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Utah medical marijuana group forgoes 2016 ballot initiative

Utah medical marijuana group forgoes 2016 ballot initiative

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah group pushing to add a medical marijuana proposal to the November ballot has abandoned its efforts for the year, sounding a death knell for the state getting a more expansive cannabis law in 2016.

Leaders of the group called Truce said it would have been extremely difficult to collect the nearly 102,000 signatures to get the initiative on this year's ballot, and if it started the process and failed, it would have to wait two years before trying again. But they may try again next year.

"It would have been too tight," said Candy Wagner, a patient advocate and spokeswoman for Truce.

They've decided instead to shift focus to next year's legislative session, and are now working to find a bill sponsor and round up support from lawmakers.

"If we can educate them over the summer, then we'll have a better chance of getting it through legislatively," said Wagner.

She said they already have a lawmaker interested in sponsoring the proposal, but would not say who it is since it's not yet official.

Utah already allows a marijuana extract, called cannabidiol, to be used by those with severe epilepsy, as long as they obtain it from other states. It has low levels of THC, the hallucinogenic chemical in marijuana.

The news comes in the wake of the 2016 session that saw two competing medical marijuana bills die amid regulatory and budgetary concerns.

Truce is prepared should next year's proposal see an identical fate.

Wagner said this summer the organization plans to collect thousands of signatures supporting medical marijuana in order to get an initiative on the ballot in 2017.

In addition to the signatures, the organization would also need to get a legal review and hold seven town hall meetings around the state in order to put the initiative on November's ballot. State law requires that 10 percent of the voters in 26 of Utah's 29 Senate districts sign a petition for a ballot initiative.

Some Utah lawmakers have said they worry that putting the issue before the voters could mean the state ends up with a broader medical marijuana law as compared to the legislative route.

Wagner said Truce would prefer medical marijuana be legalized through the legislative process so that it will be appropriately regulated.

The organization first announced its plans for a ballot initiative in February, saying it would not wait for the legislature to become comfortable with medical marijuana while many patients suffer.

Republican Sen. Mark Madsen of Eagle Mountain, who sponsored the more comprehensive medical marijuana proposal this session, had said he would rather the drug be legalized through the legislative process, but he would support an initiative.

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