Gov. Gary Herbert unveiled a legislative compromise on Thursday designed to assuage both sides of a fiercely contested ballot measure that would broaden access to medical marijuana in Utah.
At a press conference at the State Capitol, Herbert revealed details of a proposed solution he said lawmakers should act on whether or not Proposition 2, the medical cannabis ballot initiative, passes next month.
“Today we have a group of people who’ve come together to help create a better policy than exists in Proposition 2, which will provide for us to have access to safe, cannabis-based treatments for patients and really a framework for true medical marijuana use in the state of Utah,” he said.
Flanked by faith leaders and state lawmakers, many of whom have opposed the ballot referendum, as well as patient advocates who support it, Herbert said the compromise would include tighter controls for the distribution, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana, as well as more clarification for law enforcement.
DJ Schanz, director of Utah Patients Coalition, the group spearheading the ballot measure, said while they still want voters to support Proposition 2, they are open to the changes proposed, especially if averts a protracted legal battle.
“We’ve been able to put together a workable medical cannabis compromise that will give patients the immeasurable benefit of having the certainty ... of a workable medical cannabis program here in Utah,” he said. “Not in the years to come, but in the very near future.”
Polls throughout the year have shown a majority of Utahns support medical cannabis, but a coalition of doctors, business leaders and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have mounted a significant campaign in the final stretch before election day on November 6 to try to defeat it.
The coalition, known as Drug Safe Utah, cite both moral and public safety concerns in their opposition and say the ballot initiative could open the door to recreational use as well.
Supporters of the referendum deny those claims and say the initiative is carefully worded to dispense cannabis only to patients suffering from chronic illnesses or terminal diseases.
A representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jack N. Gerard, said Thursday that while church leaders still oppose Propositon 2, they would support "the community's solution." In an effort to mend differences, both the Church and proponents of the iniative pledged to "de-escalate" their campaign activities ahead of the election.
County clerks will begin sending mail-in ballots next week, which means voters will still get the ultimate say on the measure. Gov. Herbert and lawmakers insisted some legislative cleanup will still be needed to regulate the new industry, regardless of the outcome.
But some House Democrats were wary of Thursday’s deal, saying it would once again leave the public out of the process.
“This is another attempt to undermine the voice of the people,” said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake, in a statement. “We should let the people vote and then fully deliberate any marijuana bills in the 2019 Legislative Session with a full committee process and input from the public.”