BOUNTIFUL -- Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, says he will never support legalization of marijuana in any form and takes exception to methods a grass-roots organization is using to push the issue.
Nielson, a two-term legislator, recently found himself caught in the cross-hairs of a dispute with Legalize Utah, a group pushing for legalization of the drug in the Beehive State.
Nielson said he has received numerous email blasts from the group and took time during a recent legislative hearing to respond to the electronic correspondence and a survey forwarded by the group.
He took exception to some of the questions in the survey and suggested the effort to legalize the drug isn't going to work in Utah. He said the group's assertion that it can convert people to its viewpoint is wrong.
"It's not happening in Utah. You might wish to focus your energies where they have some chance of success," Nielson responded to the group.
Nielson said he has received as many as four email blasts a day from the group on this issue.
The group responded to Nielson by calling his remarks "snarky" and by saying the Bountiful Republican does not believe the movement to legalize medicinal cannabis is growing.
A blog posted by the group said Nielson is hanging onto what it termed "ridiculous reefer madness beliefs."
Gradi Jordan, president of Legalize Utah, says the movement is making progress. She said Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, is among lawmakers who would support legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
"By engaging with these lawmakers and educating each in what their constituents truly want for the future of Utah, the better opportunity the movement has to become strong and successful," Jordan said.
Nielson thinks the group crossed the line of civility and turned to bullying in its response to his viewpoints. The lawmaker says he is always open to a discussion of ideas.
"I'm an optimist and always think dialogue of ideas will help," he said.
"Their approach is not helpful. I don't think they have as much traction as they think," he said of Legalize Utah members.
Jordan organized the group in 2010 and said she has never solicited money for her cause. She said the cause will eventually prevail -- even in Utah.
"There are other groups who are working toward the same goal, and it is by working with everyone in the movement to legalize cannabis in Utah that I know we will eventually be successful," she said.
Jordan, a single mother from Salt Lake City, has been a medicinal cannabis patient since age 10 and believes the drug should be legalized at the federal level to alleviate the need for enforcement at a local level.
Marijuana for medicinal purposes is currently legal in 21 states, including Oregon, Colorado and California.
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, predicted the 2014 session in Utah will see legislation addressing the issue of legalizing cannabis.
He said it is not an issue of hippies against the establishment anymore, but rather an issue being pushed by conservative mothers who want access to a derivative of marijuana for medicinal reasons for their children.