Lindsey Whitehurst and Julian Hattem, Associated Press Published 10:43 p.m. MT May 21, 2018
Patients, caregivers and supporters attend a Utah Patients Coalition news conference in June 2017. The group filed a challenge May 21, 2018, to defend a proposed medical-marijuana ballot initiative from legal attacks.(Photo: Rick Bowmer, AP)
SALT LAKE CITY — Supporters and opponents of medical marijuana in Utah are preparing to square off in court over a proposed ballot initiative, opening a new front for what has been a contentious public battle.
The Utah Patients Coalition, which drove medical marijuana initiatives, filed a challenge Monday seeking to intervene in a lawsuit brought by opponents citing federal drug law.
In court papers, supporters said they had spent significant amounts of time and money to place the ballot before voters in November and should be able to defend it from legal attacks.
“While our opponents want to debate in the courtroom with a single judge deciding the fate of medical cannabis, we look forward to an active debate in the court of public opinion where all Utahns can have a say,” coalition director DJ Schanz said in a statement.
The case was brought Thursday by Drug Safe Utah. The group asked for an emergency court order blocking the question from reaching the ballot. They allege that the prospect of Utah legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes would be illegal since the drug remains outlawed at the federal level.
“It requires state employees to essentially violate federal law because they have to cooperate with people who are violating federal laws in selling medical marijuana,” said Blake Ostler, a lawyer representing Drug Safe Utah. “That in and of itself is a crime called aiding and abetting.”
The proposal would let people with certain medical conditions use edible