Medical cannabis advocates and patients tried a few times—and failed—to persuade Utah’s Legislature to legalize medical cannabis. Former senator Mark Madsen’s attempts to drive this new conversation in a conservative state were met with frustration; a majority of his colleagues ultimately preferred a much more regulated, limited program—if any at all.
To advocates, this was not enough—especially in light of consistently strong public polling support among Utah voters. To that end, a group of allies formed the Utah Patients Coalition to place the issue on the 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
Senator Madsen’s bill was modified slightly and turned into the legal proposal that later became Prop 2—but not until the Utah Patients Coalition was able to submit enough signatures from voters around the state. Between ours and allied organizations, the total campaign cost around $1 million simply to give voters this opportunity. We succeeded in placing the question on the ballot, sparking a political fight from those who wanted our effort to fail.
This opposition was well organized and well funded, and on the cusp of launching a massive ad campaign that, we felt, fundamentally misrepresented what was in Prop 2 and what its intentions were. Internal polling revealed to us that the support for Prop 2 had substantially decreased and would have gone below 50% had the opposition’s ad campaign launched—a fact we did not publicly reveal at the time.
Instead, we partnered with Libertas Institute to have conversations with some of our chief opponents to explore an opportunity for negotiations that would preserve the broad aspect of our proposal while including some amendments that would satisfy them enough to stand down and not try to gut the ballot proposition.
And that’s an important point—even if Prop 2 had passed absent any negotiations, there is nothing in Utah law to protect it; the Legislature could have immediately repealed or gutted it. (And in fact, those plans were in the works.) As such, we could have fought to win the battle while losing the war, or we could have negotiated to maintain a broad program in place that we could improve over time. We spoke with fellow patients and advocates about our options and felt strongly that the latter option was in the best interest of patients.
In short, we weren’t in this to win a ballot proposition, or defeat our opponents. We were doing this to help patients. We had to be stewards of their interests and do right by them—because we are them. They are our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Their message was clear: legalize medical cannabis—not simply in 2018, but for the long term.
So the negotiated compromise locked in place our key goals while bringing the opposition on board: raw flower, a broad condition list, and a private market that could grow over time as more patients came on board. More importantly, the war had a cease fire so that we could collaboratively build upon and improve what we negotiated, making it a better program over time.
And that’s where we are today—with a massive step in the right direction. We’re going to continue walking in that same direction as we have for years prior.
Now, as a PAC, we’ll engage not just on policy with the Legislature but also will financially support candidates who share our views and want to preserve a broad medical cannabis program.