A majority of Utah voters backed an initiative to legalize medical marijuana in the Beehive State, with more than 53 percent in support of the measure out of nearly 740,000 ballots counted, according to results posted late Tuesday.
According to state elections officials, around 815,000 ballots had been cast in Utah during this election, a 58 percent turnout rate.
Regardless of the final outcome of the vote, however, state lawmakers are expected to convene soon in an effort to pass a compromise bill agreed to by major supporters and opponents of Proposition 2, effectively replacing the ballot initiative.
About 150 Proposition 2 supporters, including members of the Utah Patients Coalition, gathered at the Infinity Event Center downtown Tuesday let up a loud cheer upon seeing first results on the initiative.
The Infinity Event Center had the relaxed atmosphere of a self-assured campaign throughout the lead-up to the numbers being released, as supporters enjoyed pizza, listened to live music, talked and watched CNN on a large projector. Most who were looking on did not seem surprised at the early favorable results on the initiative.
However, initial results showing 64 percent support dwindled gradually until hovering just above 54 percent later in the evening. By about 9:30 p.m., as the percentages tightened, the crowd had thinned out slightly.
Shortly before 9:30 p.m., Utah Patients Coalition Director DJ Schanz told the crowd gathered to more subdued applause that Summit and Grand counties, none of whose results had been reported, “are going to kill it, so we think we’re looking good.”
Results late Tuesday showed a divergence in support for Proposition 2 among the state’s four largest counties, with well over half of counted votes in Salt Lake and Weber counties favoring it and solid majorities in Utah and Davis counties opposing it.
Any tense moments among the crowd had passed by just short of 11 p.m., when Schanz and others associated with the campaign declared victory. A few leaving the event punctuated the cold night air with shouts of, “We did it!”
“I called this (race) 18 months ago,” Schanz joked, saying he was always confident the measure would make it across the finish line.
Schanz told the Deseret News he was confident the numbers would hold in favor of Proposition 2 when every vote is counted.
He said Utah voters’ support of Proposition 2, which has polled strongly for more than a year in the state, “shows an emphasis … on compassion for people that are suffering.”
Utah voters’ day of decision on Proposition 2 comes after a drawn out and highly public battle over the future of medical marijuana in the state that saw a highly popular signature-gathering drive, which gobbled up more than 153,000 names, pitted against ardent opposition from influential medical, law enforcement and faith groups.
Opposition to the initiative intensified in late summer. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in August urged the state’s voters to reject Proposition 2 and emailed its Utah members with the same message.
At that time, the church joined a broad coalition that included state lawmakers, business leaders, the Utah Medical Association and the Utah Sheriff’s Association to say that while there is a recognizable benefit to medical marijuana, Proposition 2 did not include enough safeguards to protect against troublesome youth access and unfettered recreational use.