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Will the Mormon Church Embrace Legal Weed in Utah?

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By Skyler Bingham

The medical marijuana initiative craze has officially reached one of the most conservative strongholds in the country. The Utah Patients Coalition released a proposal for The Utah Medical Cannabis Act, which will appear on voter ballots this fall. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints responded to the proposal in an official statement posted to their website last month.

In an effort to better understand the initiative, church leaders hired local law firm, Kirton McConkie, to decode the proposed act. The firm came back with a memorandum listing 31 potential red flags for Mormon voters. While the Church’s response encouraged members to read through it and “make their own judgment,” it also added that some of the content “raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted.”

As an active member of the Mormon faith and a user of medicinal marijuana for anxiety and depression, my church’s clear opposition to the proposed bill has me in a strange predicament. It’s legal where I live—but is my choice of medication at odds with an official church position? Also, what in the proposed act gives leaders cause for “grave concern”?

I checked it out for myself as instructed. Here are a few of the red flags and my responses to them:

“The Marijuana Initiative Does Not Require a Prescription.”
When I found out doctors give recommendations instead of prescriptions and that it was unlikely my regular Kaiser-Permanente doctor would give that recommendation, I was bummed. I wanted it to feel as medical as possible so I wouldn’t have too much inner turmoil about whether or not my church would approve.

When I got my recommendation at an office called… something along the lines of Tinseltown EZ Clinic, I felt less than great when I learned the doctor wasn’t in town and would be Skyping in via an iPad rigged up to an office chair using a yardstick and duct tape. I told the man in the tablet/chair contraption my symptoms and he gave me the recommendation. Done. He never mentioned how much to take or which type or how often. While I appreciate the freedom to learn what works best for me, the part of me that craved the traditional doctor-patient experience was left wanting.

At the time I didn’t know that the reason a family practitioner most likely will not give a recommendation is that marijuana is listed as a Schedule I substance on a federal level. That classification means it has “no currently accepted medical use”. Until that is changed, a prescription isn’t possible, and most established doctors aren’t willing to risk their reputations while the legal weed world is still in its Wild West stages. Dr. iPad Chair and his recommendation will have to suffice for now.

“The Marijuana Initiative Requires Medical Marijuana to Be Sold Through Marijuana Dispensaries, Not Licensed Pharmacies.”
I can see the point of a more conservative thinker—if cannabis is a medicine, it should be sold at a pharmacy. I’ve been to dispensaries that didn’t seem totally aboveboard, places practically under the freeway with locked doors and glass partitions. On the flip side, there are sleek and pristine ones that look like Apple stores—but why do they need to exist at all? Shouldn’t you just be able to go to Rite Aid?

Pharmacies cannot carry a drug that is illegal on a federal level. Sound like a broken record? Legalizing marijuana could prove a nearly impossible task in conservative states until it is removed from the list of Schedule I substances. Its place on that list causes proposals to read as less legitimate for those on the fence about legalization, a fence the Church seemed to straddle prior to the memorandum. Otherwise, why pay for the proposed act to be taken apart by lawyers if their opinion is that pot is empirically bad? The Church is not opposed to the concept, just the proposal. Unfortunately, LDS leaders may never like any proposal so long as they’re wrapped in federal caution tape.

“The Marijuana Initiative Allows Dispensaries to Give Free Samples to Medical Cannabis Cardholders.”
Know your audience, bill proposers! Utah is one of the reddest states in the nation. Just this year the legal blood-alcohol limit for drivers decreased from .08 percent to .05 percent, the lowest in the nation. Utah does not mess when it comes to letting loose, which is what the concerned parties hear ‘free ganja’ to mean.

If the UPC wants to pass the act, they should stay away from anything that makes marijuana sound less like medicine and more like a blast. Advocates are more likely to get potential patients help by making some small sacrifices on their wish list.

What are the chances?
Mormons make up about 40% of Utah’s population, but they account for nearly 75% of all Utah voters. That means if members read between the lines of the Church’s “vote however you want, but this is bad” statement and choose to heed the warning, the bill is dead in the water.

However, many Utah Mormons are in favor of the initiative, even after reading the Church’s official statement. Rates of opioid overdoses in Utah are among the highest in the country. It’s an epidemic that plagues even the most devout Mormons, directly or otherwise, and people are troubled by it. One would hope leaders of any kind in the state might welcome a more innocuous method for pain relief, and many members do already. So it’s definitely possible the measure could pass.

The LDS church’s Word of Wisdom (a health code Mormons are asked to live by) includes the verses,

“And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the
constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every
fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.”
(Doctrine and Covenants 89:10-11).

Hopefully, members of the faith in Utah will recognize that the season for this particular herb has arrived, even if their leaders don’t.

Original Publication in HighTimes.