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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert on Thursday said he formally opposes the ballot initiative campaign seeking to broadly legalize the medical use of marijuana in Utah.
The governor said in a prepared statement that he believes the initiative "will do more harm than good."
"This initiative ... has significant flaws," Herbert said. "It lacks important safeguards regarding its production and utilization and would potentially open the door to recreational use."
He went on to add, "I will actively oppose the medical cannabis initiative."
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition campaign seeking to put such legalization on the ballot, responded by saying the governor's assertion that the initiative could lead to recreational use "has no basis in truth."
"While we appreciate the governor weighing in on medical cannabis, his comments are another example of what Utahns have grown tired of: politicians standing between patients and their physicians," Schanz said. "Saying the most conservatively drafted initiative in the entire country would 'potentially' open the door for recreational use is a scare tactic that has no basis in truth.
"Neither the Legislature nor the governor should undermine the clear will of voters as demonstrated in over a dozen public polls. Utahns are ready to vote on this and set aside the misguided positions of elected officials who are apparently comfortable with criminalizing sick and suffering Utahns," Schanz said.
Results from a Utah Policy poll, conducted in February and released this week, revealed 77 percent of respondents answered they were in favor when asked whether they supported "legalizing doctor-prescribed use of nonsmoking medical marijuana for certain diseases and pain relief."
However, multiple groups have vocally opposed the ballot initiative, including the Utah Medical Association, which has focused much of its opposition on calls for more research into how doctors should be expected to prescribe to patients.
The Utah Patients Coalition, as well as advocacy organization Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, have said more than enough research into marijuana's benefits has been conducted worldwide and that delaying patient access in order to ask for more studies is disingenuous.
The Department of Public Safety has previously said on its website that it has "concerns regarding a more broadly defined medical use of marijuana in our state and the negative impact it could have on public safety."
Likewise, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement last year shortly after the ballot initiative paperwork was filed saying that "legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety."
Also Thursday, Herbert contrasted his opposition to the initiative with his support of HB197, which instructs the state Department of Agriculture to coordinate with a third party to oversee the growing of full-strength marijuana within the state, among other things.
The measure, which narrowly passed the state House of Representatives on the way to Herbert's desk, was signed into law by the governor earlier this month. Supporters have said it will help speed up and improve research of the drug within Utah.
"(HB197) creates a framework for licensed physicians to recommend cannabis for their patients, paves the way for the establishment of lawful cannabis dispensaries, and allows for the implementation of careful safeguards for the safe use of medical cannabis," Herbert said.
TRUCE testified against HB197 during the legislative session, telling state lawmakers that it was based on outdated scientific ideas about how to grow marijuana.