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Medical marijuana will be on Utah ballot; Count My Vote is out

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees elections for the state, has announced which voter initiatives will be on the ballot this fall.

According to Cox, Utah voters will be able to weigh in on whether to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

“Today’s announcement is victory for patients and their supporters—including our organization—who have worked hard for years to make sure Utah law does not treat patients as criminals,” the Liberatas Institute said in a statement, Tuesday.

The issue gained a lot of attention and generated debate after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement earlier this month, saying the LDS church had asked a local law firm to review the initiative and urging members to read that and make their own decisions accordingly.

“That memorandum raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted,” the LDS church said in the statement.

Also included on the ballot will be initiatives aimed at creating an independent redistricting commission, and the Utah Decides Healthcare initiative, which is aimed at ensuring state residents have access to federal programs like Medicaid and CHIP.

One of the most high-profile voter initiative efforts for the 2018 election fell short. Count My Vote proponents had hoped to strengthen a 2014 legislative compromise that allowed candidates in political races to qualify for the ballot either by collecting signatures or by going through the traditional caucus/convention process.

“It’s disappointing in the sense that [you] always wish you wouldn’t have to go to the next step, but I believe given the fact that the opposition folks have already filed litigation that’s where we were going to be anyway,” said Rich McKeown, executive co-chair of Count My Vote.

The direct primary elections initiative effort was subject to an intense counter effort, with a group calling itself Keep My Voice working to have signatures removed from the initiative.

“Over the last six weeks, Keep My Voice has identified thousands of supposed Count My Vote supporters whose signatures were forged by CMV signature gatherers, or who were misled or deceived into signing something else,” the group said in a statement, Tuesday. “With the help of Keep My Voice volunteers, thousands of Utah voters have been alerted and given the opportunity to submit their signature removal statements to county clerks across the state – as allowed by state law – so their names are not falsely added as supporters of Count My Vote.”

The Lt. Governor’s numbers show the Count My Vote effort secured enough total signatures to qualify for the ballot, but it fell short of a requirement that those signatures reach required thresholds in 26 of Utah’s 29 state senate districts. McKeown said they plan to appeal the Lt. Governor’s decision in court, saying they have evidence that valid signatures were disqualified unnecessarily.

“We are prepared to move forward and anticipate that we’ll have substantial amounts of evidence to verify our side of the story,” McKeown said. “There’s not a lot of time but we believe the system is set up to be expedited and allow us to do this in adequate time.”

He said he’s confident they can still make the deadline to be on November’s ballot if they win the appeal.

Keep My Voice and the Utah Constitution Party last week filed a lawsuit against Cox, accusing him of having a personal and partisan conflict of interest favoring the Count My Vote effort.

 

CONTRIBUTING: Dave Cawley and Becky Bruce