Utah Gov. would oppose medical marijuana, Medicaid measures

FILE--In this March 8, 2018, file photo, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert speaks during an interview at the Utah state Capitol in Salt Lake City. Herbert said Thursday, April 26, 2018, that he will oppose ballot initiatives allowing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid in his state but is okay with two other potential measures that may come before voters in November. The state is currently validating signatures to see whether the four questions will be presented to voters in November.(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he opposes ballot initiatives allowing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid in his state, but is OK with two other potential measures that may come before voters.

The state is validating signatures to see whether the four questions will be presented to voters in November.

Herbert said Thursday during his monthly televised news conference on KUED-TV that he supports former presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his Senate primary race against state lawmaker Mike Kennedy.

The Republican governor previously encouraged Romney to run for the seat left open by Sen. Orrin Hatch’s retirement and remains “partial” to him for the June 26 primary.

Highlights of the governor’s news conference:

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MEDICAL MARIJUANA

Herbert said Thursday he supports the concept of medical marijuana broadly, but has deep reservations about the language.

“I’m against the initiative that I think has too many loopholes and leaves too many things uncertain,” he said. “Potentially it leads to the ability to have recreational marijuana as we’ve seen in other states.”

The proposal in Utah would not allow card-holding residents to smoke pot — instead they would have to use edible, oil or topical forms — or grow it except under limited circumstances.

Supporters say they’re tired of waiting for the largely conservative legislature to act, and the ballot measure is in line with the 29 states and District of Columbia that already allow medical marijuana.

Herbert said he wants change at the federal level to remove marijuana from the category of highly regulated Schedule I drugs, which would allow for more tests and regulatory certainty.

“Let’s find out what the science tells us and let’s see if we can’t use medical marijuana to alleviate pain and suffering, which we all agree to,” he said.

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MEDICAID EXPANSION

Herbert signed a bill in March to expand Medicaid coverage for Utahns living below the federal poverty level, cap the state’s spending and mandate that recipients work or do job training programs.

Because of that, he opposes a ballot initiative that would expand eligibility for the federal state health care program up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, as called for by the Affordable Care Act.

“What we’ve got is a better alternative,” Herbert said Thursday.

“Medicaid is the budget-buster of all budget-busters in our state budget. It should be a concern if you care about balancing the budget and being fiscally prudent.”

Supporters of the initiative say the law that was passed, which is awaiting federal approval, doesn’t go far enough.

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REDISTRICTING

A bipartisan initiative to create an independent redistricting commission won’t get any opposition from the governor.

The Better Boundaries plan would have a new panel draw lines for districts following the 2020 census. Current law leaves that to the state’s overwhelmingly Republican lawmakers, causing some to worry their motivations might be partisan.

Opponents say it takes powers away from the legislature.

Herbert said Thursday the plan would have complications, but that it’s “certainly intellectually good sense.”

“It’s not going to be exactly the silver bullet that everybody thinks it’s going to be, but I have no opposition to independent redistricting,” he said.

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NOMINATING PROCESS

A rift has emerged within Utah’s Republican Party over the path for selecting nominees.

Some hard-liners want to revert to a system in which only a small number of delegates select party nominees at conventions that provide an equal platform.

Others prefer to continue a hybrid path, allowing candidates to gather voter signatures, which opens the process up to more moderate office-seekers.

Herbert supports the current hybrid method, and a ballot initiative to simplify the procedure for candidates.

“What this initiative does is it actually makes current statute better,” he said.

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