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Gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz's wife faces pot charge

Gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz's wife faces pot charge

(Luke Franke, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A prosecutor said Wednesday he intends to file misdemeanor drug charges against the wife of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Weinholtz after federal investigators found about 2 pounds of marijuana at the couple's home.

The investigation began after U.S. Postal Service inspectors intercepted a package containing a small amount of pot that Donna Weinholtz tried to mail earlier this year to another home she and her husband own in California, Tooele County Chief Deputy Attorney Gary Searle said.

Federal investigators went to the couple's Salt Lake City home and found the larger stash of the drug, which Donna Weinholtz told them she uses to treat chronic pain, authorities said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office didn't believe federal charges were warranted and forwarded the case to Salt Lake County prosecutors several weeks ago, spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said.

The case was then sent to Tooele County because Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is a political ally of Mike Weinholtz and wanted to avoid a conflict of interest, officials said.

Searle said it appears Donna Weinholtz had the drug for her personal use and there's no evidence her husband was aware she had it. Searle said he plans to file misdemeanor drug possession charges against her soon, meaning she could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

In a statement released by his campaign Wednesday, Mike Weinholtz said his wife uses the drug to relieve pain caused by arthritis and degenerative spinal conditions.

"She refuses to use addictive opiates and used cannabis after suffering when other medicinal options were either invasive, ineffective or addictive," he said. "We have complied at every step of the judicial process, and now that we know where the case is landing, we look forward to having the issue resolved and moving on."

Mike Weinholtz, a wealthy businessman, announced soon after winning his party's nomination in April that he would advocate for legalizing medical marijuana in Utah because his wife was under investigation for pot possession. He has repeatedly declined to offer details, citing an ongoing investigation.

He said his wife used the drug to relieve pain caused by arthritis and nerve damage.

The U.S. Attorney's Office confirmed in July it was investigating Donna Weinholtz but offered little information. Rydalch declined to comment further Wednesday or explain why federal prosecutors decided not to file charges.

Searle said he plans to treat Donna Weinholtz like everyone else and has "no intent to turn this into some political sideshow." He did not know whether she had a medical marijuana card in California. Even if she did, possession of the drug is still illegal in Utah.

The conservative state has passed a very limited medical marijuana law allowing those with severe epilepsy to use cannabis extract oil that doesn't contain psychoactive properties.

The marijuana investigation is not Donna Weinholtz's first brush with authorities. She was one of 13 people arrested in 2014 as part of a protest over the GOP-dominated Legislature's refusal to hold a hearing on an anti-discrimination law that includes sexual and gender orientation protections. It passed the following year.

Donna Weinholtz pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disrupting a meeting after she and other protesters blocked the doors to a committee meeting room. She was sentenced to probation, and the charge was dismissed after she completed the probation and paid a $100 fine.

Mike Weinholtz is facing an uphill battle this year to try to unseat Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

Herbert campaign manager Marty Carpenter had no comment on the investigation.


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