SALT LAKE CITY — Voters in conservative Utah have decided to join the growing number of states legalizing medical marijuana and expanding Medicaid to cover tens of thousands more low-income residents, two issues that had long stalled out with conservative state lawmakers.
Utah will be on the list of more than 30 states allowing patients legal access to medical marijuana after the plan maintained a vote lead in in Friday tabulations. The measure will be revised, though, under a compromise that won the approval of influential Mormon church leaders.
The faith had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to more broad use, but after months of fierce debate agreed to the deal. It will change the law by blocking marijuana edibles like cookies that might appeal to children and won’t allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary.
The state Legislature is expected to meet in December to hammer out the details of revising the newly passed law.
With the Medicaid vote, Utah joins two other Republican-leaning states, Idaho and Nebraska, where also approved expanding the program under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Utah’s plan will provide health care coverage to an estimated 150,000 low-income residents. The measure includes a sales tax increase that is expected to generate $90 million that will combine with $800 million in federal money to fund the expansion.
State lawmakers, however, have said they remain concerned the plan wouldn’t cover the cost of the program.
On both issues, advocates decided to go to the voters after years of failing to convince the GOP-dominated state Legislature to change state law.
Utah lawmakers did approve a smaller expansion measure with work requirements this year, but the federal government hasn’t yet accepted that plan.
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