Utah’s Supreme Court takes case filed by a group of voters upset over the state’s decision to replace the medical cannabis initiative

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Then House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper (left) addresses fellow House members, detailing his proposed medical-cannabis bill. Utah legislators voted to change the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, the bill that officials, Prop 2 opponents and medical marijuana advocates crafted and pitched as a compromise, Monday, Dec. 2, 2018, during a special session. Lawmakers voted for an overwritten version of the ballot initiative. Now, the Utah Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a legal challenge brought by voters who objected to the replacement legislation.

The Utah Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in a case filed by a group of state voters who are challenging the Legislature’s decision to replace Proposition 2 with an alternative medical-cannabis law.

Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for March 25 in a Salt Lake City courtroom. But it may not be the normal oral arguments. This group of 52 complainants are not represented by any attorneys. They filed this long-shot petition on their own.

“We have 52 petitioners that signed on. Each one is pro se representing themselves. So we’re really in a conundrum,” Steve Maxfield, a leader of the group, told FOX 13 on Tuesday. “How do 52 people who want to speak to the Supreme Court in a redress of grievances do that in a 20 minute time period?”

Days after the Utah Legislature passed a bill overwriting the medical-cannabis initiative, the political issues committee calling itself The People’s Right announced it was filing a legal challenge. The state’s actions created a “constitutional crisis,” the petitioners said, accusing Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the Legislature of collaborating to “effectively VETO and eviscerate the fundamentally-protected right of the people to initiative effective legislation.”

Maxfield, a Kanosh resident who previously has led fights for access to government records, chairs The People’s Right and filed the motion along with other Utah voters. Since the initial complain went to the court, dozens of other petitioners have signed on to the effort, Maxfield told The Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday.

Maxfield said the point of the claim is to restore the proper balance of power between the state government the people.

“The citizens of the state of Utah by the constitution are supposed to be coequal,” he said.

The plaintiffs have asked the state’s highest court to declare the special session and the replacement bill unconstitutional. The People’s Right also charged Cox’s office with wrongly rejecting the group’s application seeking to bring the Utah Medical Cannabis Act to a statewide vote.

In mid-December, the Utah Attorney General’s Office filed a response, arguing that the complainants failed to explain why they were unable to submit their petition in a lower court. Moreover, the claims made by The People’s Right didn’t warrant “extraordinary relief” from the court, according to the response.

“Petitioners' claims either directly contravene relevant constitutional or statutory provisions, or are inadequately briefed, or moot. Either way, they provide no basis upon which the Court should or could grant the requested relief,” stated the filing by the Attorney General’s Office.

A separate response by the office, addressing accusations against the Legislature, argues that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring the case because they “have no personal stake in the controversy.” In addition, the constitution grants state lawmakers immunity from being sued over their legislative actions, according to the response.

Herbert’s office declined to comment on the upcoming hearing in the Supreme Court, saying it’s against policy to comment on pending litigation.

Maxwell said, since receiving the hearing notice, petitioners have filed a new motion objecting to the court’s decision to allot each side 20 minutes for oral arguments. With more than 50 people involved in the petition, that length of time is insufficient to give everyone a say, he contends.

Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson has filed another challenge to the Prop 2 replacement law in 3rd District Court.