Pignanelli and Webb: Utah’s hottest election battle — medical marijuana

Since the news cycle of national politics is now shorter than the lifespan of a fruit fly, we will avoid — for this week — the latest Washington firestorms. However, we also have hot issues in Utah, particularly the most interesting election contest this year — Proposition 2, the medical marijuana initiative.

With the election getting close, could there be a last-minute compromise? Will the proponents and opponents of Prop 2 mount a final blitz to pass or defeat this initiative?

Pignanelli: "Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere." — George Washington

A huge billboard on 600 South advertises a passage from the Doctrine and Covenants (“All Wholesome Herbs God Hath Ordained for the … use of Man”) in support of Prop 2. The sheer existence of this signage demonstrates a battle not between cultures — but within one.

An almost daily imbiber of alcohol, I support The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints’ position to regulate but not prohibit its consumption. Booze is a mind-altering product requiring government control of its distribution. Most Utahns expect and rely upon guidance from the state’s largest religious institution in constructing policies for liquor, gambling and narcotics. I vigorously defend their right to provide such counsel. Similar emotions are driving compromise discussions between Prop 2 combatants.

If negotiations falter and Prop 2 is defeated, opponents must assist in resolving outstanding issues of therapeutic marijuana use. The church, medical associations and law enforcement have a responsibility to provide a robust regulatory alternative that remedies concerns of recreational use with compassion and common sense.

We all hope for a billboard praising the "Utah Way" for solving this dilemma.

Webb: Good-faith discussions are occurring to find a compromise that both sides of Prop 2 can live with. However, even if the protagonists get close to an agreement, both will likely keep fighting to pass or defeat the proposal. Opponents bargain for changes from a dramatically better position if voters reject Prop 2. And supporters will argue they have the will of the people on their side if the initiative passes.

Personally, I believe Prop 2 is deeply flawed and should be rejected because it lacks basic controls that we impose on other medications that can be abused. Law enforcement and the medical community oppose it because they know it threatens the well-being of our young people and will result in more impaired driving and health problems.

I don’t doubt that components of the marijuana plant have medicinal purposes for certain medical problems. Thus, cannabis medicine ought to be produced, regulated and dispensed like other prescription medications.

What is the political and societal fallout from the passage or defeat of this initiative?

Pignanelli: Because of their aggressive opposition, Prop 2 adversaries have "ownership" in the issue beyond the election. Should the initiative succeed, questions will arise as to the relationship between leaders and members of these religious, medical and law enforcement organizations. Political and demographic analysts will study this for years.

Failure of Prop 2 is a short-term victory for opponents because unless additional legislation expanding the use of marijuana for medical purposes is implemented, over the long term resentment will fester. The church and others must participate in developing a legal framework that accomplishes the major goals of both sides.

Webb: The involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in such a political, moral and societal issue is not unprecedented, but is unusual. It clearly reflects the deep concern top church leaders have about this matter. The church doesn’t get involved in these issues on a whim.

As with many difficult issues, the extremes on both sides will fight any compromise. Some of the hardcore opponents don’t realize that society has turned a corner on this matter and medical marijuana is coming whether they like it or not. They’re not going to be able to ban all uses of marijuana, even in Utah. The best course is to support true medical marijuana, with appropriate regulation and controls.

Is the Legislature likely to amend the initiative should it pass? Will they enact something if it does not pass?

Pignanelli: Legislators are reluctant to tinker with public will expressed by ballot. But this dispute is different. Prop 2 contains some provisions that are problematic. Utahns will support officials who cure public safety concerns while maintaining the medicinal spirit of the initiative. Conversely, lawmakers will not touch the matter if the initiative fails, unless opponents in good faith request action.

Webb: Whether Prop 2 passes or not, the Legislature is almost certain to act. The old conventional wisdom that if voters approve it you don’t mess with it doesn’t apply here. That will especially be true if it wins by a small margin. And if the opposing sides can come up with anything close to an agreement, that will grease a legislative solution.

Meanwhile, the federal government ought to get off its collective rear end and allow proper development and clinical testing of cannabis-derived medicines.