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SALT LAKE CITY — Medical marijuana is shaping up to be a major topic for Utahns this November, even with a deal in place between those who support and those who oppose an initiative to legalize the medicinal use of the drug on Utah’s ballots come election day.
That deal, which was reached last week, called for Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative on Utah ballots, to remain untouched for the November election but also for a special legislative session to be held to address the issue after the general election.
The deal centers around how medical marijuana is consumed, how it's sold, and defines conditions for how a medical cannabis card would be issued, according to a report by the Deseret News.
It was a compromise agreed upon by parties on both sides of the initiative, including the Drug Safe Utah and the Utah Patients Coalition, two of the leading coalitions for and against the initiative, respectively.
"Whether (Proposition 2) passes or fails, we're going to arrive at the same point and conclusion, which is going to be (of) benefit to the people of Utah," Gov. Gary Herbert said during a press conference announcing the deal last Thursday.
The deal didn't seem to impact the overall opinion of the proposition. The Deseret News released results from a poll on Tuesday that found 43 percent strongly supported and 21 percent somewhat favored Proposition 2, as compared to 21 percent who strongly opposed and 12 percent somewhat opposed. The polling was conducted by ScottRasmussen.com/HarrisX on behalf of the newspaper.
The results were strikingly similar to the results of a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for Utah Policy Sept. 4 that also found 64 percent in favor of the initiative and 33 percent opposed. The results of that poll showed a change from 73 percent in favor of it and 25 percent opposed in May.
Some of the shift in attitude came at the same time as those against the proposition publicly ramped up their opposition toward it. Drug Safe Utah held a press conference Aug. 23 to voice concerns about the proposal, after which groups on both sides to begin to air ads for or against Proposition 2.
Being informed is 100 percent the issue. There’s so much misinformation out there currently and most of it gets mired and bogged down in minutiae of what the laws may or may not include down the road.
Proponents and opponents of the initiative both said their views of the initiative haven't changed, but planned to pull ads after last week's agreement was reached.
While public opinion appears to be set in stone on the topic, Boyd Matheson, opinion editor for the Deseret News, said on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic" Wednesday that the polling results don't mean everyone has made up their minds on the issue and it's all resolved.
"It doesn't mean that everyone is locked and loaded and there's no more conversations to be had," he said.
There’s been plenty of debate regarding medical marijuana and the initiative this year, especially prior to the agreement reached last week.
It was the main reason John Saltas, founder and publisher of Salt Lake City Weekly and a supporter of medical marijuana, announced the state’s first ever Medical Cannabis Conference back in August. The event, which features speakers and panels, was intended to educate Utahns on what exactly medical marijuana is and does for those who use it in the weeks before the election, Saltas said.
The event is still slated to be held at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy Oct. 19-20. The discussions at the event are expected to be centered on the different medical uses for marijuana, including as an alternative to prescription opioid drugs.
“Being informed is 100 percent the issue,” Saltas told KSL.com in September. “There’s so much misinformation out there currently and most of it gets mired and bogged down in minutiae of what the laws may or may not include down the road. … There’s just a broad, broad, broad range of medical relief to be had.”
The Deseret News poll released Tuesday signaled to a possible concern Utahns have with medical marijuana. It stated 57 percent of those polled were "at least somewhat concerned" the proposition could clear the way for recreational marijuana, which is legal in two of Utah's neighboring states, Colorado and Nevada.
"I think that's one of the bigger concerns out there," Matheson said Wednesday. "Is this the glide path in? We've seen the impacts on places like (Nevada) and Colorado and California in terms of where that leads to the recreational use of marijuana."
A portion of the compromise was to ensure central pharmacies would distribute marijuana so Utah could move away from the "pot shop mentality," he added.
Saltas noted prior to the agreement that Utahns were fed up with legislatures that weren't addressing the issue.
"The state had their chance many times over the past few years to collectively get together and fix a path to this and they didn’t,” he said. “It’s only through the referendum that forced the vote, then they finally make a rational attempt to make something happen. The people have to do it or it’s not going to happen.”
If Proposition 2 passes untouched, it would go into law 2019. The plan under the agreement is to piece together a new law on medical marijuana whether or not the bill passes.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, explained the process.
"An initiative that passes, like Proposition 2, that's one bill. The citizens collectively have an equal power to the legislature to pass bills. If I pass a bill in 2017, the legislature can pass another bill in 2018 that changes my bill or revokes my bill or amends my bill or whatever," Weiler said in an interview on KSLNewsradio Wednesday.
He said he supports medical marijuana, but the problem he saw in Proposition 2 was that it wasn't a yes or no question; it asked how medical marijuana should be distributed in Utah.
"I think by Proposition 2 having the support in passing, it sends a clear signal 'yes, we want medical marijuana,'" he added. "Proposition 2, I think, had some fatal defects, but it did advance the discussion and I think we're going to land in a good place."
A recent Deseret News poll showed 64 percent of likely Utah voters support Proposition 2. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they were against it.
Here's the breakdown:
The poll questioned 1,087 likely Utah voters from Sept. 30 to Oct. 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.97 percentage points.
The compromise, while public and something agreed upon from both sides, isn't quite set in stone since lawmakers will have to wait for the November vote before holding the special session.
In fact, when state lawmakers return to the Utah State Capitol for the special session, they will have to decide whether and how to make changes to the proposition passed by the people.
"The political pressure will be very interesting coming out of this," Matheson said. "I think that's why you're seeing (Drug Safe Utah), including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, still saying 'we want people to vote no' for that very reason. It isn't a binding agreement, in terms of the compromise with the legislature, so that could be suspect once we get past the vote."
Contributing: Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega, KSL Newsradio
Editor's note: A quote in the article previously had the typo of "wired" instead of "mired." That has been corrected to reflect that the person said "mired."