A Utah anti-cannabis group is using paid canvassers in an effort to sabotage the state’s medical marijuana initiative. The new political organization, Drug Safe Utah, is trying to persuade people who signed petitions for the measure to have their names removed.
Drug Safe Utah is a consortium of groups representing conservatives, physicians, and narcotics enforcement officers. The organization filed paperwork with the state to launch the group on April 27. That filing indicates Drug Safe Utah is a coalition including the Utah Medical Association, the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, and the Salt Lake City Narcotics Task Force of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Mark Fotheringham, a spokesman for the Utah Medical Association, told local media that there is nothing wrong with his group’s effort.
“This is legal,” he said. “It’s totally aboveboard. We’re not trying to hide anything.”
He also said that his group believes the initiative is too broad and will lead to recreational cannabis use.
“There’s just too many loopholes in this thing,” Fotheringham said. “The ballot initiative is just a terrible way to decide what is good medicine. It has nothing to do with science. It’s just people’s feelings.”
More Than Enough Signatures Already Turned In
To qualify for November’s ballot, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act must clear two thresholds. First, the Utah Patients Coalition, the sponsor of the initiative, must submit at least 113,143 signatures from voters supporting the initiative. In addition, the group must also collect a minimum number of signatures in at least 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts.
To date, the Utah Patients Coalition has submitted more than 40,000 signatures in excess of the minimum. And they’ve met the requirements in 27 districts, meaning the initiative has tentatively already qualified.
Drug Safe Utah is hoping to prevent that by focusing on the Senate districts with the lowest margin of success. If enough petition signers change their minds and request their signatures be removed, they will block the initiative. Signers who wish to remove their names from the petition must do so by May 15. County clerks must also verify all signatures and process any removals by that date.
D.J. Schanz is the director of the Utah Patients Coalition. He said that his group feels that Drug Safe Utah canvassers aren’t being honest with the voters they contact.
“We wouldn’t be as worried if they weren’t using such deceptive tactics,” said Schanz.
Despite personally being against the legalization of cannabis, Utah Governor Gary Herbert does not agree with Drug Safe Utah’s efforts. When he learned of the group’s plan last week, he said that the voters should decide the issue.
“Let’s have the vote. Let’s have the debate,” he said. “I think it’s good to have the people’s voice heard.”
Paul Edwards, a spokesman for Herbert, said that the governor believes the initiative process is an important part of our democracy.
“Ballot initiatives provide another way for the voice of the people to be heard. We may not always agree with the substance of an initiative, but we need not fear the process,” said Edwards.