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Utah’s MMJ Patients Are Taking Decriminalization to the Polls

A bag of dried buds labeled "For Medical Use Only" provided by Obamacare


Utah’s MMJ Patients Are Taking Decriminalization to the Polls

Utah is proof positive of a maxim in drug-policy reform: Never trust a lawmaker with medical cannabis. Utah medical marijuana patients just learned that the hard way — now they’re taking aim at the 2018 ballot.

Earlier this year, it appeared the Republican-controlled political establishment in Utah was ready to give medical cannabis some serious consideration. But rather than pass a medical marijuana law, lawmakers instead opted to merely allow universities to study the drug, before (maybe) considering allowing sick people to access it… sometime in the future.

This charade (a bait-and-switch by any other name) was derided by critics as a “dog and pony show,” particularly since federal law still makes cannabis extremely difficult to study.

The Utah Patients Coalition won’t be fooled again. On Monday, the cannabis advocacy group announced the launch of a ballot initiative campaign, with the aim of putting the issue before voters. And as results from other states around the country show, voters are decisively in support of the issue.

As the Salt Lake Tribune reported, UPC’s proposed medical marijuana initiative is similar in scope to a bill authored by former state Sen. Mark Madsen, who became an advocate for using cannabis to treat pain after he accidentally overdosed on a prescription fentanyl patch in 2007.

Madsen’s bill passed the state Senate, only to die in committee in the House. In the meantime, low-THC cannabis oil is available in limited quantities in the state. Meaning Utahans in need of high-potency cannabis must drive to Colorado — and risk arrest by bringing medicine back with them — or patronize the black market at home in the face of unreliable, inconsistent product and the risk arrest.

Madsen is a Libertarian, but he’s left career politics behind. He’s planning to move to South America, where he feels he’ll be able to live with more freedom than he can in the U.S.

If UPC’s petition campaign is successful and the measure makes it onto the ballot and is passed, cannabis patients in Utah would be able to access medicine beginning in 2020, with dispensaries to open the following year. The measure would allow access to sufferers of certain diseases, including chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, cancer and multiple-sclerosis.

That’s an improvement over some laws in effect in other states. But even if the medical cannabis measure is passed, most typical cannabis-related activity would still be illegal in Utah.

Smoking, for example — by far the most common method of ingestion anywhere cannabis is found — would be illegal. And it’s still unclear how widespread access to medical cannabis would be and if it would even be guaranteed for everyone desiring it.

As per the Tribune, there would be limits on both the number of dispensaries and the number of physicians permitted to recommend cannabis to patients.

In other states with such limits, including Minnesota and New York, those restrictions have severely limited enrollment in “official” medical-marijuana programs, with many erstwhile patients resorting to the black market.

In the meantime, UPC will need valid signatures from 10 percent of voters who participated in the most recent presidential election — and it needs them from 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts. To run such a campaign, UPC estimates it will need $3 million.

But it can be done. Last fall, medical cannabis measures won favor with voters in North Dakota and in Arkansas, two deep-red states, despite significant fundraising challenges.

TELL US, why do you think state legislatures are so resistant to decriminalization?

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