Updated 4:45 p.m. MST 11/9/18 Utah voters have approved a ballot initiative on medical marijuana, following a trend nationwide to relax laws targeting the drug, which is still illegal under federal statute.
Proposition 2, which stumbled in polls leading up to Tuesday’s election, finished with 53 percent support. The Utah lawmakers are expected to take up legislation in a special session to draw up plans on how the drug will be regulated in the state.
For many Utahns, voting in favor of medical marijuana meant defying the wishes of their spiritual leaders. In August, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weighed in on Proposition 2, saying the measure went too far and was dangerous for Utah’s youth. While not unheard of for Mormon leaders to take this kind of heavy-handed stance, it’s rare. The fact that the proposition passed in spite of their opposition is rarer still.
As recently as last Friday, Mormon officials were touting the dangers of Proposition 2. Sister Lisa Harkness, First Counselor in the General Primary Presidency that oversees Mormon children, warned marijuana could get in the hands of children, possibly causing developmental issues and addiction.
Church officials, including Harkness, have clarified that they do not oppose the medicinal use of medical marijuana but strongly oppose any recreational use.
Jennifer Henson, a Mormon mother of six from Logan, Utah, said she voted in favor of Proposition 2 not out of defiance to her Church leaders, but out of concern for her children.
Henson, who is epileptic, has a 2-year-old girl who shares her condition and another daughter with autism. Marijuana provides an option to manage their symptoms without the negative side effects of prescription drugs.
“Everyone is saying ‘We need to vote against Prop 2 for the children.’ But, what about my children?” Henson said.
The proposition, as it is written, allows for Utahns with qualifying medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder, to purchase up to 2 ounces. of marijuana at future dispensaries. For those in rural areas where access to dispensaries will be difficult, patients can grow up to six plants for personal use. But that iteration of the proposition may never see the light of day.
In anticipation of the vote, the Utah legislature has announced plans to hold a special session to draw up new legislation to allow for a more regulated system of dispensing marijuana. These plans, known as “the compromise,” has had buy-in from both sides of the ballot initiative battle, including the Mormon Church and the Libertas Institute of Utah, a Libertarian think tank that has advocated for the medical use of marijuana for years.
The compromise will likely result in much tighter restrictions for how dispensaries operate and how many are allowed in each county. Patients hoping to purchase cannabis may undergo criminal background checks. The way the marijuana flower is distributed could also be altered, with the state opting for dosage “cubes” rather than baggies, allowing authorities to differentiate between product that is sold legally or illegally.
Because the compromise was anticipated to happen regardless of the outcome some questioned whether or not the voting results mattered. Christine Stenquist, the president of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, said, “I absolutely think the vote mattered.”
“It’s leverage,” Stenquist added. “It’s saying, ‘This is what we want and we expect something to be done.’”