Mormon church releases a list of ‘legal issues’ with Utah’s medical marijuana initiative

(AP file photo) Marijuana plants a few weeks away from harvest in a medical marijuana cultivation center in Albion, Ill. With a Utah ballot initiative backing legalization of medical marijuana headed to the November ballot, the LDS Church on Friday issued an analysis raising dozens of legal concerns.

The LDS Church on Friday released a memo describing what it views as “legal issues” surrounding a ballot initiative in support of medical marijuana in Utah.

Compiled by the Salt Lake City law firm Kirton McConkie, the seven-page document raises a variety of legal issues, with claims that the initiative would allow some people to grow as many as six marijuana plants; create “significant challenges for law enforcement”; and see large numbers of Utahns qualifying for medical cannabis cards, among many other legal concerns.

It is the second time The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has weighed in on the marijuana ballot initiative, which aims to secure a spot on the November ballot. Last month, the church released a statement that commended the Utah Medical Association (UMA) for opposing the initiative. “We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah,” it said.

The Friday memo was more strongly worded, effectively offering 31 reasons the Mormon church opposes medical marijuana legalization.

“The memorandum raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted,” LDS Church spokeswoman Karlie Guymon said via email. “We invite all to read the memorandum and to make their own judgment.”

Guymon added that “the negative effects and consequences of marijuana use on individuals, families, and society at large are well-known.”

The statement comes as debate over the ballot initiative has heated up dramatically in recent weeks.

The Utah Patients Coalition currently has enough signatures to get the legalization question on the ballot, but an opposition group has begun trying to persuade some petition signers to remove their names before a Tuesday deadline. Both opponents and supporters have accused the other of misconduct.

On Friday, the Utah Patients Coalition announced it planned to bring a lawsuit against the opposition group, called Drug Safe Utah, whose members include the UMA, the Utah Eagle Forum and a local task force of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Coalition members said Drug Safe Utah had carried out a “number of fraudulent activities” in trying to persuade people to remove their names from the initiative. They alleged opponents were using several deceptive tactics, and cited a video, apparently recorded by a voter, showing a canvasser from the opposition group making several misstatements — including that she was an employee of a county clerk’s office.

UMA spokesman Mark Fotheringham said the coalition’s claims had no merit.

“Most of the allegations directed against the name-removal campaign could be equally applied to the signature-gathering campaign,” Fotheringham said in an email, calling it a “last-minute maneuver” to try and slow down the removal campaign’s efforts.

The Utah Patients Coalition also responded to the LDS Church memo Friday.

“We respect the opinions of those who disagree and look forward to rebutting their fear-based arguments in the months ahead,” said a written statement from DJ Schanz, the group’s director.

Schanz added that the group’s “tightly controlled proposal — one of the most conservative in the country — preserves the doctor-patient relationship” and ensures people can use marijuana for medical purposes “without fear of criminal punishment.”

Among the legal concerns raised by the LDS Church in the memo:

  • That Utahns would be able to grow their own marijuana, up to six plants, if they are more than 100 miles from a cannabis dispensary. The memo raises concern that the initiative does not spell out how such growing would be licensed or monitored. It also says the initiative would allow users to purchase up to 2 ounces of cannabis — but people growing it could consume more from their own cultivation.

  • That the initiative would create “significant challenges” for the police, with the memo noting that law enforcement will have “no way to distinguish” between legally grown and illegal marijuana. 

  • Worries that medical marijuana would be sold through dispensaries — not licensed pharmacies. The memo notes that the initiative does not require a prescription, but rather a medical cannabis card, valid for six months. 

  • That the initiative would allow dispensaries to hand out free samples to cardholders, which “will encourage marijuana use.” The memo also states a worry that “large numbers of Utahns” will be able to qualify for the cards, because of the scope of illnesses that qualify, including chronic pain. 

  • Concerns that the initiative would grant minors access to marijuana. A parent or guardian can obtain a card for a child who has one of the qualifying illnesses. The church memo cites a federal report from 2016 that said Utah had the lowest rates of marijuana usage for ages 12 to 25, but “the marijuana initiative may change that.” 

  • That landlords would not be able to refuse rent to people with medical marijuana cards — though the memo does not specify why this is concerning.

  • That the initiative could “put Utahns at serious risk of federal prosecution.” The drug remains illegal on a federal level, and the Trump administration has taken a less lenient approach to federal marijuana laws compared with the Obama administration, the memo points out. “Passing the marijuana initiative will encourage Utahns to violate federal marijuana laws, which could result in prosecution and imprisonment,” the legal analysis states.