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 Friday tabulations. The measure will be revised, though, under a compromise that won the approval of influential Mormon church leaders.
The state Legislature is expected to meet in early December to hammer out the details of revising the newly passed law. Missouri also passed a medical marijuana initiative in this midterm election. Michigan became the first Midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana while North Dakota voted against it. Utah’s approval of medical marijuana shows the state’s residents can think for themselves despite opposition from powerful groups such as the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, Utah Medical Association and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of Utah’s population.
With the Medicaid vote, Utah joins two other Republican-leaning states, Idaho and Nebraska, where voters also approved expanding the program under President Barack Obama’s health care law. 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, remain concerned the plan wouldn’t cover the cost of the program. Incoming Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson said Friday the state already struggles to fund schools because of the state’s large families, so lawmakers fear full Medicaid expansion could cut into education dollars.
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