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Bill Would Thwart Legislators' Changes To Utah Citizen Initiatives

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Utah legislators made significant changes last year to Proposition 2, a citizen-approved ballot initiative that legalized the use of medical marijuana in Utah.

A medical cannabis advocate and a former state senator are behind a proposal that would make it tougher for Utah legislators to overturn citizen ballot initiatives. 
In 2018, Republican lawmakers rewrote and weakened a measure, known as Proposition 2, that had been passed by Utah voters to allow medical marijuana use in the state. Christine Stenquist, a cancer survivor and patient advocate, said the new measure would require voters to OK any changes to initiatives. 

"What the statute does is limit the legislative body from changing the initiative it's passed without that going back to a vote, to the people who just voted 'yes' for it," Stenguist said. "If you want to change the law, that's fine, but you're going to have to take it right back to the people so that we can vote on what policy you're going to change."

Under the current Utah state Constitution, a majority of legislators can legally overrule or make changes to voter-approved initiatives. Stenquist said they're now looking for sponsors for the bill in the 2020 Legislature.

Stenquist, who is director of the group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, is teaming up with former Utah Senator Steve Urquhart, a Republican from St. George, on the Utah Initiative Protection Act. She said under the current system, politicians in the majority can act with impunity and have no incentive to negotiate. 

"If the legislators don't feel a threat to come to the table and do real negotiations, they have no desire to uphold the people's voice during an initiative process because they can write anything they want," Stenquist said.

She said she was motivated to back the medical marijuana initiative because as a cancer survivor, she believed many people could benefit from medical use of cannabis. But she said hundreds of advocates who helped pass Proposition 2 were crushed when state lawmakers nullified their efforts. 

"You just saw for the first time how broken our system is," she said. "This is why people don't want to vote is, when you have these kinds of policies in place that make it feel worthless, people become disengaged."

She added if lawmakers fail to pass the Utah Initiative Protection Act in bill form, she and Urquhart will back a drive to get the measure on the 2022 ballot in the form of a citizens' initiative.