Editor’s Note: TWiM doesn’t hold a formal position on this issue. But the ye and nay of it all is worth analysis.
On June 26 the Utah Patients Coalition formally filed paperwork to add a medical marijuana bill to the ballot in 2018. The group argues that Utah has a severe opioid epidemic and medical marijuana can serve as a “harm-reduction tool.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which directly or indirectly holds sway over Utah voters, actually weighed in on the ballot push via an interview with Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City, stating:
“Lawmakers across the country have wrestled with whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This discussion raises legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety.
“During the 2017 legislative session, a bill was passed that appropriately authorized further research of the potential benefits and risks of using marijuana. The difficulties of attempting to legalize a drug at the state level that is illegal under Federal law cannot be overstated.
“Accordingly, we believe that society is best served by requiring marijuana to go through further research and the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients.”
What’s interesting here are the reasons why the Church—through spokesman Eric Hawkins—preaches caution toward the bill. They’re not on moral grounds, but purely legal, constitutional, and scientific ones. By arguing that medical marijuana should not be on the ballot because appropriate research has not been completed and FDA approval has not been granted, and also because states should not be able to dictate policy that contravenes federal law, the Church is avoiding making a definitive statement on the morality of marijuana use, even for medicinal purposes.
It’s a tough line to walk. The Word of Wisdom, a health code adhered to by Latter-day Saints, prohibits the use of illegal drugs. But by basing a spiritual law in the law of the land, things get murky. Recreational marijuana is now legal in many US states, as well as other countries with Mormon populations. If it’s legal, is it allowed? Or are we now to fall back on the judgment that unless anything is FDA-approved, it is to be avoided? And this says nothing of medical marijuana, a more ostensibly benign—and widespread—issue.
Former Utah State Senator Mark Madsen explained the conundrum for Mormons:
“If I stay here [Utah], I not only run the risk of being a criminal but my status with my church is dubious,” he said. “Can I or can I not go to the temple? Those decisions, I think, are unfair to put a member of the church in.”
So is it OK for saints in Colorado to obtain medical marijuana because it’s not criminal? That is the issue Madsen addresses. Who defines what is “harmful” and what is not, and why is that done on a state-by-state basis, further confusing pious Mormons?
There’s a certain irony in arguing against medical marijuana because the FDA hasn’t weighed in, when Utah is home to innumerable organizations of dubious health merit that remain uncontrolled, without oversight from any federal or state body, and largely embraced by Latter-day Saints. Sure, a doctor is (hopefully) not prescribing doTerra, but the logic gets slippery when FDA approval becomes the baseline for health-related products to be both legal and approved—tacitly or overtly—by the LDS Church.
Regardless, the Utah Patients Coalition will need to collect 115,000 signatures to get medical marijuana on the ballot, which shouldn’t prove difficult if its internal polling, which shows 73% of Utahans in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, is correct. Were the ballot to pass, Utah would join the 29 other US states that have approved marijuana for medicinal purposes.