Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jul 2018
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2018 Los Angeles Times
Author: Kurtis Lee


An LDS missionary passes by the Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square in
Salt Lake City. Voters this fall in Utah will cast ballots on a
measure that would allow medical marijuana. (Isaac Hale / For The Times)

Brian Stoll faced a dilemma as his wedding day approached. For more
than a year, he had been smoking marijuana to treat severe back pain,
but to remain in good standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints and get married in the temple, he had to stop using

Since marijuana was illegal under Utah law, church leaders told him,
it was forbidden. Stoll turned to an opioid painkiller and has
continued using it since his marriage three years ago, despite
unpleasant side effects and its inability to match the soothing
qualities of marijuana.

"This was devastating ... I had to choose between my health and my
fiancee," Stoll said recently. "It seemed asinine that if I lived in
another state, I wouldn't have to make such a difficult decision."

Perhaps soon, Stoll said, that could all change for him and his fellow
Mormons in Utah.

In November, voters here will consider a ballot measure to legalize
medical marijuana and possibly join 30 others states that allow its

While opponents, including a group of Utah doctors, have characterized
Proposition 2 as a clear and dangerous step on the path toward
legalizing recreational pot in the state, supporters say the
initiative is a move of compassion.

Dozens of parents of children with severe illnesses, including
epilepsy, who say they rely on marijuana for treatment, have become
the public faces for the campaign. The initiative, supporters argue,
is also a necessary response to the opioid epidemic. Every year
between 2013 and 2016, roughly 600 Utahns have fatally overdosed on
opioids, according to a recent report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"We're talking about medical marijuana, which science time and again
has shown to have benefits for people in pain and suffering," said DJ
Schanz, a Mormon and the director of the campaign supporting the
measure. "People are being prescribed pills but can't use something

Brian Stoll plays with his 5-month-old daughter, Everly, as his wife,
Rachael, looks on while her mother, Michelle Bacca-Llamas, and
stepfather, Hector Llamas, laugh from the love seat at their home in
West Jordan, Utah. (Isaac Hale / For The Times)

Among those gathering signatures to place the measure on the ballot
was Stoll. The product of a devout Mormon home in the Salt Lake
Valley, he started taking prescription opioids in 2012, after
fracturing his back in a fall during his sophomore year at Brigham
Young University.

The pills helped somewhat, but he hated the possibility of growing
addicted. So at 24, Stoll bought a mini bong and some pot, and soon
his life changed. The pain faded, and he could sit through church
services and go on hikes. Fears of addiction no longer flooded his
mind, and his mood improved.

But then came his engagement and his desire to be married in the
temple. He now takes a tablet of Tramadol most mornings. The powerful
opioid can cloud his mind and make him drowsy, but he said that
without it, he couldn't sit through the four-hour service at his
Mormon meeting house. The gnawing pain in his back would turn to a

One recent Sunday morning, Stoll gulped down the small, white pill as
he rushed out the door and headed to his church.

Stoll opens the car door for Rachael as he carries Everly before
attending a church service at a LDS meeting house in West Jordan,
Utah. (Isaac Hale / For The Times)

Church leaders long remained silent on the marijuana initiative but
eventually took a public stance, releasing a brief statement in April
lauding a memo by the Utah Medical Assn., a group of doctors opposed
to the measure. The church praised the association for "cautioning
that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the
health and safety of Utah communities." A month later, church leaders
put out a document citing legal concerns, including "significant
challenges for law enforcement."

According to a recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics
poll, two-thirds of voters in Utah, where more than 60% of the
population identifies as Mormon, support the medical marijuana proposal.

The leaders of the church, whose membership tops 16 million worldwide,
"have enormous sway in Utah," said Philip Barlow, a professor of
Mormon history at Utah State University. And yet, he noted, "Mormon
conclusions are not monolithic."

"Among the majority in the state who identify as LDS, a fair portion
of these, as with all religions, are not robust or active in
practicing their faith," Barlow said. "They simply identify as Mormon,
as opposed to Baptist or Muslim."

