SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Patients Coalition medical marijuana campaign filed a motion in court Monday seeking to intervene in a lawsuit that the ballot initiative's opponents have filed against Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox.
The initiative campaign is not currently listed as a party in that case, which was filed Friday by Drug Safe Utah, a political issues committee formed in April in opposition to the medical marijuana proposal.
The Utah Patients Coalition is arguing it deserves official standing in the lawsuit, saying in its motion that "neither named party can adequately protect (the campaign's) interest because both plaintiffs and defendants are publicly opposed to the initiative."
The motion is referring to Cox's public political opposition to what is in the initiative, though in August 2017 his office granted approval to the campaign to begin signature gathering after determining it met basic state standards that say an initiative may not be "nonsensical or patently unconstitutional."
"The initiative's survival is at stake in this case and as a practical matter (Utah Patients Coalition) cannot protect its interest without intervention," the motion claims.
Drug Safe Utah's lawsuit in 3rd District Court asks that Cox be prohibited from certifying the medical marijuana initiative for the November ballot, claiming that doing so would violate the Utah and United States constitutions.
"(The initiative) would legalize the drug known as marijuana or cannabis, which is a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law," Drug Safe Utah's complaint says. "On its face, the initiative clashes with governing federal law and, therefore, places the state in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the 'supreme law of the land.'"
The lawsuit claims that "legalizing whole-plant marijuana in any form — even for 'medicinal' purposes — would undoubtedly increase its use among Utahns, especially young Utahns."
"In so doing, such legalization would leave in its wake an ocean of human lives shattered by addiction, and a mountain of additional costs to be borne by Utah's taxpayers and families."
The lawsuit indicates the Drug Safe Utah political issues committee is doing the legal bidding of the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah nonprofit, whose members include the Utah Medical Association, Utah Eagle Forum, Sutherland Institute and Utah Chiefs of Police, among others.
The Utah Medical Association and Utah Eagle Forum are formally listed in state political issues committee records as organizations represented by Drug Safe Utah.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, said in a statement Monday that the campaign filed its motion so it can "assist the lieutenant governor in helping the judge to see why this lawsuit should not undermine the ability of Utahns to vote on this issue."
"While our opponents want to debate in the courtroom with a single judge deciding the fate of medical cannabis, we look forward to an active debate in the court of public opinion where all Utahns can have a say,” Schanz said.
He also called Drug Safe Utah's lawsuit "frivolous."
“Having failed to remove enough signatures to stop our progress — and after engaging in deceptive tactics to persuade petition signers to rescind their support — the opposition has now filed a frivolous lawsuit,” he said.
Cox's office said Friday it would not comment on the suit.
Geoffrey Fattah, spokesman for the state courts system, tweeted Monday that the next hearing in the case will happen at the end of next week, which he said was at the "request of counsel for plaintiffs."
The lawsuit is the latest development in a legal tussle over the initiative by its supporters and detractors.
Earlier this month, Drug Safe Utah filed a formal complaint with the state elections office, claiming a Utah Patients Coalition representative offered money in exchange for possession of initiative petition signature removal forms that had been collected from voters but not yet submitted.
Days later, the Utah Patients Coalition published a letter it had addressed to Drug Safe Utah warning that a lawsuit was being considered in light of "your effort to fraudulently obtain the withdrawal of signature from the … petition."
The campaign cited videos of signature removal canvassers' presentations they have called wilfully deceptive, as well as a controversial flyer containing canvasser instructions that Drug Safe Utah later renounced.
Drug Safe Utah has also cried foul over confusion as to whether the deadline was May 14 or May 15 for submitting initiative petition signature removal forms, and has argued that the elections officials should honor the May 15 deadline listed on the state-issued forms used by voters.
State Elections Director Justin Lee said the Utah Attorney General's Office is reviewing what happens to signature removals turned in May 15.