Recently, a broad coalition announced its opposition to Proposition 2, an initiative purporting to legalize medical marijuana. That coalition — which included the Utah Medical Association, the Utah PTA, the Utah Hospital Association, the Salt Lake Chamber, the Utah Sheriffs Association, faith groups including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, and patients — urged Utahans to vote no because Proposition 2 would create many of the problems of recreational marijuana and goes far beyond appropriate protocols for true medical marijuana. Most Utahans have no idea what is in the 28-page initiative. Here are some of its deep flaws.
First, the initiative, which was drafted in part by the marijuana industry, contains none of the traditional safeguards of medical practice. Instead, it makes recreational marijuana easily accessible. Under Proposition 2, an individual could go to optometrists, podiatrists, dentists and others, as well as doctors, to get a “medical referral” card to then take to a pot shop (called a dispensary in the initiative) to be filled, not by a pharmacist, but by any employee over 21 years of age, with no medical training, where they can buy any form of recreational marijuana in any intensity and dosage, up to the equivalent of 120 joints every two weeks. Unlike prescribed medicines, there is no dosage, no physician follow-up required, no disclosure of risks. This is why the Utah Medical Association opposes Prop 2.
Under Prop 2, individuals who live 100 miles from a pot shop could grow their own marijuana plants. And for the first 19 months after its passage, Prop 2 creates an affirmative defense of claimed medical need for otherwise illegal possession of marijuana, likely to discourage any law enforcement.
Second, Prop 2 increases the risk of harm to Utah kids. States legalizing medical marijuana have seen an increase in youth usage, suicide and addiction rates. At least 1 out of 11 adolescents who try marijuana will end up addicted. If usage begins in the early teens, the addiction rate soars to 1 in 6. Marijuana use by adolescents significantly lowers their IQ according to the National Institutes of Health. Marijuana use during adolescence negatively impacts educational performance, employment and social relationships. Utah has 350,000 kids in middle school and high school who should not be put at this increased risk. This is one reason the Utah PTA opposes Prop 2.
Third, evidence from other states that have passed medical marijuana laws shows that traffic accidents increase. That is one reason the Utah Sheriffs Association opposes Proposition 2.
Fourth, Utahans will not be able to keep pot shops out of their neighborhoods. Proposition 2 allows pot shops to be located anywhere except the entrance within 600 feet of a school, church, park or playground and within 300 feet of a residential area. Cities, counties and towns cannot regulate or prevent the location of pot shops within their boundaries. They could sell out of shopping malls.
There are many other problems in this 28-page initiative. It is the wrong way to address a complex problem with huge risks. The coalition in opposition to the Initiative are not opposed to medical marijuana when provided in a controlled manner, but this initiative simply goes too far. For that reason, we urge you to vote no and to allow the state to draft a responsible access bill in the next legislative session that will allow access to those truly in need.
Dr. Mark R. Greenwood is a member of the Utah Medical Association Board of Directors and a doctor at Intermountain HealthCare.