Orem • A number of advocates and officials have pinned their hopes on the Utah Medical Cannabis Act as an answer to public demand for a working marijuana program in the state.
But they’ve had a hard time persuading skeptics to do the same.
As House Speaker Greg Hughes and others who helped draft the act have pitched the proposal to lawmakers and patients, they’ve repeatedly fielded some version of the same question. During a Monday meeting, it was asked by Doug Rice, president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah:
“What assurances do patients have that this isn’t going to get butchered down the line?”
Hughes, R-Draper, responded that he’s personally put his reputation at stake in promoting a legislative solution to the medical cannabis debate. Earlier in the meeting, he alluded to the fact that participants in the negotiations would face a high price for reneging on their commitments.
“We put our names on the line. We have done it in a very, very public way,” he said. “It would be very, very difficult for someone to shy away from the intentions we’ve announced.”
About 50 people gathered Monday inside an Orem office building for the informal — but, at times, tense — discussion on the future of medical cannabis in Utah. Hughes opened the meeting by assuring those in the room that those who helped craft the proposed cannabis bill are acting in good faith.
Hughes, other officials and advocates who wrote the legislation rolled it out earlier this month, presenting it as a bridge-building alternative to Proposition 2, the medical marijuana ballot initiative. During the news conference on the compromise, Gov. Gary Herbert promised to call a November special session so lawmakers could consider the legislation.
Compared with Prop 2, the consensus bill places tighter controls on the system for dispensing medical cannabis and some additional restrictions on marijuana product varieties.
At Monday’s meeting, one audience member said he was uneasy with the role that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — which is opposed to Prop 2 — played in the negotiations.
“I’m really uncomfortable with the number of times the church has been mentioned,” James Wilson, of Lehi, said to applause.
Representatives from Utah’s predominant faith have been working with Hughes and other advocates and officials on the medical marijuana bill.
Hughes said other ecclesiastical leaders have also been involved in the discussions, adding that he’d rather they express their positions openly than covertly.
“If I had a religious organization that wanted to back-channel its preference to elected leaders,” he said, “I would be far more uncomfortable.”
DJ Schanz and Connor Boyack, medical marijuana advocates who joined Hughes onstage Monday, expanded on the political realities of forging a cannabis compromise in Utah, where the LDS Church has such a wide reach.
“Do we like the church’s influence on specific public policy matters? I don’t think any of us are doing backflips over that particular concept," said Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition. “But there’s certain particular realities, whether we like them or not, that we have to deal with.”
Schanz also explained why his organization, which sponsored Prop 2, entered into negotiations with opponents of the ballot initiative. He said the initiative proponents felt it would be better to work with lawmakers and Prop 2 opponents than battle them over medical cannabis for years to come. And supporters of the initiative felt they had the most leverage before the election, he said.
“We felt it was important to … minimize the gutting of Proposition 2 while we were still in a position of negotiation with those who still had ultimate say in the issue,” he said.