Medical marijuana backers in Utah launch signature-gathering campaign

Initiative organizers have until April 15 to gather 113,143 signatures from across the state to earn a spot on the November 2018 ballot

(AP file photo) Backers of legalizing medical marijuana in Utah, at a 2016 rally on Capitol Hill. Supporters of a medical-marijuana initiative began gathering signatures on Thursday in hopes of landing the measure on Utah’s 2018 statewide ballot. Davis Cromar, center, holds his son Holden, 10, who suffers from epilepsy, while standing with other patients, caregivers and supporters during the Utah Patients Coalition news conference Monday, June 26, 2017, in Salt Lake City. A group of activists and Utah residents with chronic conditions has launched a ballot initiative to ask voters next year to pass a broad medical marijuana law.

Nicole Cook and Jayna Bousum walked to a food-truck event at Salt Lake City’s Gallivan Center Thursday expecting to pick up lunch and quickly head back to the office.

But when they arrived, organizers for Utah’s medical-marijuana ballot initiative offered them a chance to be among the first to sign petitions to put the issue to a vote in November 2018.

Cook and Bousum jumped at the chance.

“My mom died three years ago of multiple sclerosis and we tried to talk her into (trying medical marijuana),” Cook, a Tooele County resident, said. “She turned us down because it wasn’t legal and we watched her suffer knowing something would have helped her.”

“I don’t want other people to go through that,” Cook said.

Signature gathering for the initiative began on Thursday, a little more than a week after Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox approved the effort.

Organizers must collect 113,143 signatures from across the state by April 15 to earn a spot on the 2018 ballot, but they have said they hope to meet that goal before the Utah Legislature convenes in January. 

Led by the Utah Patients Coalition, the initiative won approval from state election officials after supporters held ten public meetings across the state. Communications director Christine Stenquist said the campaign has since received more than 300 emails from Utahns across the state offering to volunteer.

“We have been waiting and we are ready to do this,” Stenquist said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the legislature does after seeing the support we know this will receive.”

If the measure wins voter approval, limited numbers of cannabis outlets and physicians would be allowed to prescribe marijuana for certain medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain and autism. 

Smoking marijuana, driving while intoxicated by medical cannabis and public use would remain prohibited, while topical products, oils, edibles and vaping supplies would be permitted.  

Washington, D.C., and 29 states — including states bordering Utah such as Nevada, Arizona and Colorado — had legalized medical marijuana in some form as of July, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

After seeing the success of medical marijuana in neighboring states, Salt Lake County resident Tyler Wilcox said it’s time for Utah to do the same.

“There is just a lot of negative stigma with marijuana in general,” Wilcox said Thursday after signing the petition. “I see things that make it seem like that shouldn’t be the case. There doesn’t seem to be much harm to it.”