SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (Nov. 6. 2018) – Today, Utah voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana, taking another step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in effect in the Beehive State.
Under Proposition 2, patients with certain qualifying conditions will now be able to access medical marijuana. Under the new law, patients can obtain a medical marijuana card with a recommendation of a physician. The proposition also establishes a licensing and regulatory scheme for cultivation facilities, processing facilities, testing facilities and dispensaries. After 2021, patients who do not have a dispensary within 100 miles of the location will be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants. Under Prop 2, patients will not legally be allowed to smoke marijuana.
With roughly 60 percent of precincts reporting on Tuesday night, Salt Lake City’s local Fox affiliate projected that Utah’s medical cannabis ballot measure would pass. At the time of reporting, the initiative was ahead 54-46%.
The Libertas Institute of Utah backed the measure. Organization president Connor Boyack said Prop 2 was the result of a years-long effort to persuade legislators to take a big step in favor of medical cannabis, a step they were unwilling to take.
“So, the people of Utah took the matter into their own hands and decided to send a mandate making clear that police and prosecutors should leave sick patients alone. We’re really excited, after all this time and energy we’ve put in, to see this election result and have a majority side in favor with freedom.”
Passage of Prop 2 takes the first step in what will likely be a long process to actually establish a working medical marijuana program in the state. Utah law allows the legislature to amend, or even repeal, a ballot initiative. Negotiations between Utah legislators, and Prop 2 supporters and opponents, led to an agreement on potential compromise legislation. There will likely be a special session of the legislature to address the issue.
Boyack said Prop 2 was in the crosshairs of some legislators from the beginning and there was strong, organized opposition from Drug Safe Utah and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In order to prevent legislators from completely ignoring the will of the people and undermining the ballot initiative, the coalition felt it was wise to negotiate ahead of the vote.
“We decided to pre-empt that attack by having a conversation ahead of time about their concerns, and narrowly finding ways to address them without undermining the whole program. This negotiated agreement, then, secures in place a broad program while neutralizing the opposition, thus increasing the likelihood of long term success for a new patient access program.”
DJ Schanz of the Utah Patients Coalition said the tentative agreement is not a brand new bill, but it will make modifications to Prop. 2 that the coalition found acceptable. He said provision allowing patients to grow their own plants would likely be removed.
“There’s going to be a hybrid dispensing model, I can tell you that,” he said. “One that incorporates many of the ideas of the legislators, and our (initiative’s) dispensary model. … A hybrid, in this case, would be some of (state) Sen. (Evan) Vickers’ ideas on having a centralized fill pharmacy. That’d be about the extent of what I can get into.”
Despite the vote and legislative wrangling, the federal government deems everything happening in Utah related to medical marijuana illegal.
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
During the 2018 legislative session, the Utah legislature took the first step, passing a law allowing. terminally ill patients to legally use medical marijuana under the state’s Right to Try law. Legalization of medical marijuana through Prop. 2 removes another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By curtailing state prohibition, Utah sweeps away a small basis the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly annual budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution either. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Utah joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice.
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. In January, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act.
With 33 states including Utah allowing cannabis for medical use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
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