After Utah Supreme Court ruling on medical cannabis, some want an ‘initiative on initiatives’

SALT LAKE CITY -- Daniel Newby is thankful to the Utah Supreme Court for one thing.

"At least the charade is over. The court confirmed that initiatives have been an illusory fraud all along," he said.

Newby was among a handful of angry citizens who argued before the state's top court, challenging the legislature's decision to replace voter-approved Proposition 2. A member of "The People's Right," they sought a referendum -- a public vote -- on the bill the legislature replaced Prop. 2 with.

In a unanimous ruling on Tuesday night, the Utah Supreme Court rejected their request and ruled that Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah State Legislature were within their power to modify or replace the initiative.

"The initiative process is just a non-binding resolution that they can wipe their posteriors with. There’s no weight, no force, no equal. The citizen body is not equal to the legislative body, it’s all just a fraud," Newby said.

Republican leaders on Utah's Capitol Hill believe the Court got it right.

"We appreciate the court's careful review and analysis of this case. They reached the same conclusions as the Legislature and unanimously agreed the process set forth in the Constitution was followed," said Aundrea Peterson, a spokeswoman for the Utah Senate Majority Caucus.

Gov. Herbert's office said he never takes the responsibility of a special session lightly.

"The Utah Supreme Court’s decision makes clear the respective roles of the three branches of state government and reiterates that those branches exercise independent authority while working together on behalf of the people," his office said.

The Court did leave the door open for The People's Right to pursue some aspects of its challenge through a traditional lawsuit. Newby said they were considering that. Meanwhile, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and the Epilepsy Association of Utah still have a lawsuit challenging the legislature's replacement of Prop. 2 as well as the state-run medical cannabis dispensary network.

Some are already threatening to take action to protect citizen ballot initiatives from legislative interference.

"Every initiative is at risk because they’ve set it up in such a way that the legislature can override legally what the voters do," said Richard Davis, the chairman of the United Utah Party. "We think, however, if there is a strong majority in favor of initiative, they’re less than likely."

In an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday, Davis said his party is considering a 2022 ballot initiative that would protect future initiatives. It would attempt to block the legislature from overriding the central issue voters approve.

The United Utah Party, which bills itself as a centrist alternative to Republicans and Democrats, is currently pursuing a ballot initiative to implement term limits in 2020. Davis acknowledged that under current law, the legislature could replace whatever passes. He said there's a check on that: vote lawmakers out.

"We think the voters also don’t want to see initiatives played with by the legislature. But at the same time, we’re also trying to run candidates who are going to approach legislating in a different way," Davis said.

Davis acknowledged the United Utah Party is playing a game of "chicken" with lawmakers by contemplating an initiative on initiatives. But he believed that in the face of more pushback by voters, they would not tamper with it.

"With an initiative on initiatives, they can come back and change that as well, it’s true," he said. "You’re kind of playing a political game with them."

Newby said he was supportive of the idea of an "initiative on initiatives."

"I think any strategy that confronts these criminals head-on is a good strategy," he said.

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