SALT LAKE CITY — A bill which would have delayed implementation of ballot initiatives never made it to a vote Thursday in the Senate, following criticisms from advocates and backers of the bid to legalize marijuana for medical use in Utah through such a measure this fall.
However, those advocates for the Utah Medical Cannabis Act were alone among ballot initiative campaigns in raising their voices against the late-session legislation. They said that was because HB 471 would substantially impact only their ballot measure.
Backers of the remaining initiatives concurred late Wednesday, telling the Deseret News they weren't not worried about Rep. Brad Daw's HB471 because it wouldn't have delayed their respective ballot measures much.
But in the end, Daw's bill failed to have an effect on any ballot initiatives after the Senate didn't get to it Thursday night.
Earlier this week, DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition ballot initiative, said he didn't "have a crystal ball" to understand the exact reasons for the bill other than to delay provisions of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which will likely appear on the ballot in November, and perhaps alter parts of it before it has the chance to go into effect.
"I don't know what the intents or motives are, but I can say (the bill) does directly affect us and we see them targeting us for sure," Schanz said Wednesday. "Because the other ballot initiatives are not affected by this delayed implementation, (since) their ballot initiatives don't go … into effect upon passage. They're already delayed."
“It feels leveled just against the medical cannabis initiative,” Thomas Paskett, policy director for Together For Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, said this week.
HB471 would have delayed the implementation of all voter-approved ballot initiatives until 60 days after the end of the next legislative session, unless the initiative specifies a later implementation date.
But of the six ballot initiatives currently gathering signatures for inclusion on November 2018 ballots, only the medicinal cannabis measure would have been significantly delayed.
It would have delayed by at least six months the implementation of a provision called "affirmative defense," which gives those who use cannabis a legal defense against prosecution for marijuana-related charges. That's according to Christine Stenquist, founder and president of the cannabis group.
Daw denied allegations that his bill singled out the medicinal cannabis initiative, saying before the bill failed to get a vote that it only serves a practical legal need that ballot initiatives often create. He also denied that his bill was seeking to thwart the will of the people or make it harder to pass ballot initiatives.
Daw and Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, defended HB471 at length on the House floor earlier this week, saying it was a “minimum delay” that "does not raise the bar by 1 millimeter" in terms of the standard of getting an initiative on the ballot. The bill simply seeks to give the Legislature time to appropriate funds and smooth out potential legal conflicts in a year with so many competing ballot initiatives, they said.
Under current law, ballot initiatives go into effect five days after the governor certifies the results of the canvass, which usually lands on Dec. 1, according to a spokesman from the state elections office.
HB471 would have pushed back the effective date until sometime in May. For any ballot initiatives passed in November 2018, that date would have been May 12, 2019.
Our Schools Now, the ballot initiative that seeks to raise taxes to provide more funding for public education, would also have been impacted by a previous version of HB471, delaying its implementation.
That measure and any other ballot initiative that raises taxes would have been pushed back to the January following the next legislative session after the canvass, which would be January 2020 for such initiatives approved in 2018. The bill was amended, though, to no longer push back the date for initiatives that seek to raise taxes.
Utah Decides Healthcare, an initiative to put the question of full Medicaid expansion on the ballot, has an April 2019 implementation date and would not have been delayed by HB471 by more than a few weeks, according to an initiative spokesman.
The Better Boundaries initiative, which seeks to fight gerrymandering, has no implementation date, and the redistricting process contemplated by the petition won’t begin until after the 2020 U.S. Census, according to an initiative official.
Count My Vote and Keep My Voice are conflicting initiatives dealing with the ongoing controversy over Utah's caucus and convention system for nominating candidates and the signature-gathering route to the ballot. Count My Vote officials told the Deseret News that its initiative would not take effect until the 2020 election cycle.
A spokesman for Keep My Voice declined to comment on HB471 Wednesday night, saying he hadn't even heard of the bill.
HB471 passed 46-25 in the House late Monday night, after failing moments earlier by a 34-39 vote. The bill was brought back to the floor for further debate, resulting in another vote that sent it to the Senate, where it died.
Now, without the impact of HB471 looming over it, the Medical Cannabis Act ballot initiative — if passed by voters — would go into effect five days after the governor certifies the results of the election in November.
Daw is the sponsor or co-sponsor of several significant cannabis-related bills this session:
• SB130 allows the state to regulate CBD products derived from the hemp plant. That bill has passed in both the House and Senate and awaits the governor's signature.
• HB197 allows the state to set up dispensaries and grow cannabis for research and also allows individuals to possess it for academic or research purposes without running afoul of the federal Controlled Substances Act. That bill also has passed in both the House and Senate and goes to the governor.
• And HB195 is a "right to try" law that allows terminally ill patients to use medicinal cannabis if they have "an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed" and who likely have six months or less to live. HB195 also passed the House and Senate.
The cannabis group contends that Daw was trying to head off the medicinal cannabis initiative through HB471 in favor of his less comprehensive bills passed this session that don't allow for the latitude of marijuana use among Utahns that would be legal under the initiative.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, expressed similar suspicion about HB471, saying Daw has for a number of years tried to regulate cannabis-related products and restrict their legalization.
Daw told the News that if the Legislature wanted to modify legislation created by a ballot initiative, “they can do that anyway" during the general session or a special session.17 comments on this story
"(HB471) neither allows nor denies the Legislature the ability to modify an initiative," he said. "What it’s doing is saying, ‘OK, look. If you ask for money or anything like that, or there’s a conflict, give us a chance to straighten it out.' That’s all. It doesn’t stop the initiative. It doesn’t make it any harder to get it on the ballot. It doesn’t prevent the people from voting for it."
Daw said there's an unusually high number of ballot initiatives this year, and the potential for conflict with existing legislation moving through the Capitol might be why so many people are feeling "picked on."
He speculated that in any other year, HB471 would "fly through" the legislative session without controversy. He said the legal complexity of having this many ballot initiatives warranted his bill.