A Latter-day Saint in Utah County left work anxious on Wednesday, having just learned that his church was preparing to issue a statement on its position regarding a ballot initiative that would allow people like him to legally use marijuana to treat their illnesses.
If the initiative known as Proposition 2 passes, it would no longer be a crime for him to buy, possess and use the cannabis droplets he’s been having shipped from California to calm his debilitating tremors caused by medications he takes for various conditions, including schizophrenia.
But the man’s desire to remain in good standing with his religion is stronger than his desire to use the only medication he’s found that stops his shaking: a cream that, in the eyes of the federal and Utah governments, is illegal. So when he heard his church was preparing to release a statement about marijuana, he was nervous.
“My stomach dropped a little,” said the man, who like others spoke about their ongoing cannabis use on the condition of anonymity out of fear of repercussions if it became public.
A high-level church leader, Elder Jack N. Gerard, a general authority Seventy, on Thursday unveiled the church’s first public policy statement on medical marijuana: It is OK as long as it’s prescribed by a doctor in dosage form and obtained through a pharmacy.
That news was welcome, although it left the Utah County man and countless others in Utah and elsewhere in the country in a kind of limbo. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appeared to be more concerned about defeating Prop 2 than explicitly forbidding marijuana use for medicinal reasons.
If the church announced that marijuana use would put members at odds with the faith, the man said, he would have given up the tinctures and dealt with the tremors.
“My standing in the church is very important. My beliefs in the church are important to me and to my life,” he said. “If the church came out and said cannabis use is prohibited, the chances are I’d probably follow the church — as bad as that is.”
Now, rather than an ecclesiastical issue that could affect his standing with the church, the Utah County man and other active Latter-day Saints say they view the issue as a political one. And while the faith is calling on its members to vote against Prop 2, several of them say they still support legalizing marijuana in Utah.
Still, the new policy statement puts church leadership at odds with faithful members who say they support the measure that will be on the Nov. 6 ballot if attempts in court don’t block it first.
“I’m a good member of the church, but I don’t agree with the church on this,” said Margaret Latey, 75. “I think they ought to butt out of this. I feel this way since I’ve used it myself. I’ve never felt this way about the church.”
The South Jordan woman’s support for the measure may stem from her personal experience with cannabis products.
She said she was nervous about being prescribed opiate-based medications when having her knee replaced. Instead of taking the pills she was given, her son went to Colorado and brought back a bottle of liquid that included cannabidiol, or CBD, which, unlike THC, is a nonpsychoactive ingredient in cannabis plants.
CBD was made legal years ago in Utah and became widely available under an unregulated market that exploded because of its purported medical benefits for a range of ailments before the Legislature put in place testing and labeling requirements.
Elder Craig C. Christensen, another Latter-day Saint general authority Seventy, urged members and all Utahns to vote against Prop 2.
It would, Christensen wrote in an email to members Thursday, create “a serious threat to health and public safety, especially for our youth and young adults, by making marijuana generally available with few controls.”
Still, Latey’s positive experience with products that derive from cannabis has pushed her strongly in favor of the initiative, despite having her church strongly in opposition. She “absolutely” plans to vote in favor.
Others saw it more as a legal issue, rather than a religious one, because the health code Mormons follow, the Word of Wisdom, is silent on marijuana. And church leaders for years have considered it an issue between members and their bishops.
“I have never sought permission from local leadership to use cannabis as I don’t think it is any of their business, frankly,” said a man who asked only to go by his first name, Matt. “I have a current temple recommend, and I believe I am in compliance with the Word of Wisdom, and that’s all they need to know.”
And while Gerard said the church supported medical marijuana that was prescribed by a doctor in dosage form and obtained through a pharmacy, several active members focused on the first part of the statement: “The church does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana,” rather than the second: “if doctor-prescribed, in dosage form, through a licensed pharmacy.”
That arrangement — doctor-prescribed marijuana distributed through a pharmacy — isn’t available, though a CBD-based medication is heading for the market. Still, the statement was viewed as a blessing for people who had already been using medical marijuana without church guidance.
“That’s probably as best as I think they would have said [it], to be honest,” the Utah County man said.