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Medical Marijuana Wins in Utah

Utah Medical Marijuana

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Medical Marijuana Wins in Utah

Cannabis wins in conservative state, but more needs to happen for patients to be able to access any.

As they say: Utah voters have spoken. Now, the only question — and the only obstacle in between sick people and legal access to medical marijuana — is whether Utah lawmakers and the powerful Church of Latter Day Saints, for practical purposes the day-to-day shot-caller in the state, will listen.

Utah was one of several states to consider medical marijuana voter initiatives on Election Day on Tuesday. Proposition 2, which would allow sick people to access limit amounts of cannabis under strict restrictions, was approved, with 53 percent of voters in favor to 47 percent opposed, according to preliminary results published by the Salt Lake Tribune.

While those results are a little less positive than what some early polling indicated — one poll from the spring, prior to a campaign season full of dirty tricks, misleading push-polling, and a failed effort to remove Prop. 2 from the ballot, revealed 66 percent of voters in favor — seeing medical marijuana approved in Utah, one of the most conservative states in the union, is nonetheless a significant accomplishment.

“It’s a time for Utahans to celebrate,” said Christine Stenquist, a medical-marijuana patient and longtime advocate in Utah, at an Election Night party on Tuesday, according to the Tribune. “When Utah flips, the whole country will be watching, and you all did that,” she told a crowd of supporters.

But Tuesday’s victory presages what promises to be a lengthy, contentious, and possibly acrimonious struggle in the state Legislature—which, unlike other states with ballot initiative processes, wields immense power over what final form Utah’s medical-marijuana law will take.

In Utah, the Legislature can amend voter-approved laws as it sees fit. In Utah, the Legislature is more or less controlled by the LDS Church, according to political observers. And though church leadership has promised to abide by the results, as the Tribune pointed out, Prop. 2’s victory may turn out to be “largely symbolic.”

“State legislators were expected to overwrite Prop 2 if it succeeded at the ballot,” the newspaper pointed out.

In early October, with the election still a month away but Prop. 2’s eventual success considered a foregone conclusion, Gov. Gary Herbert, state lawmakers, and medical-marijuana advocates gathered for a feelgood press conference in which a compromise bill was announced. The compromise bill, however, is more restrictive than Prop 2, with less guaranteed patient access — and there was no guarantee that it would become law in the form advertised.

For what it’s worth, the Mormon church issued a statement on Election Night acknowledging the victory and pledging to move forward with a viable plan — that is, the compromise plan flagged by advocates as overly restrictive and insufficient.

“Our expectation is that prompt legislative action will address the shortfalls of the initiative which have been acknowledged by advocates of Proposition 2,” said Marty Stephens, the church’s spokesman, according to the Tribune. “The legislative alternative is better public policy and has broad support among Utahns.”

That’s an interesting take: The voter-approved effort is bad, the lawmaker-approved effort is good. What’s next? Plan on likely restrictions including a ban on homegrow, a ban on smokeable flower and a dispensary system run by the state with few locations in far-flung Utah. It would be great to be disappointed, but that’s the setup Utah’s power structure has blessed — and it’s not one that delivers much cannabis access.

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