Utah’s medical marijuana ballot measure would violate Mormons’ religious beliefs, opponents say in new court filing, which initiative supporters call a ‘Hail Mary’

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Colorado marijuana greenhouse is shown in 2014.

Members of the campaign against Utah’s medical marijuana initiative filed a lawsuit in state court Wednesday, seeking to remove the issue from the November ballot.

It is their second lawsuit intending to block voters from weighing in on legalizing the federally illegal plant. Proponents of the measure called the latest filing a “wacky attempt” to stop Utahns from voting on it.

In the complaint, opponents of Proposition 2 — which would legalize marijuana for people with an array of health conditions — said the ballot initiative would tread on their freedom of religion.

The group says the measure would violate the religious beliefs of Walter J. Plumb, an attorney and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who is the primary financier of the opposition campaign.

The lawsuit takes issue with a provision of the ballot measure that would prevent landlords from not renting to a medical marijuana cardholder, saying that could create an issue of Mormon property owners being forced into renting to people who use cannabis.

Plumb’s “religious beliefs include a strict adherence to a code of health which precludes the consumption and possession of mind-altering drugs, substances and chemicals, which includes cannabis and its various derivatives,” the complaint states.

The group cites a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving a Colorado bakery owner who declined to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, saying it would go against his religious beliefs. (The baker won and filed a similar suit Tuesday.)

“In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs,” the complaint reads. “This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant.”

The group says the ballot measure seeks to create a “new class of citizen” that would have rights not afforded to other Utahns.

“The State of Utah is attempting to compel the speech of Utah landowners by suppressing their ability to speak out against cannabis use and consumption by only renting to tenants who do not possess or consume cannabis," the complaint reads, “and who support their viewpoints in opposition against cannabis possession and consumption.”

The measure’s proponents seemed gleeful with the latest filing.

“Not since Jim McMahon hit Clay Brown in the 1980 BYU Miracle Bowl has there been a crazier Hail Mary than this latest wacky attempt by the Utah Medical Association, the Eagle Forum, and the rest of the Drug Safe Utah to derail the voters ability to vote on this important issue,” DJ Schanz, director of the proponents' campaign, said in a statement.

The pass Schanz referred to was the one that brought LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University a victory over Southern Methodist University at the 1980 Holiday Bowl.

“These groups," Schanz’s statement continued, “should be ashamed of themselves for calling sick and afflicted patients morally repugnant in their latest lawsuit.”

The Mormon church, the predominant religion in Utah, doesn’t directly tell its members not to use marijuana in the health code known as the Word of Wisdom, which prohibits members from drinking alcohol or using tobacco. In the church’s later interpretation of the health code, it added mention of “illegal drugs.”

“When people purposefully take anything harmful into their bodies, they are not living in harmony with the Word of Wisdom,” the church says. “Illegal drugs can especially destroy those who use them. The abuse of prescription drugs is also destructive spiritually and physically.”

The church hasn’t come out directly against the initiative, though it hired a law firm to put out a seven-page interpretation of the measure in May. The law firm, Kirton McConkie, took note of the provision that would block landlords from not renting to marijuana cardholders, which was a large focus of Wednesday’s court filing. The church said that memo raised “grave concerns” about the initiative.

It did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment Wednesday night.

The office of Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is named as a defendant because of his role as Utah’s elections chief, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.

The initiative’s opposition, which has been backed by the Utah Medical Association and Plumb, is asking the court for an injunction that would keep Proposition 2 off the ballot.

The measure seeks to legalize marijuana for people who have cancer, HIV, epilepsy, chronic pain and other health problems. Marijuana is legal in 31 states, including on a limited basis in Utah, where regulators are writing rules for a recently passed law.

Opponents have said the initiative resembles laws in states where marijuana is legal for all adults who are older than 21. They filed suit earlier this year but withdrew the filing.