Against most odds and nearly all local mores and cultural norms, medical marijuana remains wildly popular in Utah.
According to a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll, 64 percent of likely voters support allowing sick people to use cannabis under a doctor’s supervision — which is what Proposition 2, on voters’ November ballots, would legalize.
Cannabis’s popularity remains high, despite steadfast opposition from almost the entire Utah power structure, including the Mormon church, and despite a counter-legalization campaign that appears to be resorting to outright lies in order to thwart legal marijuana.
In the days leading up to the Labor Day holiday, Drug Safe Utah, a coalition that includes the Utah Medical Association, appeared to fund a telephone polling effort that included misleading and outright false information that was presented to likely voters as if it were fact.
And this week, a Salt Lake City radio station pulled from the air a paid advertisement — also paid for by Drug Safe Utah — after receiving a flood of complaints that the radio ad, too, was also false and misleading.
The ad features Bill Hamilton, a physician who serves as president of the Utah Medical Association. As dramatic piano music plays, Hamilton informs listeners that marijuana is already legal in Utah and can be purchased over the counter.
This is either a deliberate lie or a bafflingly inaccurate understanding of Utah’s current laws, which allow terminally ill patients to access cannabis in limited forms, and also allows people to buy CBD oil, which has virtually no THC.
An ad campaign like this may also be illegal. According to the Tribune, it’s a violation of state law to “knowingly” publish “false statements regarding election issues.”
Malicious or ignorant, it is no isolated incident: Hamilton’s misrepresentation is similar to the anti-Prop. 2 poll. (The phone call also informed voters that medical marijuana was already available in Utah, that Prop. 2 was a step towards recreational marijuana and that Prop. 2 would allow “anyone” to use, possess or grow marijuana.)
On Wednesday, the Tribune reported that Broadway Media, which had been airing the ad on 101.5 The Eagle (KEGA), pulled the ad “until we can substantiate its truthfulness,” Broadway president Kayvon Motiee told the newspaper.
The ad also prompted an official complaint to Utah elections regulators from the Utah Patients Coalition, which is sponsoring Prop. 2.
The state’s director of elections told the newspaper that the complaint — and the ad — are under investigation.
“These new efforts are part of a larger trend on [Drug Safe Utah’s] part to lie to the public,” the organization’s complaint says, as per the paper. “While we respect those who disagree with the legalization of medical cannabis in Utah, the Utah Patients Coalition considers the use of false statements to be repugnant, especially when their effect would be to continue criminalizing patients in Utah.”
For its part, Drug Safe Utah insisted that the ad is accurate and blasted the pro-marijuana set for its “effort to silence debate.”
According to the Tribune, Drug Safe Utah paid $3,000 to air the ad on KSL, an NBC-affiliate station in Salt Lake City, between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11. The organization also paid another $2,500 to air the aid on a local talk-radio station. Both of those stations are owned by the LDS Church — which is opposing the measure — and officials with both stations said they’d continue to air the ad.
TELL US, do you think advertisements should be allowed to spread misinformation?