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At four o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, the lobby of Dragonfly Wellness is almost completely full. Clients perch expectantly on the sofas, waiting to be buzzed through the locked door marked PATIENTS ONLY. This might not be an unusual scene elsewhere—medical marijuana is legal in more than 30 states—but this happens to be Salt Lake City, within blocks of both the Utah state Capitol and the main temple of the Mormon Church, which proscribes consuming virtually any substance more potent than Diet Coke.
Utah might be the last place you would expect to find any kind of cannabis, but in 2018 Utah voters approved Proposition 2, a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, despite huge opposition from the Mormon Church and the conservative state legislature. Two years later, it’s clear that Prop 2 has had a much wider effect than merely legalizing medical weed; it’s begun to shake up one of the most entrenched and tone-deaf GOP legislative supermajorities in Red America.
Consider this: Utah voters not only approved medical marijuana in 2018, they also passed ballot measures calling for Medicaid expansion and independent redistricting, two major progressive priorities. This in a state where Republican candidates routinely clobber Democrats by 30 percentage points or more in statewide races. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) and the Republican establishment fought all three measures—Proposition 2 in particular—many good Republicans and Mormons clearly voted for all three of these “liberal” laws, in defiance of church and party.
“We have districts where Republicans won by a large majority, but the ballot initiatives passed,” says Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former state representative who helped implement Proposition 4, which established