(CN) – The Utah Supreme Court dismissed a petition Wednesday brought by voters against the Utah Legislature fighting a last-minute law passed in a special session to replace a voter-approved medical marijuana initiative.
Over objections from the Mormon Church – a major political influence in Utah – 52% of voters approved Proposition 2, the Medical Marijuana Proposition, in November 2018. One day after the law took effect, Gov. Gary Herbert called a special legislative session, in which a more restrictive marijuana law was approved by a two-thirds supermajority in both houses.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox then denied a petition to put the new Utah Medical Cannabis Act to voters because it was passed by a supermajority.
On behalf of more than four dozen petitioners, Bart Grant petitioned the Utah Supreme Court for a writ of extraordinary relief. The class includes voters who approved the Utah Medical Cannabis Act and petitioners who wanted House Bill 3001 put to a voter referendum.
“We typically limit ourselves to addressing only those petitions that cannot be decided in another forum,” Associate Justice Paige Petersen wrote in an 11-page opinion. Siding with respondents Herbert and Cox, Petersen said the petition should have been initiated at the trial court level.
However, the high court also found the governor acted within his powers by calling a special session and that the referendum was rightly denied.
Bart had argued that by calling a special session, Herbert broke Utah law by effectively vetoing the voter-approved proposition. Peterson, however, pointed out the power to call a special session is distinct from the power to single-handedly veto a law. And because the more restrictive HB 3001 was passed by a supermajority, it was not eligible to go before the voters in a referendum.
The petitioners represented themselves in this case. Utah solicitors general Tyler Green and Stanford Purser represented the state.
According to the state health department, HB 3001 allows Utah residents suffering from qualifying conditions including HIV, cancer, autism, and terminal illnesses to possess up to 113 grams of unprocessed cannabis or 20 grams of concentrated THC.
Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, Associate Chief Justice Thomas Lee and Justice Constandinos Himonas joined the opinion. Justice John Pearce recused himself and was replaced by Court of Appeals Judge Kate Appleby, who also joined.