Utahans are guaranteed legal access to medical marijuana in the near future under a bargain struck Thursday between the state’s conservative power structure and the backers of a popular medical cannabis ballot measure that will go before voters next month.
Proposition 2, which would add Utah to the growing list of states that allow people with doctors’ approval to cultivate, consume and legally buy cannabis, has proven wildly popular in the extremely red state.
Despite organized and vocal opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—and the Mormons’ considerable influence over state elected officials—the measure had support from 64 percent of Utah voters, according to a September poll.
That sense of inevitability triggered a series of increasingly desperate-looking actions from opponents—chief among them the Utah Medical Association and the Mormon church—including push polls and radio ads that marijuana supporters blasted as dishonest.
It’s also led to an unlikely compromise that promises Utah will have medical marijuana regardless of what happens on Election Day. After days of negotiation, the Utah Patients Coalition, the main group behind the measure, announced Thursday that it had made a deal with the Utah Medical Association, LDS church leaders, and elected officials to craft and pass a medical cannabis law via the normal legislative process.
“Under this plan, marijuana will be distributed to patients by well-trained, physicians and pharmacists who are qualified to do that very thing,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said during a press conference on Thursday.
Though Proposition 2 will remain on the ballot, the Utah state legislature will convene immediately after in a special session to hammer out a medical-marijuana law, details of which were agreed to in spirit in the compromise announced Wednesday.
DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition said at the press conference that his group is “de-escalating any future media buys” in favor of Proposition 2. And Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which was involved in drafting and campaigning for the measure, said in a press release that the group is “walk[ing] away” from the ballot effort in the state.
Similarly, an LDS representative said the church will “de-escalate our activities in opposition” ahead of the vote on November 6.
Another medical marijuana advocacy group, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Eduction (TRUCE), said it is “skeptical” but “cautiously optimistic” about the deal.
“We are willing to listen but we will do so skeptically,” Christine Stenquist, TRUCE’s executive director, said in a statement. “A special session with a lame-duck legislature is still something to which we are opposed. We still see Prop 2 as the best insurance policy for good medical cannabis law in Utah. But if what we’re hearing is true and genuine, it is worth listening to.”
The compromise bill “would be much safer and still be compassionate and answer the needs of patients,” Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association, which opposed the ballot measure, told the Deseret News.
The newly proposed legislation is also far more conservative than the Proposition 2 proposal. It does not allow for home cultivation, it legalizes fewer marijuana retail outlets and has a shorter list of qualifying medical conditions.
That said, the bill offers guarantees that the ballot initiative process does not, according to Schweich, of MPP.
Should the bill have passed, it was likely to have been gutted by state lawmakers, who—unlike in some other states—have the ability to unilaterally amend initiatives approved by voters.
“In Utah, a statutory ballot initiative can be amended or even repealed by a simple majority in the Legislature,” Schweich pointed out in a press release issued Thursday. “If Proposition 2 passed without any agreement on next steps, patients may have been left waiting years to access legal medical cannabis. This compromise eliminates that uncertainty and ensures legislative leaders are committed to making the law work.”
“This campaign was never about notching up another election victory,” Schweich said. “Our goal was simply to help medical cannabis patients in Utah who are being treated like criminals as they seek to alleviate their suffering. With this compromise, we have achieved that goal.”
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.