DEA Task Force Backs Group Fighting Medical Marijuana in Utah

DEA Task Force Backs Group Fighting Medical Marijuana in Utah

Are federal agents trying to interfere with a state medical cannabis effort despite President Trump’s pledge to respect local marijuana policies?

New public documents show that a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) task force is officially affiliated with a group that’s doing everything it can to derail a proposed Utah initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

Drug Safe Utah, an organization representing opponents of the initiative such as the Utah Medical Association and the DEA Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force, is actively recruiting paid canvassers to encourage voters who signed the cannabis ballot petition to rescind their signatures. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the DEA task force’s affiliation on Thursday.

Last month, organizers behind the proposed Utah medical cannabis initiative met two key requirements to qualify the measure’s inclusion on the state ballot in November: They collected received more than 113,000 total signatures and exceeded the signature threshold in more than 26 of the state’s 29 Senate districts, according to county clerks.

Days later, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who recently came out in support of medial cannabisaccess and research, met with representatives from the Utah Medical Association. The discussion centered on “medical marijuana research, puns, and finding real alternatives to addictive opioids,” according to a tweet from Hatch’s official account. Drug Safe Utah’s primary officer, Michelle McOmber, is also the CEO of the Utah Medical Association.

“While there has been opposition [to legalization initiatives] in other states, the opposition we’re seeing here, we think, is unprecedented,” DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “It’s just kind of bizarre that a federal agency can weigh in like that.”

The DEA task force was not immediately available to comment on the nature of its involvement in the anti-legalization group, but it is listed as “an organization affiliated with the [political issues committee]” in a statement of organization filed on April 27.

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The apparent endorsement of an anti-legalization group by the DEA comes at a time when the executive branch is moving in the opposite direction, with President Donald Trump pledging to back congressional efforts to protect states where marijuana is legal. The president has also repeatedly said that he supports medical marijuana “100 percent” and knows people who have benefitted from it.

Then There’s the Ethics Question

It’s unclear whether DEA affiliation with a political campaign to block medical marijuana legalization amounts to a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain types of partisan political activity by federal employees.

Kathleen Clark, an ethics law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told Marijuana Moment that the “key word” was “partisan.” 

“I believe that in general, it does not reach ballot initiatives that aren’t associated with a party,” she said. However, she expressed uncertainty over the involvement of a federal agency in state-level ballot initiatives, and questioned whether the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which formally established the DEA’s task force program, permits this type of activity. 

Marijuana Moment reached out to the Justice Department for clarification, but it did not respond by the time of publication. Drug Safe Utah also did not acknowledge requests for comment.

https://massroots.wpengine.com/news/utah-medical-marijuana-measure-enough-signatures-ballot/

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

DEA Task Force Backs Group Fighting Medical Marijuana in Utah

 

Majority of Utah Voters Support Medical Marijuana

Majority of Utah Voters Support Medical Marijuana

According to a poll by Utah Policy, 66 percent of Utahns support legal medical marijuana, administered under the supervision of a prescribing physician.

The polling data indicates stronger support with younger and older demographics. Of voters between ages 18 and 24, 59 percent support medical marijuana legislation, along with 67 percent of voters ages 45 to 54, and 69 percent of voters age 65 and older.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been somewhat supportive of medical marijuana. Among the individuals who were polled as being active in the LDS Church, 55 percent were in favor of medical marijuana. The Church previously stated,

“While we are not in a position to evaluate specific medical claims, the Church understands that there are some individuals who may benefit from the medical use of compounds found in marijuana.”

Senator Mark Madsen originally proposed a bill that was later scaled back to limit the amount of THC. Drug Policy Project of Utah’s Vice President Jessica Reade Gleam expressed concerns for the revised bill.

“While we are concerned that many of the amendments may impede access for patients and could potentially increase the overall cost of the program, Sen. Madsen deserves the sincere appreciation of supporters of medical cannabis for his efforts to address the concerns of many involved in this process and adapt this bill in reflection of those discussions.”

Much of Utah’s medical marijuana legalization efforts have taken a legislative approach, in contrast to other states who legalized cannabis through ballot measures. While this method includes lawmakers in the discussion, it excludes voters from the process. This polling data suggests that a well-crafted ballot measure would pass.

Turner Bitton, president of the Drug Policy Project of Utah explains why a legislative approach suits Utah more than voter initiatives.

“Utahns want somewhat of a compromise,” Bitton said. “They want a tightly regulated program that can’t be accessed by children and teenagers, and they don’t want it to lead to widespread legalization.”

He believes that a legislative approach is the way to deploy a heavily regulated medical marijuana program. “I’m confident in 2017 that it will happen,” said Bitton. Candidates currently campaigning for the Utah governor’s seat support medical marijuana in one form or another. In the Utah Policy poll, 55 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats support medical marijuana, making it a possible campaign issue as November approaches.

kristin kloc

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