Utah says church did not sway medical pot changes

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) — Marijuana advocates dropped legal claims Friday that Utah lawmakers conspired with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to make sweeping changes to a voter-approved ballot initiative legalizing medical pot.

Their lawsuit will instead focus on an allegation that it was unconstitutional to replace a law passed by voters and raise questions about whether the changes are at odds with federal laws that still say marijuana is illegal, said Rocky Anderson, an attorney representing two advocacy groups.

If a judge agrees, the law would revert back to the version passed by voters, said Anderson, a former Salt Lake City mayor.

The announcement comes amid divisions over marijuana legalization and church overreach in Utah.

The state attorney general argued in a recent court filing that the church did not influence an agreement that lawmakers passed to legalize the drug but scale down qualifying medical conditions. Sean Reyes also said church leaders were exercising free speech by lobbying people to oppose the initiative as it appeared on the ballot.

“By calling upon the Legislature to find an appropriate solution and expressing the ‘hope’ for a special session, the church was neither dominating the state nor interfering with its functions,” state attorneys wrote in the April 22 court filing. “The church was simply expressing its views and desires on a matter of public interest, as any person or group has the right to do.”

The group Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah sued the state in December to block a compromise that legislative leaders, church officials and proposition sponsors crafted before the November election and passed after voters legalized medical marijuana.

The deal became law earlier this year. It bans many marijuana edibles, prevents people from growing marijuana if they live far from a dispensary and makes fewer medical conditions eligible for treatment with pot.

Christine Stenquist, executive director and founder of TRUCE, said the changes would make it “near impossible” for patients to access medical marijuana, pushing many to purchase the drug in the black market.

The groups initially accused the church of unconstitutional domination and interference in a process that led the ballot measure to be gutted, but they have since dropped those allegations from the lawsuit.

The Utah-based faith has stood behind the work it did to help create the compromise that it considers a safer medical marijuana program. Latter-day Saints have long frowned on marijuana use because of a key church health code called the “Word of Wisdom,” which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Church leaders declined to comment Friday through spokesman Doug Anderson.

About two-thirds of the state’s residents belong to the church, along with nearly nine in 10 members of the Legislature and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

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3 Comments

  • Jonathan Bentz May 3, 2019 at 6:33 pm Reply

    Just like the Church never asked for volunteers to help with leaflet campaigns and such for Proposition 8 in California all those years ago, right? Never mind that I distinctly remember sitting in sacrament meeting and a Bishop reading a letter from the FP asking that very thing. If the Church is willing to interfere in the ballot of another State, they’re definitely gonna be intervening in local politics here in Utah when things don’t go the way they want. They made a lot of noise about how they would ‘work with lawmakers’ about getting it legalized if the measure on the ballot didn’t pass. I would guess that these ‘changes’ reflect exactly what the Church would have done in ‘working with lawmakers’, if they even followed through.

    And generally speaking, when any organization’s spokesperson ‘declines to comment’, there is usually a reason for it beyond ‘this is so ridiculous it’s unworthy of being commented on’.

  • Nah May 4, 2019 at 9:09 am Reply

    This cherch is a den of vipers. This cherch just told all of their members that calling themselves mormons and lds was offensive and hurtful to Jesus and you all bought it. The entire history of your cherch it was fine but now after all these years this one cherch profit finally got the message. You people are all sick.

  • One who knows May 4, 2019 at 1:17 pm Reply

    Oh, ok…however we are all not that stupid

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