SALT LAKE CITY -- With nearly 160,000 signatures gathered from across Utah, it appears medical marijuana will be on the November ballot for voters to decide.
The Utah Patients Coalition, which has been running the campaign to get the issue before voters, told FOX 13 on Monday it has had 120,000 of those signatures verified by county clerks. The Lt. Governor's Office said Monday it has validated 117,000 of those. That's still more than the 113,000 needed to qualify for the November ballot.
"This is indeed going to be on the ballot for 2018," said DJ Schanz with the Utah Patients Coalition.
The signatures are still being verified by county clerks and the Lt. Governor's Office. To qualify, medical marijuana supporters have collect a percentage of signatures in 26 of Utah's 29 senate districts. A few of those need some extra signatures, Schanz said. The deadline for that is April 16.
"We’re continually encouraged by the numbers we get back," he said, adding that Utahns across the political spectrum have united over the issue.
"We’ve been surprised that the more conservative rural areas have actually been extremely supportive," Schanz told FOX 13. "They’ve seen the effects of the opioid epidemic more than anybody."
The medical marijuana ballot initiative would be significantly more expansive than the Utah State Legislature has wanted, treating a bigger list of patients in a variety of ways. It's that expansive nature that has concerned lawmakers, who have preferred to take incremental steps to use cannabis as a medical treatment.
"When I poll my constituents, they want medical cannabis," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem. "But what they want is a carefully controlled program. Not the wide-open program the initiative’s sponsoring."
Rep. Daw has sponsored medical marijuana bills in the Utah State Legislature, including one that grants terminally ill patients a "right to try" it, and have the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food grow it. He suggested the ballot initiative goes too far into recreational marijuana territory by allowing smoking and lax prescription policies.
"We’re taking it a step at a time, whereas the initiative takes it not only a step to medical cannabis but way beyond it," he said.
Schanz said the legislature's bills don't offer enough patients relief and lawmakers have ignored the will of the people for too long. The Utah Patients Coalition was pleased with a new UtahPolicy.com poll showing 77% of Utahns support medical marijuana.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert took note of medical marijuana's popularity in the polls in brief comments to FOX 13 on Monday.
"I do believe that people support marijuana use for medicinal purposes. I’d support it, too. I just want to have science behind it making sure we understand it does do something good. Not just an anecdotal," he said.
Asked if he would vote for the initiative, the governor replied: "You’ve got to read the initiative, it’s not just do you support marijuana for medical purposes. The devil’s in the details as we say."