After months of direct and indirect opposition to legalizing medical cannabis in Utah, the Mormon church is recanting its stance. Despite that often fierce opposition, which included attempts to remove a medical marijuana initiative from the November ballot, Utah voters will decide in a few weeks whether to legalize Proposition 2 or not. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints remains steadfast in its opposition to Prop. 2. But it has thrown its support behind a so-called “compromise” bill. Regardless of what happens in November, Utah lawmakers have announced their plans to pass the bill that has LDS backing. The bill would establish one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country.
Utah Lawmakers Will Legalize Medical Cannabis “Compromise” Bill Regardless of Vote
A powerful coalition of religious organizations and conservative health professionals have been on the offensive against legalizing medical cannabis in Utah since advocates began collecting signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
One anti-legalization group, Drug Safe Utah, drew ire and official complaints for a series of false and misleading radio ads that painted Prop. 2 as a recreational marijuana bill in disguise. Another, the Utah Medical Association, filed a lawsuit on behalf of a prominent LDS member who publicly referred to medical cannabis patients as “morally repugnant,” claiming legal medical cannabis would violate his religious freedom. People claiming to represent the UMA and the County Clerk were also caught on video attempting to mislead legalization supporters into taking their names off the petition to put the question on the ballot.
Despite the campaign to derail medical cannabis in Utah, however, voters remained largely in favor of legalizing the drug. Polls consistently placed support at around 75 percent, and the issue will definitely be on the November ballot. And when it became clear that the opposition to Prop. 2 would not succeed, Gov. Gary Herbert starting talking about a “back up bill” should the measure fail.
In late August, Gov. Herbert was short on details about the back up legislation. But almost immediately, the Utah Patients Coalition began to suspect that the real intent of the backup was to give anti-legalization voices a chance to shape the legislation. And based on what we learned this week, it appears they were right to be concerned.
Utah Could Have The Most Restrictive Medical Cannabis Program in the Country
On Thursday, Gov. Herbert announced that he’ll call a special session for lawmakers after the midterm elections to pass a “compromise” medical marijuana bill. Herbert had hinted in August that lawmakers would have the opportunity to make changes to Prop. 2 even if it passed. And now it appears almost certain that they’ll do so.
In other words, regardless of whether voters say no or yes to Prop. 2, lawmakers will reshape the law into something that satisfies the LDS church, the UMA and other opposition groups, not the will of the voters. Indeed, the UMA and Drug Safe Utah reportedly helped write the so-called “back up bill” Gov. Herbert is not calling a “compromise.”
The compromise bill would revise Prop. 2 in substantial ways. It would eliminate patients right to grow their own cannabis. It would ban any form of medical cannabis that “appeals to children,” such as edible candies and sweets. Smokable forms of cannabis would also be prohibited. The compromise bill would also eliminate dispensaries. Instead, patients would have to obtain cannabis from the local health department or one of just five specialized pharmacies. Only specially-trained doctors and pharmacists would be able to recommend cannabis.
Legalization advocates, like the Utah Patients Coalition, are remaining optimistic, despite the restrictions in the compromise. In their minds, a medical cannabis bill that wouldn’t face opposition would be a welcome change of pace. They say, whatever gets cannabis into patients’ hands soonest.