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SALT LAKE CITY — Hours after telling a standing-room-only crowd at the Utah Democratic Convention that his wife is under investigation for marijuana possession, Mike Weinholtz was named the party's nominee for governor.
"She has only used cannabis for medical reasons for the relief of chronic pain," he said, adding that his wife, Donna, experiences pain from arthritis and ongoing nerve issues.
"The issue of the need for medical cannabis touches everyone," Weinholtz said to cheers from his supporters. "I love Donna more than anything in the world, and I will stand by her and we'll get through this just fine."
Weinholtz said his wife hasn't been arrested and is cooperating with police, but if he's elected governor, he vowed to help change the status of the illegal drug in Utah. He won the nomination Saturday with 80 percent of the delegate vote.
Nearly two-thirds, 728, of the state's registered Democratic delegates turned out for the convention, enthusiastically putting Weinholtz and many others on the November ballot.
Weinholtz's Democratic opponent, Vaughn Cook, has said he was the candidate of the two who had a shot at election, being a member of the LDS Church and a Utah native, meaning he would be able to attract independent Republican voters.
"This year, we have a real shot at the governor's office," Cook said.
Kim Bowman, Weinholtz's choice for lieutenant governor, agreed, saying, "this is our year, everybody. This is our year."
"This is what happens when people who have not felt their voices are heard are getting heard," Bowman said.
Medical marijuana is a popular issue on the Democratic Party's platform, as Republican Utah lawmakers voted it out of possibility at the recent legislative session. Medicaid expansion faced a similar fate and is also something Democrats are fighting for, as are cleaner air and "fighting the one-party system in Utah," said Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon.
"Herbert's in trouble," he said. "And frankly, Donald Trump has been the best thing to ever happen to us."
Many candidates told delegates of their desire to be an independent voice for Utah, claiming 2016 is the year for Democrats to gain traction in the Republican majority Beehive State.
"Utah needs our help," Cook said. "The state government is so out of balance that it's sick. The only cure is to elect more Democrats."
A large number of delegates at Saturday's convention at the Salt Palace were first-timers in attendance at the party's nominating meeting. The party registered more than 20,000 new Democrats during March presidential polling, for which there was a record turnout of voters.
"Your energy and enthusiasm have lit a new fire in the Democratic movement and will bring about change in 2016," Corroon said, encouraging the new trends of political action to continue beyond the fall election season.
The party elected Charles Stormont as its national committeeman, and Jenny Wilson as national committeewoman. Both will represent the Utah party at a future Democratic National Convention.
A second ballot contest was called for candidates Misty K. Snow and Jonathan Swinton, who are running for a U.S. Senate seat, hoping to unseat Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in November. The vote between the Democratic Senate candidates wasn't decided and will head to a primary election on June 28.
Swinton, who was disappointed with 55.5 percent of the vote, said he will be filing a complaint with the party, as Snow supporters were campaigning in the election hall as votes were cast. He said his religious beliefs lead him to be prolife, except for extreme circumstances, and that he was targeted for that.
A lot of people have differing views, and I guess that wasn't good enough for voters," said Swinton, a marriage counselor. "I like to think the Democratic Party is a party of inclusion and accepting of everybody."
Snow, who works as a grocery store cashier, said she is excited for the primary and is pleased with the momentum her campaign has gained.
"Five weeks ago when I started this, I had no money, no staff and no volunteers," she said. "My gut was telling me I'd regret it if I didn't do this."
Contributing: Ladd Egan