SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are expected to meet Monday and pass changes to a voter-approved ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, a plan that was announced as a broad compromise but has since generated backlash.
The plan creates “massive obstacles” by cutting the number of medical professionals who can approve use of the drug, the kinds of conditions that can be treated with it and the number of places people can get it, said Rocky Anderson, an attorney representing medical-marijuana advocates.
“It’s an almost complete disregard for the will of the people once they’ve spoken through the initiative process,” Anderson said.
Supporters of the compromise, including the influential Mormon church, say it will still give access to suffering patients while ensuring marijuana stays out of the hands of children and blocking any possibility of broader legalization.
The compromise was announced before Election Day, and was backed by some medical-marijuana advocates. They argue that state law allows the Legislature to change the language of laws passed by voters at any time, so it was better to be at the negotiating table with opponents of the measure rather than endure a prolonged legal fight.
Despite an opposition effort by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the original legalization measure passed with 53 percent of the vote.
The compromise plan changes the language blocking some marijuana edibles such as cookies, which might appeal to children. It also won’t allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary.
Smoking marijuana isn’t allowed in the original and won’t be allowed in the new version.
Anderson, a former Salt Lake City mayor and attorney representing Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, has said the faith is exerting its power to push through significant changes to the proposition. The groups have said they’re considering a lawsuit.
The Mormon church stands behind the work it did to help craft a compromise it considers a “safer” medical marijuana program.
The religion opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to broader use of marijuana. However, as the proposal seemed to gain support, the church agreed to the pre-election deal to allow access for people with serious medical needs.
Mormons have long frowned upon marijuana use because of a key church health code called the “Word of Wisdom,” which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
About two-thirds of the state’s residents belong to the religion and the majority of state and federal lawmakers are Mormon.