Medical Marijuana Initiative on the Utah State Ballot

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

The latest battlefield in the fight over medical marijuana pits members of the abstemious Mormon Church against one another in Utah.

Utah medical marijuana advocates qualified an initiative for the November ballot to make access legal in a state where 60 percent of residents are members of the Mormon Church, which discourages the use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco.

Proponents hoped this spring to collect 113,143 valid signatures in at least 26 of Utah’s 29 state senate districts to qualify the “Utah Medical Cannabis Act” for the November ballot. In a shock to America’s most conservative state, supporters gathered signatures in 27 districts and turned in 153,894 valid signatures. With at least a 40,000-signature cushion, Utah’s Lieutenant Governor certified the initiative on May 30, according to Ballotopia.

With a doctor’s recommendation for treatment of a qualifying illness, Proposition 2 would allow an individual or their parent or legal guardian to apply to the Utah Department of Health for a medical marijuana card beginning March 1, 2020.

Licensing for cultivation, processing facilities, testing laboratories, and dispensaries would be allowed in every Utah county at a ratio of 1 per 150,000 residents. But with a population of just 3.1 million, only five Utah counties would qualify, including Salt Lake County; Utah County; Davis County; Weber County; and Washington County.

Card-carrying customers would be allowed to buy 2 ounces of unprocessed marijuana or marijuana product with no more than 10 grams of THC active ingredient every 14 days. In 2021, qualifying individuals would be able to grow 6 marijuana plants for personal use if there was no dispensary within 100 miles.

Unlike states such as California, which approved marijuana sales with the expectation of huge tax revenues, Utah medical marijuana sales would be exempt from sales taxes.

The Mormon Church has a reputation for opposing what they deem as unhealthy lifestyles, and for enforcing tough liquor laws. But according to a Washington Post article, Mormon Church founder Brigham Young and his early Utah settlers made their own wine and beer.

Utah is slowly beginning to loosen-up on so-called “sin laws.”  National Public Radio reported in 2017 that the law requiring Utah restaurants that serve any alcoholic beverage to have their bars hidden behind “Zion Curtains” to shield children from the sight was eliminated for restaurants that keep patrons 10 feet away from the bar.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the Mormon Church leadership initially remained silent during the medical marijuana signature gathering.

But with the Utah Medical Association opposing medical marijuana, the church issued a memo that praised the doctors’ group for “cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities.” The church followed up in May with a memo declaring that the initiative, if passed, would create “significant challenges for law enforcement.”

Despite opposition to medical marijuana, the most recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that over two-thirds of Utah voters favored Proposition 2.


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