SALT LAKE CITY — A group seeking to stifle a medical marijuana ballot initiative has sued Utah's lieutenant governor to prevent the proposal from going before voters.
Attorneys for Drug Safe Utah argued in Thursday court filings that Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, whose office oversees elections, didn't have the authority to allow initiative backers to gather signatures to get on the November ballot.
Cox's decision on whether to sign off on the signature-gathering conflicts with federal law prohibiting the use and distribution of marijuana and violates Utah's constitution, the attorneys wrote in court documents. They contend legalizing marijuana for medical use in Utah would drive recreational use of the drug, harming Utahns.
"On its face, the initiative clashes with governing federal law and, therefore, places the State in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which makes federal law the 'supreme law of the land,'" the attorneys wrote.
Backers of the initiative say the suit is one of several attempts to undermine their effort.
The group that sued, also named in the suit as the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Utah, has asked a 3rd District judge to issue an injunction blocking Cox from approving the measure ahead of a May 30 deadline for him to do so.
A spokeswoman for Cox's office said it does not comment on pending court cases, but that it has referred the suit to the Utah Attorney General's Office to review.
Also named as plaintiffs in the suit are four men — Bruce Wooley, Walter Plumb, Arthur Brown and Bruce Rigby — who say they are grandparents who sued to prevent harm to Utahns, including their children and grandchildren.
Members of Drug Safe Utah include the Utah Medical Association, Utah Eagle Forum, Sutherland Institute, Utah Prevention Coalition Association, the Utah Narcotics Officers Association, Utah Chiefs of Police, and others, according to court documents.
The group says marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to lung problems and other health issues, and it notes that cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and isn't accepted for medical use.
If medical marijuana were legalized, the group claimed, it would harm Utah residents by raising crime rates, addiction and the risk of car accidents.
The suit adds that "in states that have legalized marijuana, public sentiment changes from marijuana as a last resort to marijuana as something positive to experiment with, even for recreation. Utah is likely to follow this trend."
The group contends there would be no tax on the marijuana sales under the measure, and that it would interfere with local governments' ability to enforce federal law.
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition29 comments on this story
, which supports legalization efforts, said the suit is one of several attempts to undermine the democratic process.
"The time for parlor tricks and political grandstanding should be over. It's time to have a robust public debate on the issue of medical cannabis and let the people of Utah have a say in their democracy and ultimately vote on this important issue."
Drug Safe Utah has taken other steps to halt the initiative. Earlier this month, it filed a formal complaint alleging that an officer with the Utah Patients Coalition offered money in exchange for completed signature removal forms.