The Mormon Church has a history of weighing in on social issues.

In 2008, church members helped bankroll a successful campaign in
California for Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the
state until it was struck down as unconstitutional. Last year in Utah,
the church supported a successful effort by lawmakers to create the
lowest blood-alcohol driving limit in the country -- 0.05% -- despite
concerns from the state's tourism industry.

While the church's doctrine regarding health, referred to as the "Word
of Wisdom," does not directly address medical marijuana, it does ask
members to abstain from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and "illegal
drugs." In recent years, some church members, including Stoll, have
sought clarity on what classifies as an illegal drug, especially as
more and more states legalize marijuana for medical or recreational

The church declined to comment for this article.

Utah has a long history with pot. In the early 1900s, it was among the
first states to ban cannabis, following the return of Mormon church
members from missions in Mexico, where some historians have said they
used pot, according to a reference handbook on marijuana by scholar
David E. Newton.

During the state's current battle, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican and
a member of the Mormon church, has voiced his reservations about
Proposition 2.

"I am concerned about this initiative because of the lack of medical
science on the safety, efficacy and proper dosage for compounds found
in cannabis," Herbert said in an email. Referring to the Food and Drug
Administration, he added, "We should have clinical studies -- just
like we do for any other FDA-approved medicine. We need to isolate
what helps and heals from what harms."

While traveling the state, Herbert said, he has met with Utahns
recovering from addiction who have told him "that marijuana was their
gateway drug to other more dangerous and addictive drugs."

"To a person," Herbert said, "they have argued against the
legalization of marijuana."

For Stoll, who works in digital marketing in this suburb south of Salt
Lake City with views of the towering Wasatch Range, his pain has
propelled his activism.

Two years ago, he testified before lawmakers about a bill that would
have legalized pot for medical purposes. The measure died in the
Republican-controlled Legislature. But lawmakers have passed laws over
the years that, among other things, allow oils and creams made from
the non-psychoactive component of cannabis.

Before Stoll, his wife and their infant daughter drove to the
red-brick meeting house in West Jordan on a recent Sunday, he pulled
out the green bong he's kept in a cardboard box in his closet since
his marriage in 2015.

He can't help but think about how much pot helped him -- about what
his life would be like if he could give up the Tramadol.

But he fears losing his good standing within the church -- a
designation that allows him to attend temples, where Mormons marry,
have baptisms and other major life ceremonies. At times, Stoll admits,
he thinks about moving out of state to better treat his condition.
Stoll said he knows Mormons in other states -- where pot is legal --
who use marijuana and are in good standing and have temple recommends
with the church because sympathetic local church leaders have given
their assent. He wants that for himself.

Stoll holds a vial of Tramadol, one of the medications he takes to
treat severe back pain. He had to stop using pot to remain in good
standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and get
married in the temple. (Isaac Hale / For The Times)

"This is something that if I drive east or west -- to Colorado or
Nevada -- is 100% legal and helpful to my situation," he said. "We're
not talking about recreational. This is simply for medical."

His wife, Rachael, said her husband seemed healthier when he used

"As a family, we need this to become law," she said, holding their
daughter, Everly. "We pray for this."

But her stepfather, Hector Llamas, 63, disagrees, saying he foresees
medical pot being sold on the black market.

"People buy it with a card and then turn around and sell it elsewhere
is going to be a problem," Llamas said as the family sat at the
kitchen table before church.

Moments later, as the family got ready to head to the meeting house -- 
one of several in this community where horses graze in backyards under 
the shade of pine trees -- Stoll read a passage from the Book of Mormon:

And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the
year were very frequent in the land -- but not so much so with fevers,
because of the excellent qualities of the many plants and roots which
God had prepared to remove the cause of diseases, to which men were
subject by the nature of the climate.

This, he said, reminded him of his current situation.

"Marijuana," he said, "is a gift from God."
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