Medical marijuana opponents ask for emergency restraining order blocking it from the ballot

Posted at 3:55 PM, Jun 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-29 19:03:57-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of the medical cannabis ballot initiative have asked a federal judge to issue an emergency restraining order blocking Lt. Governor Spencer Cox from putting it before voters in November.

In court filings obtained by FOX 13 late Friday, the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, which is made up of the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, the Sutherland Institute, and law enforcement groups including the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, asked U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups to issue an emergency injunction. They argued marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law.

“Moreover, legalizing whole-plant marijuana in any form – even for ‘medicinal’ purposes – would undoubtedly increase its use among Utahns, especially young Utahns. In so doing, such legalization would leave in its wake an ocean of human lives shattered by addiction, and a mountain of additional costs to be borne by Utah’s taxpayers and families,” Coalition attorney Blake Ostler wrote.

The motion for injunction extensively laid out the coalition’s arguments against the ballot initiative, and argued it would be asking voters to approve something already illegal.

“While all Americans are free to advocate that they or others should be allowed to violate federal drug prohibitions, they are not free to use the taxpayer-paid ballot as a platform for such advocacy, especially when the initiative contradicts federal and state constitutional law and state statute. Plaintiffs benefit substantially from Utah’s existing laws and culture that restrict consumption of alcohol,” Ostler wrote, referencing Utah’s strict liquor laws.

Lt. Governor Spencer Cox’s attorneys pushed back on Friday, calling the coalition’s request “an unorthodox pre-enactment challenge to an initiative that has yet to be put to a vote.”

Assistant Utah Attorney General David Wolf asked the judge to throw out the emergency restraining order request.

“There is no emergency. The election is months away, and the voters may reject the Initiative and moot the constitutional issues that, in Plaintiffs’ view, justify an emergency (preliminary) injunction,” he wrote in a filing obtained by FOX 13.

The Lt. Governor’s Office blasted the coalition for seeking to usurp the will of voters.

“Unable to establish any of the preliminary injunction factors, Plaintiffs instead argue that the Initiative is bad policy. But the people of Utah, through the initiative process and their duly elected representatives in the Utah legislature, get to decide what policy is best, not the Plaintiffs, especially on matters of health and safety,” Wolf wrote.

In a recent interview with FOX 13, the Lt. Governor said he was not taking a position on the substance of what is now called Proposition 2, but defended his authority to put it on the ballot.

“We’re absolutely within our authority. They met the requisite signatures on medical marijuana. They got enough signatures, there weren’t enough signatures removed, they qualified and so they should be on the ballot,” Lt. Gov. Cox said.

The Utah Patients Coalition, which sponsored Proposition 2, also asked the judge on Friday to dismiss the emergency injunction request. It argued that the proposition was not pre-empted by federal law, and that voters should decide this one way or another.

“Fearing that the voters may exercise their right in contrast to what Plaintiffs believe to be right for everyone else, they attempt to use the judicial branch to prohibit the people from deciding the matter,” Gerald Salcido, the lawyer for the Utah Patients Coalition, wrote in a motion. “The public has an absolute interest in deciding this matter through the legislative process and an injunction would inappropriately negate that interest.”

Judge Waddoups had previously scheduled a hearing in late July to consider requests by the Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Utah Patients Coalition to dismiss the lawsuit.