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Mormon Church Quietly Joins Opposition Against Utah’s Medical Marijuana Initiative

As Utah residents prepare to vote on medical marijuana legalization in November, anti-cannabis activists are hoping that rebukes from the Mormon church will prevent the bill from passing.

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The fight for cannabis reform in Utah is heating up. In response to Proposition 2 — a comprehensive medical marijuana legalization initiative, already cemented on the state’s November ballot — anti-pot activists are pulling out all the stops to oppose the bill, including lobbying government officials, and filing a lawsuit citing the same religious freedom precedent that allowed a bakery in Colorado to deny service to a same-sex couple. 

According to a report from Salt Lake City’s local Fox affiliate, representatives from the Mormon church will be on hand at an event challenging Prop. 2, transitioning the organization’s mostly placid anti-cannabis stance into formal, outspoken opposition. 

"The Church has often spoken on things, but the other suggestion they hand out is the members should study the issues and think for themselves and vote according to their own conscience," Robert Hunter, director of the Olene Walker Institute of Politics at Weber State University, told Fox 13.

Thursday’s event, held at the Utah state office building, adjacent to the capitol building, is being led by Drug Safe Utah, a coalition of anti-cannabis groups that has been instrumental in opposing Prop. 2. In addition to targeting Church of Latter Day Saints leaders to join the movement, Drug Safe Utah representatives have spent the last week lobbying Governor Gary Herbert to instruct public officials to oppose the bill. Unlike church leaders, Gov. Hebert refused to explicitly speak out in favor of Drug Safe Utah, instead saying that he will support the will of the public, no matter his own personal opinions.

"The initiative has flaws in it that need correcting. Even the proponents admit there's some flaws in the initiative," Gov. Herbert said. "I think we'll have an opportunity over the next couple of months to debate what's in the initiative, 28 pages, that the people of Utah ought to understand. We'll let the voices of the people of Utah be heard and decide what they want to have happen."

Drug Safe Utah has also filed two lawsuits attempting to remove Proposition 2 from the November ballot altogether, claiming that the medical marijuana initiative would impede on the religious freedoms of local Mormon practitioners. According to Marijuana.com, after withdrawing an initial lawsuit in July, Drug Safe Utah and its contributing partners filed another suit on August 15th, this time citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld the decision of two Colorado bakers to deny service to a same-sex couple. In the Utah lawsuit, litigators have argued that Mormons should not be required to interact with “people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant, and to refuse to lease their property to people engaging in activities which they deeply oppose.”

But as Drug Safe Utah evokes LDS community standards to oppose Prop. 2, medical marijuana supporters say that Mormon leaders in Colorado and other legal weed states have already reconciled the religion’s loose admonishment of cannabis, much like the religion has allowed for prescription medications that otherwise would be disallowed by the church’s substance use standards.

“Non-Mormons are in favor of it, and I calculate that at least 60 percent of the younger church members will vote for it… but they’ll do it in private,” DJ Schanz, director of the pro-Prop. 2 group Utah Patients Coalition, told Marijuana.com. “It’s no secret that families are having to leave the state with their sick children, and a lot of them are Mormons.”

In the face of church opposition, a recent poll from the Salt Lake Tribune found that 54% of Utahns who identify as “very active” Mormons support Prop. 2, while 74% of “somewhat active” LDS practitioners said they were also on board with MMJ legalization. 

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