OPINION – For some time now there has been a cat and mouse game between officials of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Utah voters.
Instead of catnip, however, another green, leafy herb has been at the center of this squabble as Utah voters come closer to making a decision on legalizing cannabis for medical treatments in November.
If passed by voters, Proposition 2 would allow certain patients to partake of cannabis to ease pain, treat symptoms and offer alternative healing. You wouldn’t be allowed to smoke it, but you could ingest it in other forms.
Although this is nothing new by national standards it is highly unexpected in the theocracy that is Utah where opposition to church doctrine is as watered down as the beer.
There are 30 states that have already allowed medical cannabis and of those, eight have legalized recreational use.
Therein lies the problem.
Church officials, in their first public statement of opposition to Prop 2, sent emails to members urging that they vote against the measure.
“The Church joins a coalition of medical experts, public officials and community stakeholders in calling for a safe and compassionate approach to providing medical marijuana to those in need,” the statement signed by Elder Craig C. Christensen reads. “The Church does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana, if doctor prescribed, in dosage form, through a licensed pharmacy.
“As a member of the coalition, we urge voters of Utah to vote NO on Proposition 2, and join us in a call to state elected officials to promptly work with medical experts, patients and community leaders to find a solution that will work for all Utahns, without the harmful effects that will come to pass if Proposition 2 becomes law.”
The statement added that church concerns center around the fear that it would create, “a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls.”
The statement also said: ”We are firmly opposed to Proposition 2. However, we do not object to marijuana derivatives being used in medicinal form – so long as appropriate controls and safeguards are in place to ensure vulnerable populations are protected and access is limited to truly medicinal purposes.”
The church, of course, neglected to comment on documentation posted on the MormonLeaks.com website that it also happens to hold approximately $2 billion in pharmaceutical companies, including all the major ones that already manufacture synthetic cannabinoid derivatives, as well as companies that make the extremely dangerous and addictive opiates that have crippled many who have become strung out on the drugs or have lost their lives to overdose.
And, if you read the proposition in its entirety, you will see that church officials are not exactly being forthright when they express concerns about “appropriate controls and safeguards” and claim Prop 2 would make cannabis “generally available with few controls.”
The email to church members preys on fears with misinformation directed to sway its congregation.
The evidence, however, points in another direction.
The facts are, according to a report in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, the legalization of recreational cannabis in Colorado has had no significant effect on increasing teen use.
An extensive 2015 study published in Lancet Psychiatry, based on an annual survey of eighth-, 10- and 12th-grade students administered in 400 schools nationwide, came to the conclusion that there is “no evidence for an increase in adolescent marijuana use after passage of state laws permitting use of marijuana for medical purposes.”
Church leaders are being disingenuous when they claim that they, too, would like to see cannabis made available to patients in need yet swings its heavy axe at Prop 2 by encouraging members to vote against it. In fact, even church leaders can’t seem to land on the same page explaining why, one spokesman saying there is opposition because of concerns about teen usage and another saying it should be handled and distributed through pharmacies only.
The governor joined the obfuscation last week when he said that while he thinks medical cannabis should be approved in Utah, Prop 2 isn’t the way to go, suggesting that if legalized, it should be distributed through state health departments in each county. The problem, however, is that doing so would place the state in jeopardy with the federal government for allowing its officials and agencies to participate in selling cannabis, which is still against federal law.
There is no thread connecting these opposing positions, making you wonder what those urging a no vote are smoking.
What is happening here is called stonewalling and it is something Utah does very well, particularly when the Legislature and church stand against overwhelming popular opinion.
This time, public opinion finds itself aligned with science.
Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Journal of the American Medical Association list benefits of medical cannabis.
Some of those benefits include management of chronic pain, easing muscle spasms, increasing lung capacity even if it is smoked, treating glaucoma, controlling epileptic seizures, decreasing seizure symptoms, shrinking or stopping the growth of cancerous tumors, decreasing anxiety, possibly slowing the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease, easing the effects of multiple sclerosis, lessening the side effects of hepatitis C treatments, helping to curb inflammatory bowel diseases, relieving arthritic pain, soothing tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease, leveling out the trauma of post-traumatic stress disorder, protecting the brain after a stroke, reducing the pain and nausea of chemotherapy and restoring appetite and helping people to quit drinking alcohol.
Cannabis also can help cure the opioid problem. Opioids are highly addictive, powerful drugs that can easily result in overdose. Nobody has ever died from a cannabis overdose.
