Lawsuit to block medical marijuana compromise accuses LDS church of domination, interference

People look on as the Utah Legislature went into session Dec. 3, 2018, in Salt Lake City to consider changes to a voter-approved ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana. | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A pair of advocacy groups in Utah sued Thursday to block a compromise agreement legalizing medical marijuana, accusing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of unconstitutional domination and interference in a process that led to the gutting of a measure approved by voters.

The lawsuit alleges the revised initiative creates overwhelming obstacles for suffering patients who want to obtain the drug. It also asks a judge to set aside the revision passed by lawmakers and keep the original version that won with 53 percent of the vote in November.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints didn’t immediately comment.

Mormons have long frowned upon marijuana use because of a key church health code called the “Word of Wisdom,” which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs. However, it previously stood behind the work it did to help craft the compromise before the election that it considers a safer medical marijuana program.

The changes signed into law on Monday ban many marijuana edibles; prevent people from growing their own marijuana if they live far from a dispensary; and narrow the list of eligible medical conditions for which the drug can be obtained. Smoking marijuana wasn’t allowed in the original ballot measure and won’t be permitted under the new version.

The legal challenge isn’t a surprise. The plaintiffs – an organization called Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah – had warned they would sue if the ballot measure was altered. They were upset that the primary organization backing medical pot in the state agreed to the compromise before the election.

A laboratory manager holds a cannabis sample in Oakland, Calif., June 21, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Jeff Chiu, St. George News

Utah law gives state legislators the authority to change the language of laws passed by voters.

Supporters of the compromise, including some advocates of medical marijuana, say it was a key to guaranteeing quick legalization and convincing conservative lawmakers not to repeal the law.

The Utah Patients Coalition, the main medical marijuana group that backed the ballot measure, has said it agreed to the compromise so it could prevent radical changes to the measure after the election and to gain widespread community acceptance. It acknowledged that the Mormon church has a powerful voice in Utah politics.

About two-thirds of the state’s residents belong to the religion and nearly nine in 10 members of the Legislature are Mormon along with the governor, the lawsuit states.

It says Mormons are taught to follow and trust the direction of their leaders, who opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to broader use of marijuana. As the proposal seemed to gain support, the church agreed to the pre-election deal to allow access for people with serious medical needs.

The lawsuit notes that church lobbyist Marty Stephens told a gathering of local church leaders two days before the Nov. 6 election to “follow the prophet” and vote against the ballot proposition. The Utah Constitution bars any church from dominating or interfering with state functions, the lawsuit says.

Gov. Gary Herbert signed the revised compromise law Monday after he called a special legislative session.

He didn’t comment on the lawsuit itself Thursday, but said the compromise restricting access has broad support in Utah.

“The concern we had was this is too loose, which leads to recreational marijuana,” he said.

Patients can now use medical marijuana legally in Utah but likely won’t be able to buy it legally in-state until at least 2020, officials said.

The state will need time to build a database to start issuing patients medical-cannabis cards, and to grant licenses for dispensaries.

Written by BRADY McCOMBS and LINDSAY WHITEHURST, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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  • Kilroywashere December 7, 2018 at 3:55 am

    Wow, wow, wow!!!!! I told you!!!!! “A Federal mountain out of a State molehill” Finally WE THE PEOPLE ARE IN THE HOUSE. Take it all the way to the Supreme Court. Helelejulah! A bridge too far. Lord God – LET JUSTICE PREVAIL. The Angel’s are singing, Comment, no doubt! Restore the Democratic process! Let the battle for justice begin. When you step on the will of the people, and circumvent the Democratic process using religious influence, it is a violation of the foundation of the separation of Church & State. PERIOD. We are Americans.

    • Carpe Diem December 7, 2018 at 6:45 am

      Not to get too excited, but I AM looking forward to seeing the LDS peeps appear in court. Wonder if they can find a way to squash it before that happens. On the other hand, the litigation may last long enough and have enough impact to basically nullify MJ prosecutions besides those for distribution.

    • bikeandfish December 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

      Will be interesting to see how the prosecution tries to prove domination and interference. What is obvious to us isn’t necessarily easy to prove it court. Fingers crossed.

  • mshaw December 7, 2018 at 4:31 am

    It passed you lost!!!! Tell my bishop to put down his bongos not me

  • jh9000 December 7, 2018 at 5:02 am

    Herbert said “The concern we had was this is too loose, which leads to recreational marijuana,” he said.

    Too bad. That’s what the voters want. Your job is to represent the voters, not assume you know better and go around them. Fake conservative.

  • Carpe Diem December 7, 2018 at 6:37 am

    Rocky needs to name it something with a bit more bite than “TRUCE”…. try:
    FORCE= Finding Opportunities for Recreational Cannabis Enlightenment

  • iceplant December 7, 2018 at 7:33 am

    I will wait and see but I’m not holding my breath.
    This whole thing stinks. And it ain’t the buds I’m smelling either !!!

  • Real Life December 7, 2018 at 8:00 am

    The LDS church needs to have it’s tax exempt status taken away.

  • DRT December 7, 2018 at 8:51 am

    “Utah law gives state legislators the authority to change the language of laws passed by voters.”
    In other words, Utah doesn’t even PRETEND that the populace has a voice in the government. I believe there is a term, or several, regarding dictatorship.

    • bikeandfish December 7, 2018 at 9:17 am

      To be fair, most states can replace or ammend propositions. Our republic was designed with a lot of skepticism regarding direct democracy. Assuming the state didn’t allow “domination” than this change is well within the realm of what is expected in a representative system like ours. It sucks when its something so obviously helpful like medical marijuana but its nonetheless true.

  • Red2Blue310 December 7, 2018 at 8:48 pm

    Let it pay taxes!

  • Kilroywashere December 7, 2018 at 9:40 pm

    Bottomline: solid assumption: LDS / Mormons vote according to the democratic process like every other US citizen. Ok. Somebody’s recent comment on no preaching from the pulpit regarding political intent is downright stupid and ludicrous. As a social group, Mormons via word of mouth can decide to vote on a specific issue any way they want. There is no law against that, nor if there is one, could it ever be enforced. What is in violation of democracy is after a vote has been incurred, a religious political cabal decides to undermine the will of the people, including even Mormons that voted for said proposition. 12+1 individuals do not have that right to supplant their political agenda on the Democratic process through religious connections that they have direct influence over. (i.e. government officials that are members of the LDS church that collude based on membership to a specific religion and are subject to the direct authority of 12+1 religious leaders) IF THE MORMON CHURCH BELIEVES IN DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAW, then do it the right way from the get go!!!! This is America and we are in the 21ST Century, not the Tammany Hall days of the early last century and before. If you had encouraged your membership to vote down prop 2 and it subsequently lost, then that is fair. THAT IS DEMOCRACY. That is how America is supposed to work. And if you dont believe in America then who are you? Think about this. who are you? Time to wake up and realize the ways of the past are no longer valid and the old loopholes if not closed, will close. You are bigger than this, and surely you can do better. THINK. With true sincerity Kilroy

  • Maggie December 7, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    No, Killroy, they march in lockstep with the church hierarchy. The only reason the LDS church is objecting to medicinal or recreational marijuana is they haven’t found a way to make money off it. When they do, there will be, dare I say it, A Revelation! And all will be well…..

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