A letter sent to Cache County residents who signed a petition supporting a ballot initiative that, if passed, would legalize the medical use of marijuana for individuals with qualifying medical illnesses has led to inquiries by the Utah Lt. Governor's office. Opponents of the initiative claim many who signed the petition have been misled. A group of those being asked to remove their signatures say they are being harassed.
When Democratic candidate for Utah State Senate District 25 Rebecca Winstead received her letter in the mail, it was the florescent pink sticker on the envelope that first struck her. She called her opponent, Republic incumbent Lyle Hillyard to ask him more about the letter because he is listed as chairman of the Cache County Chapter of Neighbors for Informed Decision Making. She wanted to learn more about the organization and the funding behind a letter asking her to remove her name from the petition.
“Our office is looking into that and seeing if there is a group and if they have a requirement to report who they are and report the kind of funds they are spending as well,” said Justin Lee, Utah Lieutenant Governor’s director of elections.
“There is a website, safehealthyutah.org/neighbors, and so we are looking into that website and seeing who is behind that,” he said.
Senator Hillyard told UPR he does not have details about the organization, how the mailings were funded, or if the proper paperwork has been filed with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. He acknowledges that he did meet with a representative from the Utah Medical Association to discuss ways to encourage his constituents to remove their names from an initiative he believes supports recreational use of marijuana products.
If Lee and his staff determine the group that sent the letter filed the proper paperwork then no further legal action is required. If proper procedures are followed, it is not illegal for a group to campaign to have names removed from a petition. While sending a letter or going door-to-door to ask individuals to remove their signatures may not be illegal some who have been approached, including representatives from the Utah Patient Coalition, have complained that efforts have amounted to harassment.
“That’s right,” Lee said. “We have received some complaints for people asking to have their signatures removed, from some of the people going door-to-door. And, we have referred those to the Attorney General’s office. If someone is crossing over the line into intimidation or harassment, that is perhaps illegal under other parts of the law. We have sent that over to criminal attorneys to look at.”
Lee says if you live in Cache County and signed the petition to support the ballot initiative and have changed your mind you have until Tuesday, May 15 at 5 p.m. to make the change on the proper form and hand deliver the request to Cache County Clerks office. He suggests contacting local law enforcement if you feel a criminal harassment complaint is warranted.
Following Tuesday’s deadline, Lee will work with clerks in each county to verify signatures and determine a final petition signature count by June 1, the deadline for deciding if an initiative will be placed on the November 2018 ballot.