A unanimous ruling by the Utah Supreme Court Tuesday denied a petition by citizens to block the governor’s and legislature’s actions on a medical marijuana bill.
The case revolves around two tools the citizens of Utah have for enacting laws through ballot measures. First, in an initiative, upon receiving a sufficient number of verified signatures, the people of Utah may place a proposed law on the ballot for a statewide vote. Second, in a referendum, petitioners may send a bill passed by the legislature to a statewide vote. In an exception to the rule, the state constitution provides that laws that pass the legislature by a two-thirds of each house supermajority are not susceptible to referendum.
In November 2018, an initiative known as Proposition 2 legalized medical marijuana in Utah. Immediately upon its entry into effect, the governor called a special legislative session in which the legislature, by two-thirds majority in each house, amended the new law. Proponents of Proposition 2 claim that these amendments weaken the effects of the law and circumvent the will of the people. They submitted an application to send these amendments to a referendum.
The lieutenant governor rejected the referendum application in part because of the two-thirds majority rule. Petitioners asked the Supreme Court for extraordinary relief arguing that the governor’s actions were unconstitutional and that the two-thirds rule does not apply to laws amending a measure passed by ballot initiative. The Court found no support for this argument in the constitutional or statutory texts involved.