But, this is science and not some cultural or religious testimony about cannabis.
While it is fine to have spiritual or religious beliefs, which are often not in line with each other, when it comes to matters of health it is wiser to consult a doctor than a priest, bishop or rabbi.
The church, despite public policy to the contrary, also has a history of meddling in political affairs – from pulpit influences to monetary support – to fight the Equal Rights Amendment, oppose same-sex marriage, bolster Utah’s antiquated liquor laws and, now, to fight Prop 2.
The theocracy that is Utah has been, perhaps, the prime example of why we must enforce that separation between church and state, especially when a church manipulates mandates that are examples of cultural bigotry and ignorance instead of representative of an overwhelming majority of the people, as in the case of Prop 2, which, if the polls hold true, will win by a landslide.
Finally, opponents of legalized medical cannabis have, collectively, rallied behind the notion that doing so would be a gateway to legal recreational use.
The thing is, even if hell actually freezes over and cannabis is approved for recreational use in Utah, we have far more dangerous substances out there – cigarettes and alcohol to be specific and bad dietary habits that lead to heart disease and obesity as well.
They tried, very unsuccessfully, to prohibit alcohol nearly 100 years ago.
It didn’t work.
They have placed restrictions and penalties on cigarette users, which has cut the number of smokers, but it hasn’t eliminated cigarette use.
And, while you may be able to take away somebody’s cannabis, you’ll never be able to take away that pork chop on their dinner plate or make them go cold turkey from sugar or sugar products.
It’s just not going to happen.
Church officials have conducted a covert assault on Proposition 2 since its inception.
There was, at first, no comment, followed by support of a very conservative medical association that opposes the ballot measure. The church supported legal attempts to block Prop 2 from the ballot. At least now they are stepping up to the plate and owning the fact that science be damned, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not want you to use cannabis, period, despite public posturing.
At least church leaders are finally being honest.
But, seriously, guilting its followers into voting against a measure that could benefit them is irresponsible.
It is also insulting to voters and church followers. A recent Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that among those who identify as Mormon there is strong support for the proposition.
I understand that the church has strong feelings about alcohol and tobacco. It’s why it is so highly regulated here in Utah and why the Legislature, manipulated heavily by the church, cowers whenever there are proposals to amend those laws.
But, I do not understand why they would not express genuine compassion in this matter, particularly considering the track record of opioids when it comes to the dangers of addiction and overdose.
Although the state has low levels of alcohol consumption and binge drinking, a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report in 2015 that shows Utah ranks seventh in the nation in alcohol poisoning deaths, most of them middle-aged men.
Utah also ranks seventh nationally in opioid deaths and addiction. The state has a growing heroin problem because when an addicted patient’s pain med prescription runs out, they take to the street for relief.
I have a dear relative who has just undergone a major surgery to repair a shattered femur. She is highly allergic to opioids. I wish Utah would be kind and compassionate enough to offer her an alternative that would allow her to choose her medication, its dosage and administer them as necessary because as somebody who suffers chronic pain as a result of an inflammatory disease, I know we have bad days and worse days.
I also know what it is like to hear a doctor say the pain will never go away, that there is no cure and nothing more they can do. I had, what one doctor told me years ago, a “golden ticket” that would allow me a lifetime of prescriptive painkillers. I tore it up. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life juggling my day around when I should take my pain meds. That’s existing, not living.
I know very few people who do not suffer from one ailment or another and I’ll bet the same is true with you.
Isn’t it time we offered them all a proven, safe alternative?
Isn’t it time for us to do the right thing rather than the supposedly righteous thing?
Isn’t it time to end this ludicrous prohibition that has been an utter failure?
This covert, word-of-mouth condemnation of Proposition 2 that has been taking place has been cowardly at best. Despite the subtleness or innuendo, it has been quite clear from the beginning that church officials have been against the passage of this initiative.
I am happy to see that church officials have finally ‘fessed up their real feelings. They are entitled to their opinions, as we all are. But they should not be allowed to leverage your salvation against your vote of conscience.
The fact is that it is not very compassionate to let somebody who is suffering face the dangers of opioid addiction or overdose because of cultural or religious beliefs that have no basis in fact.
I expect that voters will also express their feelings and that Proposition 2 will be approved by compassionate, discerning voters.
Let God heal your soul.
Let science heal your body.
No bad days!
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.