Support for medical marijuana remains high in first poll since LDS Church opposed Proposition 2

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Jack Gerard of the LDS Church, with Lisa Harkness and Craig Christensen, announces the church's opposition to Utah's medical marijuana initiative at a news conference in Salt Lake City, Thursday Aug. 23, 2018.

A majority of Utah voters continue to support legalization of medical marijuana, despite formal opposition by the LDS Church to Proposition 2, according to a new poll.

In the first survey of its kind since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joined the Drug Safe Utah coalition, a Dan Jones and Associates poll for UtahPolicy.com found 64 percent of likely voters to be “somewhat” or “strongly” in support of legalizing doctor-recommended marijuana.

That number is down from a May UtahPolicy.com poll, but roughly in line with the overall support numbers of a Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll conducted in June, which found 66 percent of Utah voters backing the ballot initiative.

The new poll included 809 likely Utah voters between Aug. 22 and 31, according to UtahPolicy.com. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Michelle McOmber, CEO of the Utah Medical Association and president of Drug Safe Utah, said in a prepared statement that most Utahns have no idea what is really contained in Proposition 2.

“We were encouraged by the movement in the polls in our favor," she said. “We recognize we have a significant challenge to educate voters on why Prop 2 goes way too far and that there is a much better way to help those who would truly benefit from access to medicinal forms of marijuana.”

LDS Church leaders formally joined the Drug Safe Utah coalition Aug. 23, but they had previously voiced concerns about medical marijuana and their involvement behind the scenes was known at the time of the poll’s launch. Church leaders subsequently sent emails to members urging them to vote against the measure.

DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, said the polling suggests that Proposition 2 is weathering its opposition as voters become more informed and more firmly decided in their support.

“We feel we’re in a very good position to have this pass in November,” Schanz said.

If approved by voters, Proposition 2 would allow patients with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain a medical marijuana card and purchase cannabis products from privately owned dispensaries.

Critics have accused the initiative of lacking procedural safeguards to require precise dosing and the oversight and follow-up of a physician. McOmber has repeatedly dismissed medical marijuana as “cookies and brownies," adding that the cannabis products envisioned by initiative supporters cannot be accurately described as medicine.

Schanz said the comments show that McOmber has not spoken with actual Utah patients about what they need and want for their treatment.

“If you’re taking chemotherapy and you’re trying to ingest cannabis, what better way than to take an edible that will help you get rid of your nausea?” Schanz said. “We think [McOmber] should spend some time with some patients and see what their concerns are.”

A spokesman for the LDS Church did not respond to The Tribune’s request for comment. Last month, Elder Jack Gerard, an LDS general authority Seventy, said the church does not object to medical marijuana “if doctor-prescribed in dosage form and obtained through a licensed pharmacy.”

Between its May and August polls, UtahPolicy.com measured a drop in combined support from 73 percent to 64 percent, while opposition rose from 25 percent to 33 percent. The number of voters who “strongly” support the initiative was unchanged, at 43 percent in both polls.

But among voters who describe themselves as “very active” Mormons, support for Proposition 2 has dropped from a 59 percent majority to a 45 percent minority.

Among “somewhat” active LDS voters, UtahPolicy.com found, support has slipped from 79 percent in May to 71 percent in August. Support levels increased among Catholic and former Mormon voters.

In June, participants in the Tribune-Hinckley poll were asked if the church’s public criticisms made them more or less likely to support the medical marijuana initiative. Among all participants, 61 percent said the church’s position made no difference, 16 percent said it made them less likely to support Proposition 2 and 11 percent said it increased their likelihood of supporting the initiative.

Among “very active” Mormon voters, 58 percent said the church’s position made no difference, 29 were less likely to support the initiative and 11 percent were more likely to support Proposition 2.

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