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Medical marijuana advocates begin the process to put it on the 2018 ballot in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY -- Advocates for medical cannabis are beginning the process to put the on the 2018 ballot for Utah voters to decide.

After a legislative session that saw only a handful of bills pass, patient advocates who want a more robust medical marijuana program told FOX 13 they plan to begin the process next month for a ballot initiative.

"We are really, honestly answering a demand," said Christine Stenquist of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE). "The legislators have failed so the people are taking this up. This is a movement by the people, for the people, without a doubt."

In April, they can begin the process to gather signatures for a ballot initiative. Stenquist said polling has shown promise for an initiative to pass and TRUCE has been meeting with potential donors. It is expected to cost millions to get the issue on the ballot.

"We're looking at $600,000 to $800,000 just for the signature-gathering portion of this," she said. "Then there's the other million-and-a-half that's going to be advertising and making sure we get the message out."

Stenquist said while they are modeling it on national legislation, the effort is going to be locally organized. She insisted that any ballot initiative would not include recreational marijuana, but it would be "whole plant" that could also allow everything from edibles to inhalants.

The Utah State Legislature is expected to take up medical marijuana again next year. In the session that recently ended, lawmakers passed some bills allowing research and groundwork but did not advance a critical policy bill that would legalize it in Utah.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, told FOX 13 he planned to run medical cannabis legislation next year. He said lawmakers want to drive sound policy with sound data.

"I’m always concerned with ballot initiatives because this is something we have done a lot of negotiating with a lot of different stakeholders," Rep. Daw said. "It’s kind of a bill that requires a lot of feedback from a lot of people you can’t get with an initiative."

Rep. Daw said if the ballot initiative is too broadly worded, he expected voters would reject it.

Speaking to FOX 13, Governor Gary Herbert also expressed a desire to see the issue tackled with sound public policy. He said he wanted to see the right laws in place.

"That really means let's take it step by step by step, and get to the right place," Gov. Herbert said. "We're not there now. But I think we're on the right road, going the right direction."