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Anti-Medical Cannabis Phone Poll Using Misleading Prompts, Critics Say

Renee Bright / KUER

Opponents of Utah's medical marijuana ballot measure launched a phone-based push poll this week that critics charge uses misleading or false claims about legalization of the drug.

Saratoga Springs resident Julie King received a call from a woman conducting a poll on behalf of the Drug Safe Utah campaign a little after 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

King recorded the survey on speakerphone and published the 10-minute video online. In the recording, King is asked to listen to a series of statements by opponents of the initiative and respond as to whether their arguments make her more or less likely to vote for Proposition 2.

Drug Safe Utah is paying for the poll. The coalition of organizations, which includes the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is trying to mount a substantial campaign to defeat the initiative before ballots are mailed in October.

Michelle McOmber, a Drug Safe Utah spokeswoman, disputed the characterization of the survey as a "push poll," which are opinion polls often deployed by political campaigns to sway voters.

"It's just regular polling," she said. "Canvassing voters to understand their position has been done for years."

During one prompt, the pollster states that the ballot measure is "completely unnecessary" and "what this initiative actually does is create an entirely new industry of grow houses, dispensaries and pot shops across the state - and is nothing more than an effort by 'big marijuana' to open the doors to legalizing recreational marijuana.

"Does knowing this make you more or less likely to vote for the initiative to legalize medical marijuana?" the pollster asks.

"Well, considering everything the opposition just said is untrue, it does not change my vote at all," replies King in the video.

Another prompt states that the initiative would legalize edible marijuana, leading to a potential health risk for children who may accidentally ingest them. The pollster says such incidents are "skyrocketing in states" that have legalized cannabis.

In the tape, King continues to dispute the statements and says she's "more likely" to support the proposition in spite of those claims.

Michelle McOmber of Drug Safe Utah said all the prompts are backed by actual data.

"We don't think it's scare tactics," she said. "We think this is what will happen in the state of Utah if theses things pass. We are using facts from other states."

The prompt on ingestibles, she said, comes from a 2011 study by the Drug Abuse Warning Network , which examined emergency room visits related to use of marijuana and other substances for age groups 12 and older.

Asked whether Drug Safe Utah had provided citations or links to other studies used in the prompts on their website, she said they would likely post them soon.

King, a stay-at-home mother of four, is currently undergoing treatment for Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that grows in connective tissue. She described herself as very conservative and Mormon but said she would benefit from medical cannabis — as would others undergoing health problems.

"I've read the initiative personally," she said. "My frustration is — I'm ok with someone telling me that they are opposed to the initiative — we can have different viewpoints on that … what I am opposed to is the deceit that is occurring that is attempting to sway voters."

While the poll only reinforced her views on the measure, she's worried it will have the opposite effect on those less familiar with the initiative.

"I am concerned because I feel like if you tell a lie enough times it starts to feel like the truth," she said.

Medical Marijuana
Credit KUER News

Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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