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Can A Lawsuit Block Utah From Voting On A Marijuana Initiative? This Group Hopes So.


Arguments are ramping up between groups on both sides of a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Utah, but the question remains as to whether legal challenges can stop the initiative process.

Last week the group Drug Safe Utah filed a lawsuit against the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. The group hopes to keep the marijuana initiative off the ballot in November. Drug Safe Utah argues marijuana is illegal under federal law.

Yesterday the group behind the initiative, Utah Patient’s Coalition, filed its own legal response in opposition to the lawsuit.

So, has this legal ping-pong worked in the past?  

Paul Armentano is the deputy director with the marijuana advocacy group NORML. He said groups opposed to medical marijuana in other states have successfully delayed initiatives by challenging the validity of signatures, but this argument is different.

"The claim that this, a particular initiative as framed the way it is, would be in violation of federal law and therefore should not go on the ballot and therefore voters should not decide it, that legal argument has not been used before," Armentano said. 

According to representatives from the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislators, most court cases opposing initiatives argue that the proposals are too broad or they have unverified signatures.

Likewise, officials with the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office had no knowledge of this type of legal challenge happening here in the past. But there aren’t many examples to compare it to. The last time an citizen initiative got on the ballot in Utah was in 2004.  

Erik Neumann is a radio producer and writer. A native of the Pacific Northwest, his work has appeared on public radio stations and in magazines along the West Coast. He received his Bachelor's Degree in geography from the University of Washington and a Master's in Journalism from UC Berkeley. Besides working at KUER, he enjoys being outside in just about every way possible.
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