Utah Supreme Court Rules Lawmakers Can Replace Medical Cannabis Initiative

Medical marijuana advocates are not happy about the ruling.
Utah Supreme Court Rules Lawmakers Can Replace Medical Cannabis Initiative
Soru Epotok/ Shutterstock

Another chapter in the ongoing struggle over medical marijuana in Utah has just been slammed shut. This week, the Utah Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit filed against the state by a medical marijuana advocacy group.

Specifically, the suit challenged the Utah legislature’s decision to replace a voter-approved medical marijuana referendum with its own medical marijuana laws. Despite this first lawsuit being dismissed, there is still another one pending.

Supreme Court Dismissed Lawsuit

In a decision filed yesterday, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state legislature. As a result, the medical marijuana rules established last year in House Bill 3001 will remain in place.

And, even more concerning for many medical marijuana patients and advocates, one of the lawsuits challenging that bill is dead.

“While the Utah Constitution creates and protects the voters’ right to place legislation on the ballot for approval or rejection by the people, it also carves out an exception to that right,” Justice Paige Petersen wrote in the court’s opinion. “When both houses of the legislature pass legislation by a two-thirds supermajority, that law is not subject to a referendum.”

She continued: “Because this renders moot Petitioners’ argument about the constitutionality of the statutory referendum sponsor requirements, we do not address it.”

An advocacy group called The People’s Right filed the lawsuit. At issue was whether or not state lawmakers had the right to replace a voter-approved medical marijuana referendum with a separate bill—one that was not approved by voters.

“While the Utah Supreme Court was forced to acknowledge the legislature REPLACED Proposition 2 with its own statute and through its own analysis found the replacement bill significantly curtailed cultivation, dispensaries, and amended qualifying conditions for medical cannabis, they have once again failed the citizens of Utah,” The People’s Right organizer Steve Maxfield told local news source Fox 13 Salt Lake City.

Another Lawsuit Remains

Although this lawsuit is dead, the battle is not yet over. Specifically, another lawsuit filed by The Epilepsy Association of Utah and Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) is still pending.

In many ways, this second suit is similar to the one filed by The People’s Right. Most notably, this suit is also going after the legislature.

Specifically, they are calling foul on the legislature’s decision to hold a “special session” in December 2018. It was during that session that lawmakers rammed through H.B. 3001.

For organizers involved in this second lawsuit, many aspects of H.B. 3001 dramatically undermine Proposition 2. Specifically, they argue that H.B. 3001 will end up significantly limiting the degree to which patients can realistically access medical marijuana.

And already, it appears that those fears are coming true. For example, in late July the Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings formally recommended that the Davis County Health Department not participate in the state’s medical marijuana program.

His reasoning was that the state’s method for dispensing marijuana through a “central fill” system—a key feature of H.B. 3001—could make state workers vulnerable to state prosecution.

Advocates at The Epilepsy Association of Utah and TRUCE have argued that Proposition 2’s structure would have avoided these problems.

As of now, this second lawsuit is still pending. It is unclear if the Supreme Court’s decision this week indicates how it may rule on this second suit.

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