Utah Senate president compels attendance at medical marijuana special session

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate President Wayne Niederhauser is warning senators not to skip next month’s special session where they will cast a critical vote on the medical cannabis “compromise” bill.

“It is important to have every Senator attend the special session. To avoid legal issues, legal questions and public confusion, this bill needs an immediate effective date and thus must pass by a two-thirds majority. Specifically, law enforcement is very concerned with the ‘affirmative defense’ provision in Prop 2, which protects medical cannabis users from criminal conviction, whether or not they have received a medical cannabis card,” he wrote.

“Please make every effort to be in attendance. Several senators have already indicated they may not be available to attend, and this concerns me. While I understand you may have prior obligations and commitments, this will be a critical special session and requires each of you to attend.”

President Niederhauser got more direct.

“As Senate President, I can compel attendance of absent senators. While I don’t believe that will be necessary in this case, due to the importance of the special session, I will not hesitate to order the sergeant-at-arms to find and ensure your attendance,” he wrote.

A “call of the Senate,” as it is known, is not uncommon in the legislature. When faced with a close vote, lawmakers have invoked it. The chamber doors are closed and the sergeant-at-arms will round up senators wherever they are on the Capitol grounds and bring them to the chambers to vote. While it sounds serious, it usually involves fetching a distracted senator in a meeting nearby and telling them to rush into the chamber to quickly cast an “aye” or “nay” vote.

If they are out of the Capitol complex, however, the Utah Highway Patrol could be sent to bring them in.

President Niederhauser’s letter was sent to all members of the Utah State Senate. A copy was provided to FOX 13 by Rocky Anderson, the attorney who represents Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) which has threatened a lawsuit over the Prop. 2 “compromise” bill. Senate chief-of-staff Mark Thomas confirmed the authenticity of the email.

TRUCE, a supporter of the citizen ballot initiative, has demanded the Utah State Legislature implement what voters approved earlier this month. They’ve threatened a lawsuit over the bill that was crafted as it appeared Prop. 2 was headed for passage over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ influence on the issue.

The LDS Church originally opposed Prop. 2 and urged its members to vote against it. Then, it entered into closed-door talks organized by House Speaker Greg Hughes that also involved the Utah Medical Association (which also opposed it) and Prop. 2 sponsors the Utah Patients Coalition and Libertas Institute. That led to the crafting of this “compromise” bill which will replace Prop. 2 when the legislature meets in special session on Dec. 3.

RELATED: Read what’s in the compromise bill here

TRUCE has accused the LDS Church of exercising outsized influence on the medical cannabis issue and other Utah politics. The LDS Church has characterized itself as an interested “community member.” Governor Gary Herbert has defended the LDS Church’s involvement in the Prop. 2 talks.

Read the full letter here: