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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Utah Patients Coalition on Monday launched its 2018 ballot initiative campaign to establish a medical cannabis program for patients in Utah.

The proposed ballot initiative would allow patients to legally and safely access medical cannabis with the recommendation of their doctor. The initiative arose from patient advocates who are frustrated by the the inability of the Utah legislature to pass comprehensive medical cannabis bills introduced in the past several years. It represents a radically conservative approach to medical marijuana policy by unfortunately prohibiting home cultivation and prohibiting smoking medicinal cannabis.

In 2014, the state passed a law allowing possession of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant for patients with severe epilepsy, but patients must obtain the extract from other states. This year, the only medical cannabis that passed was a limited research bill introduced by Representative Brad Daw (R-District 60).

christine stenquist, utah patients coalition
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Christine Stenquist, Utah Patients Coalition:
“Now it is time for Utah voters to decide”
[Cathy McKitrick / Standard-Examiner]

“For the past several years we have advocated for a medical cannabis policy that allows patients to seek medical treatment without breaking the law, but the state legislature has refused,” said campaign spokesperson Christine Stenquist, who also leads the patient advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE). “Now it is time for Utah voters to decide.”

The initiative limits the number of dispensaries and cultivators, allows local zoning for medical cannabis facilities, prohibits using medical cannabis in public view, maintains the illegality of driving while intoxicated, and closely mirrors the legislation passed by the Utah Senate in 2016.

The full text of the initiative is available at https://www.utahpatients.org/initiative and a summary is available at https://www.utahpatients.org/initiative/summary.

Utah voters support a medical cannabis ballot initiative by a strong margin. Utah Patients Coalition released polling results that found the following:

•    When asked how they would vote on a ballot initiative to allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis as a treatment for cancer, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, and other serious illnesses, 73 percent of respondents said they would vote yes (with 49 percent saying they would definitely vote yes). Only 20 percent said they would vote no, and 7 percent were undecided. A majority of Utahns in every age category said they would vote yes on the initiative
•    79 percent of Utahns said they support medical cannabis in principle
•    72 percent of Utahns said that they would be more likely to support an initiative that allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for chronic pain.

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DJ Schanz, Utah Patients Coalition:
“Voters in our state support allowing sick Utahns to legally and safely access medical treatments that alleviate suffering”
[Libertas Institute]

“Utahns are compassionate, and medical cannabis is ultimately a question of compassion,” said campaign director DJ Schanz. “Voters in our state support allowing sick Utahns to legally and safely access medical treatments that alleviate suffering.

“The patients cannot wait any longer, so we are proposing a conservative medical cannabis initiative that Utahns across the political spectrum will approve at the ballot box next year.”

Utah Patients Coalition is supported by a number of groups including: TRUCE, a Utah patient advocacy group; Libertas Institute, a Utah free market think tank; and the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s leading marijuana policy reform organization.

utah medical marijuana nathan fordham TRUCE
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Nathan Frodsham, TRUCE:
“Utah patients have waited long enough for access to this life-saving treatment option”
[Kristin Murphy / Deseret News]

“Utah patients have waited long enough for access to this life-saving treatment option,” said Nathan Frodsham, board member for TRUCE, a group behind the initiative. “We know we have our work cut out for us, but with our polls showing up to a 79 percent voter approval rating, we are optimistic that we will be able to obtain the roughly 113,000 signatures necessary to pass the initiative.”

Under Utah law, a ballot initiative requires signatures from five sponsors before it can be filed with the lieutenant governor. The sponsors of the 2018 medical cannabis initiative are:

•    Christine Stenquist, medical cannabis patient and leader of patient advocacy organization TRUCE
•    Carl Wimmer, former state legislator and law enforcement official
•    Candi Huff, patient caretaker
•    Desiree Hennessy, patient caretaker
•    Melissa Butler, hospice nurse

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Beth Collins, Americans for Safe Access:
“With 24 people in Utah dying from prescription opioid overdoses every month, and medical cannabis states seeing a nearly 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths, the passage of this initiative is critical”
[ASA]

“With 30 states having passed comprehensive medical cannabis laws, Utah is behind in showing compassion for its chronically ill citizens who could benefit from medical cannabis,” said Beth Collins, senior director of Government Relations and External Affairs for Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “ASA is proud of our affiliate TRUCE for taking on this difficult task, and we are happy to help support this effort.

“With 24 people in Utah dying from prescription opioid overdoses every month, and medical cannabis states seeing a nearly 25 percent reduction in opioid overdose deaths, the passage of this initiative is critical,” Collins said.

The bill behind this initiative creates regulations for businesses that will be handling or processing cannabis and establishes procedures for licensing and obtaining a medical cannabis identification card. It also includes elements such as a seed to sale tracking system, protections for medical cannabis patients from certain types of discrimination including in child custody cases and organ transplants, and allows for treatment of several debilitating conditions.

“Like all legislation, this bill represents a compromise of interests, but it marks a large step in the right direction for the thousands of Utah patients who could benefit from medical cannabis,” according to ASA.

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Carl Wimmer, former state legislator and law enforcement official:
“I am strongly supportive of the legalization of medical cannabis for those who are suffering and have no other means to get relief”
[Scott Sommerdorf / The Salt Lake Tribune]

“As a Christian, I’m opposed to things that would alter our minds and bodies. I would be against recreational drugs of any kind,” Wimmer said. “But I am strongly supportive of the legalization of medical cannabis for those who are suffering and have no other means to get relief. I believe it is the compassionate route to take.”

Having filed the ballot initiative with the lieutenant governor, Utah Patients Coalition will now await initial approval and a fiscal note from the state. The next step will be a series of seven regional meetings with voters. After that, Utah Patients Coalition can begin collecting the 113,143 signatures required for qualification for the 2018 ballot.

About the Utah Patients Coalition

The Utah Patients Coalition is a political campaign committee formed to support a 2018 ballot initiative to establish a medical cannabis program in Utah. For more information, visit https://www.utahpatients.org.

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