Back in 2018, Utah’s legislature passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state and the move was met with quite the resistance from legalization advocates. Although voters in the state had voted to legalize medical marijuana via Proposition 2, state legislators supplanted it with the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, a more tightly controlled plan for providing marijuana-based treatment. According to Gov. Gary Herbert, the legislation acted as a bridge between opponents of Proposition 2 such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and those who supported the initiative.
However, groups like Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (“TRUCE”) and the Epilepsy Association of Utah were not comfortable with the medical cannabis initiative and filed a lawsuit against the legislature. Two years and countless court battles later, a spokeswoman for TRUCE has announced that the group will file in state court to withdraw the lawsuit. The case is being pulled due to the group’s inability to keep paying legal costs over the two year legal battle, explains TRUCE founder, brain tumor survivor and longtime cannabis activist Christine Stenquist.
“While this lawsuit is coming to an end, the fight for a real medical cannabis system for the state of Utah, which will meet all patient needs, continues,” she says. On the bright side, the lawsuit eventually forced Utah legislators to remove key portions of the medical marijuana bill, portions supporters of the voter-backed initiative claim were designed to curtail cannabis distribution in Utah against the public’s will. “We did get a big win out of that,” she says. “We absolutely crushed it.”
Although the group would have liked to continue wrangling over the larger issue of the limits of the Utah Legislature’s power when it comes to legitimate citizen initiatives, “the money is just not there,” Stenquist says. Instead, she urges a “broad coalition” of other interest groups in Utah to unite and pursue the legal cause. “Two years is a long time to push on a lawsuit and not get as far as we had wanted, but they have the means to push back on anything they want,” she says, referring to the state government’s near infinite supply of funds sourced from taxes.
According to Ross “Rocky” Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer representing the group, the case has been dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning it can be refiled at any point in the future. However, he notes that this isn’t the first time successful citizen initiatives have been altered by lawmakers. “The Legislature acts so contemptuously towards the right of the people. We believe it is high time that we get an answer from the Utah Supreme Court as to whether there is really any meaningful right of initiative legislation under Utah’s constitution.”
It isn’t clear whether cannabis companies like Pure Extract Technologies Inc. see the legal battle in Utah as failing in its objectives, or the changes to the law made make the effort worthwhile even if it was pursued to the end.
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