Mormon church redoubles opposition to Utah medical marijuana

FILE - In this April 12, 2018, photo, a marijuana plant awaits transplanting at the Hollingsworth Cannabis Company near Shelton, Wash. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church reiterated its opposition to Utah’s medical marijuana initiative on Friday, amid heightened tensions over whether the measure will reach the November ballot.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement and a seven-page legal memorandum outlining the “grave concerns” about the initiative and the “serious adverse consequences” that could follow if it were approved.

The memorandum, compiled by Salt Lake City law firm Kirton McConkie, warns that the initiative would make it hard for police to distinguish between legal and illegal drug possession and could allow a large number of Utah residents — including children and people with drug convictions— to obtain medical cannabis cards.

It doesn’t include consequences for physicians who “rubber stamp” recommendations for the cards, the memorandum warned, nor would it prohibit dispensaries from giving away free samples of their product to cardholders.

Roughly two-thirds of Utah residents belong to the church, which urges members to abstain from drugs and alcohol.

The church had previously sided with opponents of the ballot initiative, but the Friday statement adds additional rationale for its position and comes at a crucial moment for those trying to prevent the question from reaching the ballot.

The lieutenant governor’s office has verified the necessary number of voter signatures to secure the initiative a place on the ballot in November, but signers are able to withdraw their signatures until Tuesday. Opponents have launched a campaign and recruited door-to-door canvassers urging them to do just that.

The debate has gotten heated in the final days.

Earlier this week, opponents of the initiative claimed supporters were illegally trying to buy signature removal forms off of their canvassers.

On Friday, supporters of the initiative filed notice they intend to sue over what they allege are canvassers’ fraudulent statements claiming to be a government official and offering “egregious” misstatements.

“We will vigorously defend our efforts to place this issue on the ballot for voters to decide,” DJ Schanz, the director of the pro-initiative Utah Patients Coalition, said in a statement.

He said the group respects the church’s position but that sick Utah residents also face “serious adverse consequences” under current law.

Mark Fotheringham, a spokesman for the Utah Medical Association, which opposes the initiative, said the claims don’t have any merit. “This whole issue tends to bring out the craziness in everybody,” he said.

Medical marijuana supporters say their initiative is narrowly tailored for the treatment of Utah residents living with chronic conditions. The proposal would create a state-regulated system for growing and dispensing marijuana, but would not allow cardholders to smoke marijuana.

Instead, they would be limited to edible forms such as candy, in topical forms like lotions or balms, or as oil in electronic cigarettes.

Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who is Mormon, has said the proposal is full of loopholes and would wrongly put Utah at odds with federal law, which considers marijuana to be illegal. However, he has also opposed efforts to withdraw voters’ signatures from ballot petitions.

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