recreational use into the state.” Outside of someone fraudulently obtaining a medical marijuana card in the same way prescriptions are fraudulently obtained to get opiates, what evidence exists to support this claim?
  •  
  • What message does Drug Safe Utah have for patients and families who believe this group is attempting to thwart the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah through over-the-top and unachievable standards of legalization that they believe have been put forth by this coalition?
  •  
  • After the fate of Proposition 2 has been decided, will this coalition disband or turn its attention and resources to helping solve Utah’s opiate crisis?

Drug Safe Utah has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read the organization’s answers.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

  • Elder Jack N. Gerard of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently said, in reference to Proposition 2, “The Church does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana, if doctor-prescribed, in dosage form, through a licensed pharmacy.” Under federal law, it is illegal for a doctor to prescribe medical marijuana to a patient, and it is illegal for a pharmacy to distribute medical marijuana. Of the 30 states that have legalized medical marijuana, none have required prescriptions from doctors or distribution through pharmacies. As with Proposition 2, states have instead only required a physician’s recommendation and have set up state-regulated dispensaries as means of distribution. Why should Utah go beyond what other states have done and require doctors and pharmacies to break federal law? Most political experts agree the federal government is years away from legalizing medical marijuana. Why make patients and families wait years to get access to medical marijuana in order to meet the standard put forward by Elder Gerard?
  •  
  • Elder Gerard also recently said, in reference to Proposition 2, “We are deeply concerned by the history of other states that have allowed for medical or recreational use of this drug without the proper controls and have experienced serious consequences to the health and safety of their citizens.” Can you elaborate on the serious negative consequences to the health and safety of citizens living in other states to which Elder Gerard is referring?
  •  
  • Could The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints clarify why it never sent an email urging its members living outside of Utah to vote against similar medical marijuana initiatives that have appeared on the ballot in states across the country?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read the organization’s answers.

Libertas Institute

  • Opponents of Proposition 2 have accused Libertas Institute and other organizations in support of the initiative of “using images and stories of suffering patients to disguise their true aim, opening another market for their products and paving the way for recreational use of cannabis in Utah.” Will Libertas Institute push for the legalization of recreational marijuana in Utah in the future?

Libertas Institute has responded to The Beehive’s question. Read the organization’s answers.

Utah Medical Association

  • Would the Utah Medical Association support any path toward the legalization of medical marijuana that didn’t include mandating prescriptions from doctors or distribution through pharmacies?
  •  
  • Michelle McOmber, Utah Medical Association CEO, recently said, “The marijuana initiative appearing as Proposition 2 on the ballot this November does not strike the appropriate balance in ensuring safe and reasonable access for patients while also protecting youth and preventing societal harms.” Could you elaborate on how Proposition 2 endangers Utah’s youth and brings harm to society?
  •  
  • Does the Utah Medical Association support the use of cannabis as part of an ethical patient treatment plan?

Utah Medical Association has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read the organization’s answers.

Marijuana Policy Project

  • Why has Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., invested so much money and resources to getting Proposition 2 passed in Utah?
  •  
  • Does Marijuana Policy Project believe recreational marijuana should be legal in Utah, and will you return to The Beehive State in an attempt to accomplish this aim?
  •  
  • What are the biggest and most relevant changes states have reported after legalizing medical marijuana? Has everything been positive?

Marijuana Policy Project has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read the organization’s answers.

Gov. Gary Herbert

  • You recently stated that you will vote against Proposition 2, saying “most rational people understand there are some problems with the initiative that need to be fixed.” Can you elaborate on the concerns you have and the problems you believe are contained within Proposition 2?
  •  
  • You also recently said that you want the Legislature to take action on medical marijuana no matter the outcome of Proposition 2, saying “one way or another, we’re going to get a law on the books that makes sense.” If Proposition 2 passes, do you have any concerns about how the public might react to its governor and Legislature coming in after the fact and undermining a law they voted to enact? What does the perfect medical marijuana law look like to you?
  •  
  • With 30 states having already legalized medical marijuana, why has it taken so long for Utah to take a leadership role and put forward a solution for the patients and families who need it most?

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert has responded to The Beehive’s questions. Read Gov. Herbert's answers.

Utah Speaker Greg Hughes

  • With 30 states having already legalized medical marijuana, why has it taken so long for Utah to take a leadership role and put forward a solution for the patients and families who need it most?
  •  
  • If Proposition 2 passes and Gov. Herbert calls a special session to fix it, what kind of outcome would you be hoping to achieve?
  •  
  • If Proposition 2 fails and the Legislature is asked to settle the issue of legalizing medical marijuana, what would be the ideal bill you’d like to see passed?

Utah Speaker Greg Hughes has not responded to The Beehive's questions.

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser

  • With 30 states having already legalized medical marijuana, why has it taken so long for Utah to take a leadership role and put forward a solution for the patients and families who need it most?
  •  
  • If Proposition 2 passes and Gov. Herbert calls a special session to fix it, what kind of outcome would you be hoping to achieve?
  •  
  • If Proposition 2 fails and the Legislature is asked to settle the issue of legalizing medical marijuana, what would be the ideal bill you’d like to see passed?

Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser has not responded to The Beehive's questions.

(Design: Josh Fowlke) (Editor: Rachel Swan)