Both sides are gearing up for a fight over medical marijuana in Utah. With the state pushing back against a proposed ballot initiative to legalize forms of medical cannabis, supporters and opponents alike have taken legal action to settle whether the issue will even be put before the state’s voters.
Last Thursday the group Drug Safe Utah filed a lawsuit to block the question from even getting on the ballot. Their argument is that the measure would be illegal since cannabis is still federally illegal.
“It requires state employees to essentially violate federal law because they have to cooperate with people who are violating federal laws in selling medical marijuana,” said Blake Ostler, a lawyer representing Drug Safe Utah, according to the Associated Press. “That in and of itself is a crime called aiding and abetting.”
Powerful opponents to the bill include Republican Governor Gary Herbert and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As opponents focus their energies, they have asked those who signed a petition to include the MMJ question on the ballot to rescind their signatures. The governor’s office has until June 1 to certify the signatures.
Not to be obstructed, the group Utah Patients Coalition filed a challenge to the lawsuit on Monday, saying that they have the right to put the question on the ballot in November. The group’s director DJ Schanz said in s statement that “While our opponents want to debate in the courtroom with a single judge deciding the fate of medical cannabis, we look forward to an active debate in the court of public opinion where all Utahns can have a say.”
The proposed medical marijuana law is a pretty modest one, and would not allow for patients to actually smoke marijuana, only to use edible or topical cannabis products.
The majority of U.S. states have not found a conflict in allowing licensed practitioners to produce, distribute, or recommend certain forms of legal cannabis, and the House Appropriations Committee recently voted to protect state-sanctioned cannabis programs from Justice Department interference. “It’s a big stretch to say that a government official is complicit in the crime of private parties when they simply let those parties violate federal law,” said Vanderbilt law professor Robert Mikos.
Photo via Flickr user Pedro Szekely