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Mormon church against Madsen’s Utah marijuana bill; ‘no objection’ to other measure

First Published      Last Updated Feb 13 2016 09:07 am


Medical marijuana » A senator is frustrated that leaders of Utah’s predominant faith “put their thumb on the scale” to influence state policy.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opposes a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen that would make Utah the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana, citing unintended consequences that could come with use of the drug.

The state's predominant faith is not taking a position on another measure, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, that would allow extracts from the plant that do not contain the psychoactive chemical THC.

"Along with others, we have expressed concern about the unintended consequences that may accompany the legalization of medical marijuana," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement to The Tribune. "We have expressed opposition to Senator Madsen's bill because of that concern. We are raising no objection to the other bill that addresses this issue."



Lobbyists for the Utah-based faith have conveyed to Madsen, as well as House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, that the church opposes the bill, but did not explain its objections.

Madsen said he asked to discuss the reasons for the church's stance but was rebuffed.

"I asked them, 'Can we have some kind of a productive, meaningful conversation?' and each time they just said, 'You know the difference between the other bill. It's not the other bill,' " Madsen said. "So I say, 'THC?' And I get a vague nod."

Senate committees approved both bills Thursday after four hours of testimony.

The unwillingness by the church's representatives to discuss concerns with the bill has Madsen frustrated and speaking openly about the faith's work behind the scenes.

"Maybe they don't want to be known as the special interest who put their thumb on the scale and decided this for everyone in the state," he said. "If they're going to put their thumb on the scale politically and force everyone to a standard, then I think they owe something of an explanation to the people."

The LDS Church employs several lobbyists who frequently visit the Capitol to weigh in on issues before the Legislature.

"We'll meet on a regular basis and they'll explain different bills that they're watching, and it's no different for them than others who would participate in the process," Hughes said Friday. "But they had indicated to me — their government-relations people — that was a bill that they were first concerned about and ultimately looking to oppose."

Alcohol and morality • Niederhauser said the church rarely weighs in on legislation, but when it does, it is typically on issues of alcohol policy or morality.

"Obviously this falls into that moral-alcohol-substance arena, and so they're very concerned about just going down this road of medical marijuana, but they haven't given me any details on why," the Senate leader said. "It wasn't a surprise to me that they have concerns about it."

Last year, support from high-level LDS leaders was crucial to the passage of a statewide anti-discrimination bill protecting gay and lesbian Utahns from employment and housing bias while safeguarding some religious liberties.

Two years ago, Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson recorded a video arguing against liberalizing Utah's liquor laws, effectively derailing efforts on alcohol policy for the year. LDS officials have again been consulted on liquor policy this year.

Several years ago, the church actively advocated for a bold immigration-reform bill before the Legislature, arguing that immigrant families shouldn't have to live in the shadows and fear being split up by law enforcement.

Those are the same fears now being faced by patients who use medical marijuana, Madsen contends.

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