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New poll suggests a slip in Utahns' support for medical marijuana, but with 64 percent still in favor

Mark Vlahos, head grower at Sira Naturals Inc., Mark, left obscured behind plant tray, and Michael Dundas, right, the company's CEO, examine cannabis plants on Thursday, July 12, 2018, at the Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility in Milford
FILE - Head grower at Sira Naturals, Inc., Mark Vlahos, left obscured behind plant tray, and the company's CEO Michael Dundas, right, examine cannabis plants, Thursday, July 12, 2018, at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility, in Milford, Mass.
Steven Senne, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly published Utah Policy poll suggests support for medical marijuana legalization has recently slipped among the state's voters, though a majority still support it.

When asked whether they "support or oppose legalizing doctor-recommended use of marijuana for certain diseases and pain relief," 64 percent of respondents said they favored it, with 33 percent against it, Utah Policy reported.

The survey, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates among likely voters, was for the most part carried out after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and various other community groups and state lawmakers teamed up to urge voters to reject the state's medical marijuana ballot initiative in November.

The coalition made its announcement urging voter opposition to Proposition 2 on Aug. 23, and the poll was conducted from Aug. 22 through Aug. 31.

Overall support for medical marijuana legalization was down significantly compared to its previous poll, published in May, which showed support at 73 percent. Three other polls published by Utah Policy in the past 12 months also showed support hovering between 73 and 76 percent.

In the new poll published Tuesday, 43 percent of all respondents were strongly in support of medical marijuana legalization, while 23 percent were strongly against it. Two percent of respondents said they didn't know their position.

Support among Latter-day Saints who described themselves as "very active" dropped from 59 percent to 45 percent compared to the previous Utah Policy poll, while opposition in that group jumped from 38 percent to 52 percent.

On Aug. 23, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emailed its members in Utah warning the initiative to allow medical marijuana posed "a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls."

But the church "does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana, if doctor-prescribed, in dosage form, from a licensed pharmacy," Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy with the church, told reporters at the time.

The Utah Episcopal Diocese and Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake also voiced their opposition to the initiative at the Aug. 23 news conference.

Advocates supporting the initiative responded that Proposition 2's opponents were not offering realistic alternatives. The ballot initiative campaign, called the Utah Patients Coalition, has also argued that the measure includes strict provisions preventing unapproved uses of marijuana.

Support for medical marijuana also dropped significantly among self-described Republicans, from 60 percent to 49 percent. Support among Democrat respondents ticked up slightly from 95 percent to 97 percent, while independents' support fell from 77 percent to 71 percent.

Support among Protestant respondents ticked up two points to 89 percent, and jumped nine points among Catholics to 93 percent.

The new poll was conducted with 809 likely Utah voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.

Advocates file complaint

Also this week, the Utah Patients Coalition submitted a complaint to the Elections Division of Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox's office, alleging an opposition group is violating Utah law with dishonest advertising against the initiative.

The group cites messages it calls "a radio ad and telephone poll making demonstrably false claims" about the initiative put forth by Drug Safe Utah, a political issues committee that formed earlier this year to organize opposition to the legalization measure.

"For example, (Drug Safe Utah's) radio ad claims that 'Prop 2 is actually about recreational use and not medical," the complaint states. "However, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act is a strictly medical program requiring physician-approved treatment for a specific list of medical conditions. Nowhere in the law does it provide for recreational use of cannabis."

Utah Patients Coalition Director DJ Schanz said in a statement that "Utah deserves an honest and public debate on this important issue."

"Deceiving the public with half-truths and falsehoods undermines public discourse and trust," Schanz said. "We call on Drug Safe Utah and its coalition members to engage in a thoughtful and trustworthy debate, one based on facts and truth.”

The complaint asks for "a cease-and-desist order prohibiting (Drug Safe Utah) from making false statements to Utah voters as required by Utah law." It also asks the lieutenant governor's office to "publicly sanction" Drug Safe Utah "for its untruthful activities."

The lieutenant governor's office confirmed it has received the elections complaint and is reviewing it.

Drug Safe Utah said in a prepared response that it "stands by its public statements and ads."

"Proposition 2, which was drafted in part by the marijuana industry, contains none of the traditional safeguards of medical practice; instead it makes recreational marijuana easily accessible," the organization said in a statement.

Drug Safe Utah's statement adds that "unlike prescribed medicines, there is no dosage, no physician follow-up required, no disclosure of risks. This creates an environment for recreational marijuana to flourish."