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 On Election Day in Utah, voters were asked if they supported Proposition 2, allowing Utahns access to medical cannabis. They answered with a yes.

Unofficial election night totals put the initiative ahead, 53 percent to 47 percent, and showed the measure with a commanding lead in Salt Lake County. Although a number of ballots remain to be counted in the weeks to come, medical cannabis patients and advocates were smiling Tuesday night.

“It is a time for Utahns to celebrate,” Christine Stenquist, a medical cannabis patient and founder of the advocacy group TRUCE Utah, said. “I think it’s fantastic that we’ve crossed this hurdle.”

At a watch party hosted by TRUCE Utah, Prop 2 supporters cheered, clapped and shed tears as the first results rolled in showing the measure with a clear lead. Stenquist told the gathering of more than 100 at a Salt Lake City hotel that Utah’s decision to create a medical marijuana program will reverberate far beyond state borders.

“When Utah flips, the whole country will be watching, and you all did that,” she said, gesturing to the backers clustered around her.

To some, the vote seemed largely symbolic, since top lawmakers are busy constructing a different model for delivering medical cannabis to Utah patients. State legislators were expected to overwrite Prop 2 if it succeeded at the ballot box and approve their own cannabis act if it failed.

Others say the initiative still serves an essential purpose by pressuring the Legislature to act.

Either way, the emotionally charged decision on medical cannabis captured the attention of Utahns and helped drive them to vote — in a poll released in October, 1 of 5 respondents credited the marijuana initiative as the primary motivation to participate in the election.

DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, early Tuesday evening said this momentum seemed to be behind Prop 2.

“We’ve always felt that there was a dynamic in this race that hasn’t been polled, which is the motivation factor and enthusiasm gap that we feel favors Proposition 2,” he said at the coalition’s celebration.

About 9 p.m. Tuesday, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a news release emphasizing its support for relieving human suffering and its concern for the welfare of children. Utah’s predominant faith argued that Prop 2 failed to strike a balance between these considerations.

“Our expectation is that prompt legislative action will address the shortfalls of the initiative which have been acknowledged by advocates of Proposition 2. The legislative alternative is better public policy and has broad support among Utahns,” Marty Stephens, the church’s director of community and government relations, said in the release.

Connor Boyack, founder of the libertarian Libertas Institute and a key player in negotiations over the cannabis bill, said the initiative’s success could smooth the way for medical marijuana advocates as they look to approve a program through the Legislature.

“A high vote percentage for Prop 2 is going to allow us to have the right amount of pressure to make sure that everybody is playing aboveboard — that no one tries to undermine these plans,” he said early Tuesday evening. “If Proposition 2 were to fail, we lose that insurance policy.”

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