Utah medical marijuana opponents allege initiative supporters broke the law by offering money to prevent signatures from being removed

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill speaks during a news conference held by TRUCE - a group of concerned patients and caregivers advocating for safe legal access to medical cannabis in Utah. The news conference at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City Tuesday, May 8, 2018, was in response to the UMAs desperate measures to get signatures removed from the medical cannabis ballot initiative.

Members of a campaign hoping to keep a medical marijuana initiative off the Utah ballot in November filed a complaint with the state’s elections office on Tuesday, alleging the campaign manager behind the measure offered to pay opponents to not submit signature-removal forms that could torpedo the initiative.

The complaint was filed on Tuesday with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, which will refer it to the attorney general for review. It was filed by Mark Brinton, an attorney for the Utah Medical Association, which is a primary group attempting to get enough voters to remove their signatures in the next week to ensure it doesn’t reach the ballot.

The complaint also continues weeks of fighting between opponents who made the complaint and supporters who decried a “level of deceit” from canvassers who are going door to door asking voters to revoke their signatures.

Ballot initiatives in Utah need enough signatures in 26 of the state’s 29 state Senate districts in order to reach voters during a general election. Opponents are paying canvassers between now and a May 15 deadline to get voters to fill out forms that will remove their names from the list if they already signed.

According to a copy of the complaint given to The Salt Lake Tribune by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s office: Alex Iorg, the campaign manager for the Utah Patients Coalition, last weekend approached an office of a canvasser who was working to remove signatures from the petition.

“Alex talked with [the canvasser], and said that he had a donor, and was willing to purchase whatever signature removal forms Zach and his team had gathered,” the complaint says, adding that the canvasser had already turned in most forms.

Iorg didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

DJ Schanz, campaign director of the initiative, said he hadn’t heard of such an effort, which he said was an attempt to change the subject from misleading statements opponents made to persuade voters to withdraw their support from the initiative.

The opponents are “running around like chickens with their heads cut off because they’ve been caught red-handed saying fraudulent lies to people at the doors trying to remove their signatures,” Schanz said. “It’s backfired on them.”

Supporters released a video they said was taken by a voter approached by one of the canvassers who made numerous misstatements and claimed to be an employee of the county clerk’s office.

Schanz said the campaign was looking at making a complaint of its own.

“We’re talking not just complaint,” he said, “we’re talking criminal charges of fraud.”

Drug Safe Utah, the name of the opposition campaign, addressed the video on Tuesday, calling the woman’s statements “incoherent rambling” and “jumbled nonsense,” and that she wasn’t associated with the campaign.

The sparring has reached voters, several of whom have contacted the lieutenant governor’s office with questions or concerns about the tactics used by both sides of what has quickly become the most contentious potential ballot measure this election cycle.

A spokeswoman for Cox said there have been calls and emails from voters concerned about the campaigns, but there had been no formal complain until Tuesday’s from the UMA.

The campaigns also continued to line up on both sides of the measure. A local task force of the Drug Enforcement Administration joined the Utah Medical Association and others last week in forming the formal opposition campaign.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, meanwhile, joined supporters Tuesday and said he’s looking forward to voting in favor of the initiative in November. His office won’t prosecute medical marijuana users should the measure pass, he said.