The Church of Latter-day Saints could easily be renamed the “no-fun” religion. They’ve banned everything that could be considered a vice: alcohol, cigarettes, even coffee and tea. It feels like a no-brainer that the church would also reject marijuana, either for recreational or medicinal use. You might want to check that presumption before you wreck yourself, though, because when it comes to the relationship between Mormons and the herb, it's a little more complicated than you might have thought. At least, this is what the state of Utah is just finding out.
Under the terms of its own doctrine, the Word of Wisdom, active Mormon members are supposed to live a healthy life, both spiritually and physically. They're required to abstain from alcohol, caffeine and tobacco as a means to protect both the body and the spirit. While the Word doesn't name marijuana as a vice to be avoided, the Church doesn't want Utah to end up on the path to full legalization like their neighboring state of Colorado.
For them, the issue is one of temperance and moderation. For example, the Church allows the use of alcohol as a cleanser, but not as a recreational high. Similarly, the Church allows the use of prescription drugs, but does not condone their overuse or abuse. When it comes to weed, the church does see its potential value as a medicine, but they don't want people to use it for anything more than that.
This is largely why of the two proposed measures currently being discussed in the state's senate, the church only opposes Bill 73 (SB 73). This law would function similar to laws in other states that have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana by allowing prescription holders to obtain, carry and use pot without fear of facing criminal charges.
The other proposal, Bill 89 (SB 89), has passed muster with the church, but it has a much different intention. It allows for the use of cannabidiol's (the non-psychoactive element of marijuana) under certain circumstances. The bill does not allow for any of the products to contain THC, weed's psychoactive component.
Looking outside of the Mormon community and at the rest of the state of Utah, a recent poll has shown support for the legalization of marijuana among 61% of respondents. However, the Church has incredible sway within the state's legislature. Add to that the near total conservative control over the senate floor and it would seem that legalization efforts are almost doomed before they begin. The issue has also created a divide among members of the Church including Republican Senator Mark Madsen, an active member and sponsor of Bill 73.
The Church seems aware of this and to their credit, they haven't come out entirely against the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes—just against some of the wording of Bill 73. In fact, they've been encouraging lawmakers to amend the bill instead of passing or dismissing it outright. This has actually allowed key decision-makers to work through the bill with open debate and to make amendments.
On Monday February 22, the senate voted to pass SB 89 and sent it to the House for their final say. Meanwhile, after amendments were made to SB 73, it made it through its second reading and could face it's final vote any day now.
If either of the bills pass both the senate and the house, they will represent a step forward for the state, but even more so for a church that has largely bewildered the rest of the country for its prohibitionist stance on everything from coffee to gay marriage. While it doesn't seem like the Church of the Latter-day Saints will be down to smoke up with the rest of us any time soon, who knows what might happen at a later date.