Bills and ballot initiative aim at legalizing medical marijuana in Utah


A BYU graduate’s proposed 2018 ballot initiative effort could lead to the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah. At the same time, a Utah County lawmaker says he will introduce a package of bills aimed the production and sale of cannabis-based medicines.

Jake Dimmock, co-owner of the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary, works on balancing the pH level of the soil used to grow new medical marijuana plants, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Seattle. After voters weighed in on election day, Colorado and Washington became the first states to allow legal pot for recreational use, but they are likely to face resistance from federal regulations. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

D.J. Schanz leads the initiative as the campaign co-director of the Utah Patients Coalition, which is sponsoring the ballot.

SB73 stalled in the 2016 legislative session. The bill would have allowed use, production and sale of the drug for medical purposes only. Advocates for legalizing medical marijuana are rallying together in hopes of getting the drug legalized this year via the ballot, bypassing the legislature altogether.

Schanz said this action is necessary.

“This is a case where the legislature’s will does not align with the public’s will,” he said.

The initiative needs 113,000 signatures by April 15 in order to be included in November’s ballot. A recent poll conducted by the Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics shows that 75 percent of Utah voters either strongly or somewhat support the initiative.

As of Jan. 12, the coalition had 85,000 signatures, leaving 28,000 to go by mid-April. Schanz is hopeful.

“Polling has been very consistent and trending in our favor,” Schanz said. 

Some legislators who favor legalizing medical marijuana don’t support the ballot initiative. Among them is Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who said the language on the ballot would make it easier to pass laws allowing recreational use of the drug — something he strongly opposes.

“It is a masterpiece of deception. It calls itself medical on the one hand, and on the other it allows others to get it without qualification.” Daw said. “It absolves doctors of all responsibility.”

While Daw opposes the initiative, he confirmed he is preparing his own package of bills that would legalize the production and medical sale of cannabis-based medicines in Utah this legislative session.

These bills would additionally allow the Department of Agriculture to grow the product experimentally and give terminally ill patients access to cannabis. 

“My goal by the end of the year is to have every single patient with a legitimate condition to have access to a safe and reliable product,” Daw said.

In our view, the issue for the Utah Legislature is how to enable the use of marijuana extracts to help people who are suffering, without increasing the likelihood of misuse at a time when drug abuse in the United States is at epidemic proportions, especially among youth,” the LDS Church First Presidency said in a 2016 statement.

While the LDS Church publicly opposed SB73 during the 2016 session, it did not oppose SB89, a bill that would have legalized cannabis-based medicines in the state of Utah. Both bills failed.

Whatever the result of the legislative proceedings, the coalition plans on going forward with the ballot initiative as long as it gets the signatures it needs. 

“It’s great for the thousands of patients that have conditions like epilepsy to no longer be considered criminals and to get the support they need,” Shanz said.


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