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Group puts pressure on Utah lawmakers as panel set to discuss marijuana compromise bill

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2018, file photo, an employee at a medical marijuana cultivator works on topping a marijuana plant, in Eastlake, Ohio.
FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2018, file photo, an employee at a medical marijuana cultivator works on topping a marijuana plant, in Eastlake, Ohio.
David Dermer, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — As a legislative committee prepares to discuss a compromise medical marijuana bill at a public hearing for the first time next week, some advocates are attempting to turn up the pressure on lawmakers to reject the measure.

Lawmakers plan to discuss the bill and take public comment at the Health and Human Service Interim Committee meeting Wednesday, said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who chairs that committee.

Republican House and Senate caucuses are also expected to talk about the legislation that day.

Earlier this month, the Utah Patients Coalition, which got the Proposition 2 medical marijuana initiative on the ballot, and some of the initiative's most vocal critics, including the Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, agreed to a written compromise bill after private talks with legislative leaders.

READ MORE: 13 things voters should know about Utah's medical marijuana initiative

Gov. Gary Herbert also announced this month he would call a special session after Election Day to pass the compromise legalization bill regardless of whether or not voters pass Proposition 2.

Leaders from the House and Senate promised to do all they could to secure enough votes to pass the compromise legislation.

But in an effort to dissuade lawmakers from agreeing to it, prominent Utah medical marijuana advocate Christine Stenquist emailed Thursday a letter to all legislators as well as their election opponents, requesting they fill out a questionnaire that asks, among other things, whether they will "vote to overturn the people's vote on Prop 2."

"Our intention is to share these results with our members (and) the 200,000 plus petition signers," Stenquist's letter says.

The questionnaire also asks legislators and candidates for office whether they "support a lame-duck session of the Utah Legislature" held to "overturn a vote of the people of Utah," and whether they would "insist that, should the need arise, any future discussion around Prop 2 be open to the public and include patients."

Stenquist, who is founder of the medical marijuana advocacy group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), sent the letter in her capacity as co-director of the political issues committee Patients and Families for Proposition 2. She said the compromise is unnecessarily restrictive of legitimate access to medical marijuana.

"The compromise proposal is bad for patients, which would have been readily apparent had even a few patient advocates been included in these 'negotiations,'" she said in her letter to lawmakers, echoing her recent complaint about not having a seat at the table in the private negotiations.

Daw "was kind of surprised" by Stenquist's email, saying "I thought that Christine Stenquist had been kind of talked into the agreement and clearly that was not the case."

Daw said he found the survey's tone “almost threatening” and that he doesn’t plan to fill it out, and doubts many lawmakers would respond either.

“She and I know each other. I think she already knows where I’m at,” he said.

Stenquist said as of Friday morning, "we're getting a nice, healthy response rate." But she also said she anticipated some lawmakers who are leaving office or who do not have a competitive race may not feel compelled to commit to an answer.

Daw, the House’s point person in recent years on cannabis legislation, said TRUCE appears to be “pulling out all the stops” to prevent legislators from passing the compromise.

“Honestly, that puzzled me because every possible kind of cannabis that is available would be available through the agreement. Nothing is held back. Even the whole bud is available,” Daw said.

Stenquist said she feels a sense of urgency to preserve the core of what is in Proposition 2.

"I'm David in this fight and I'm doing the best I can. I asked a lot of people in this state to trust me to get this thing to the finish line."