Pubdate: Sat, 06 Feb 2016
Source: Salt Lake Tribune (UT)
Copyright: 2016 The Salt Lake Tribune
Author: Robert Gehrke


Medical Marijuana

A Senator Is Frustrated That Leaders of Utah's Predominant Faith "Put 
Their Thumb on the Scale" to Influence State Policy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes a bill 
sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen that would make Utah the 24th state to 
legalize medical marijuana, citing unintended consequences that could 
come with use of the drug.

The state's predominant faith is not taking a position on another 
measure, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad 
Daw, R-Orem, that would allow extracts from the plant that do not 
contain the psychoactive chemical THC.

"Along with others, we have expressed concern about the unintended 
consequences that may accompany the legalization of medical 
marijuana," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement to 
The Tribune. "We have expressed opposition to Senator Madsen's bill 
because of that concern. We are raising no objection to the other 
bill that addresses this issue."

Lobbyists for the Utah-based faith have conveyed to Madsen, as well 
as House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne 
Niederhauser, R-Sandy, that the church opposes the bill, but did not 
explain its objections.

Madsen said he asked to discuss the reasons for the church's stance 
but was rebuffed.

"I asked them, 'Can we have some kind of a productive, meaningful 
conversation?' and each time they just said, 'You know the difference 
between the other bill. It's not the other bill,' " Madsen said. "So 
I say, 'THC?' And I get a vague nod."

Senate committees approved both bills Thursday after four hours of testimony.

The unwillingness by the church's representatives to discuss concerns 
with the bill has Madsen frustrated and speaking openly about the 
faith's work behind the scenes.

"Maybe they don't want to be known as the special interest who put 
their thumb on the scale and decided this for everyone in the state," 
he said. "If they're going to put their thumb on the scale 
politically and force everyone to a standard, then I think they owe 
something of an explanation to the people."

The LDS Church employs several lobbyists who frequently visit the 
Capitol to weigh in on issues before the Legislature.

"We'll meet on a regular basis and they'll explain different bills 
that they're watching, and it's no different for them than others who 
would participate in the process," Hughes said Friday. "But they had 
indicated to me - their government-relations people - that was a bill 
that they were first concerned about and ultimately looking to oppose."

Alcohol and morality

Niederhauser said the church rarely weighs in on legislation, but 
when it does, it is typically on issues of alcohol policy or morality.

"Obviously this falls into that moral-alcohol-substance arena, and so 
they're very concerned about just going down this road of medical 
marijuana, but they haven't given me any details on why," the Senate 
leader said. "It wasn't a surprise to me that they have concerns about it."

Last year, support from high-level LDS leaders was crucial to the 
passage of a statewide anti-discrimination bill protecting gay and 
lesbian Utahns from employment and housing bias while safeguarding 
some religious liberties.

Two years ago, Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson recorded a video 
arguing against liberalizing Utah's liquor laws, effectively 
derailing efforts on alcohol policy for the year. LDS officials have 
again been consulted on liquor policy this year.

Several years ago, the church actively advocated for a bold 
immigration-reform bill before the Legislature, arguing that 
immigrant families shouldn't have to live in the shadows and fear 
being split up by law enforcement.

Those are the same fears now being faced by patients who use medical 
marijuana, Madsen contends.

"They have to dislocate themselves from their community and move away 
- - or at least the sick one does - or they take them off to jail. That 
breaks up a family, too," he said. "Why does [compassion] apply to 
one group of people? Is it because there's a greater potential 
baptismal pool in [the immigrant] demographic? ... Are [the ill] 
people not worthy? Have they sinned in some way that makes them 
unworthy of that consideration?"

Opioids vs. marijuana

Brian Stoll broke his back in a fall four years ago while he was a 
student at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University and was put on 
various opiates and muscle relaxers for the pain before he started 
using marijuana "and found it works better without the side effects."

A year ago, he started dating Rachael, and they were later engaged. 
But to marry in an LDS temple, Stoll's bishop - after consulting with 
his stake president, a regional lay leader - told him he had to stop 
using marijuana or move to a state where medical cannabis is legal.

Stoll quit using the drug back in July and got back on the opioids 
and muscle relaxers, which make moving painful and on some days impossible.

"I really wanted this to pass so I could go back to using and keep 
the temple recommend, so I could keep going to the temple with my 
wife, but at the same time be able to work and get out of bed in the 
morning," Stoll said.

"It's a bit surprising to me that it's OK for me to be on all the 
opioids that put me at continual risk of dying, of addiction, of all 
the complications," he said. "It amazes me I can have a temple 
recommend with the one and not the other."

Generally speaking, the church does not bar the use of medicinal 
marijuana by members in states that have legal programs in place - so 
Mormons who live in Colorado, Oregon, Washington or any of the 20 
other states with medical programs can use the drug and remain in 
good standing.

"Leaders advise members not to use any sort of potentially harmful or 
habit-forming substances," Hawkins said, "except under the care of a 
competent physician."

A vast majority of Utah lawmakers belong to the LDS Church and about 
60 percent of Utahns are Mormons.

That gives the religion's leaders tremendous sway over its followers 
and influence in the political process, said Madsen, who himself is 
the grandson of late LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson and a 
devoted member of the faith. Madsen admitted last year that he tried 
medical marijuana in Colorado to treat his chronic back pain.

"My testimony is as it was the day I moved to Utah: I love and 
sustain and support the ordained brethren and would never think about 
doing otherwise," Madsen said. "It just bothers me when it comes down 
like tablets from on high. There is no dialogue."

A poll conducted last month for The Salt Lake Tribune and the 
Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah found that 
61 percent of Utahns supported some form of legalized medical 
marijuana. That figure included 48 percent of Mormons in support of 
medicinal marijuana, compared with 44 percent who opposed it.

"We've come so far from the old principles of self-reliance, teaching 
correct principles and let [people] govern themselves," Madsen said. 
"It seems like now it's: 'Teach them correct principles and just in 
case send your lobbyist down to force them to do the right thing.' 
And that's a very different philosophy."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom