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Utah Legislature Overrides Voter-Approved Medical Marijuana Law

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Utah lawmakers ignored the results of a statewide proposition on medical marijuana and recently rewrote the bill the way they wanted it. (Twenty20)
Utah lawmakers ignored the results of a statewide proposition on medical marijuana and recently rewrote the bill the way they wanted it. (Twenty20)
December 5, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY - Utah voters on Nov. 6 approved Proposition 2 to allow medical marijuana to be dispensed in the state. But that didn't stop some of the bill's opponents from going to state lawmakers and getting the measure rewritten more to their liking.

On Monday, a special session of the Republican-led Utah Legislature voted on a "compromise" bill containing significant changes to the approved proposition, and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it.

Chase Thomas, executive director of the Alliance for a Better Utah, one group that backed the original measure, said the ven though the move was legal, it wasn't right.

"We were urging the Legislature to vote against the compromise," he said. "We feel it didn't fully honor the vote of the people from November. The voters weren't at the negotiating table for this compromise, and we just feel that their vote should have been honored and the proposition should have gone through."

The Utah Constitution allows lawmakers to make changes to voter-approved propositions, and also lets voters overrule the Legislature at the ballot box. At the Monday session, lawmakers and lobbyists considered amendments for what they called "public-safety issues." Proposition 2 had been approved on Election Night with a 53 percent margin, or about 60,000 votes out of about 1 million cast.

Thomas said the measure's opponents, including conservatives and the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, have significantly changed who would be eligible to use medical marijuana and how it would be dispensed.

"The proposition would have been entirely through dispensaries, as is common in other states," he said. "This still kept some dispensaries; there'd be about seven of them compared to the over 30 that would have been under the proposition. They created a central pharmacy that the state would run."

While groups such as his are not happy about the changes, Thomas said it's important to note that a medical marijuana law survived and is now on the books in Utah. He said the outcome could have been very different.

"The proposition enjoyed wide support," he said, "but we don't know if the church would have continued in opposition without compromise, if all the money that they could have put behind it when urging their members to vote against it means it would've failed."

Thomas said proponents of medical marijuana will be watching lawmakers closely to guard against them completely overturning the bill at a later date.

The text of the legislation, House Bill 3001, is online at le.utah.gov.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT