For Candidates in Utah, Medical Marijuana Issue Looms Large


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Written by The Associated Press
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Hours after his wife pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cannabis possession charges connected with two pounds of the plant found at their house, Utah’s Democratic candidate for governor is expected to talk about the need for a broader legalization of medical marijuana to address the health issues his wife and others face.

The plea deal calls for a fine and probation rather than jail time for Donna Weinholtz, who was charged after postal workers found a small amount of cannabis she tried to mail to the couple’s home in California earlier this year.

Mike Weinholtz revealed the investigation during his party’s convention in April shortly after it began and said then he would push to legalize in Utah the medical marijuana his wife uses for chronic pain.

With the criminal charges resolved, Mike Weinholtz said in a statement he can now speak freely about the case and be more vocal about the issue and its connections to the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Conservative Utah has passed a very limited medical marijuana law allowing those with severe epilepsy to use cannabis extract oil that doesn’t contain psychoactive properties.

Donna Weinholtz suffers from arthritis and degenerative spinal conditions, and she turned to cannabis instead of opiate painkillers or other invasive treatments, he has said.

The couple is scheduled to talk about the case at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Medical marijuana has become a polarizing issue in the generally conservative state as the election season heats up, but many agree the state’s current hard-line approach is due for reform. On Monday, U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop and his Democratic opponent Dr. Peter Clemens clashed during a debate on cannabis, climate change, and the Republican’s continued support for Donald Trump.

Bishop said he didn’t think the federal government should be involved in the issue at all, saying that “the state should have the right to legislate and regulate as they wish.” He acknowledged there could be some justification for medical, though not recreational, cannabis consumption.

Clemens, by contrast, said cannabis could be a viable alternative to addictive opioid painkiller drugs, and federal authorities should have an important role in regulating it so each state doesn’t have to set up its own Food & Drug Administration.

“Doctors need other tools in their toolbox to help take care of chronic pain. I agree with 65 percent of Utahns that it’s time we took a really serious look at medical cannabis,” he said.

Donna Weinholtz pleaded guilty to two counts, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. She agreed to serve one year of probation and pay a $3,800 fine in the plea deal that also calls for her record to be cleared if she stays out of trouble for the next year.

Tooele County Chief Deputy Attorney Gary Searle has said it appears she had the drug for personal use, and there’s no evidence her husband was aware of it. His office got the case after federal prosecutors declined to file charges and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office bowed out for political reasons.

Donna Weinholtz had faced up to six months in jail if convicted.

She was also one of 13 people arrested in 2014 as part of a protest over the Republican-dominated Legislature’s refusal to hold a hearing on an anti-discrimination law that included sexual and gender orientation protections. It passed the following year.

In that case, she got probation and paid a $100 fine after she and other protesters blocked the doors to a committee meeting room.

Mike Weinholtz is a wealthy businessman facing an uphill battle this year to try to unseat Republican Gov. Gary Herbert in an overwhelmingly GOP state.

Herbert campaign manager Marty Carpenter declined to comment Tuesday.

Lead Image: Rick Bowmer/AP

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