Stuart Reid: Jumping into medical marijuana debate has discredited LDS Church

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Candi Huff confronts Kem Gardner after a news conference where a coalition including the LDS Church came out against Utah's medical marijuana initiative, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.

It is my view, and always has been, that marijuana in any form should not be legalized, including medical marijuana use outside of the normal medical review and approval processes for prescribing drug therapies under the guidance of licensed physicians. For this reason, I oppose Proposition 2 and its attempts to legalize medical marijuana.

That said, it is also my view that lobbyists representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have mismanaged their public policy involvement opposing Proposition 2. The following are just five brief observations why I believe the church and others have been harmed by the divisive debate over legalizing medical marijuana.

1. Church lobbyists should never invoke the holy calling of the president of the church to influence public opinion for public policy issues like legalizing medical marijuana. As a rule of thumb, neither the prophet’s name nor his holy calling should ever be invoked over a public podium in support of or opposition to public policy issues that he has not already been inspired to preach about over a church pulpit. President Russell M. Nelson’s prophetic authority and good name must be safeguarded at all times to proclaim the eternal principles of salvation and exaltation and to secure the rights and protections necessary for the church to carry out its primary missions. To do otherwise will diminish him and his authority, undermining the church.

2. The church’s legal firm should not be used as a tool of persuasion in a passion-filled political debate. It appears self-serving and by association it leaves the church vulnerable to ridicule that most often distracts from the consequential essence of the policy debate, as demonstrated by the firm’s expressed alibis attempting to refute the critical reaction to its initial presentation and the church’s association with it. If legal arguments are ever persuasive in an impassioned public debate, they should always be advanced by legal counsel that is neutral and independent.

3. Never demand a special legislative session that does not already have the concurrence of the governor and legislative leadership, especially when there is no legislation drafted and agreed to. Because church lobbyists invoked Nelson’s name and holy calling, the governor, trying to appropriately do his duty, has unfairly been put in the compromised position of publicly opposing a church leader he personally reveres for a precipitous political maneuver designed to appease public opinion.

4. If stopping Proposition 2 is that critical to the church, then church lobbyists should have prepared much earlier to get in front of the debate that began years ago in Utah. Delaying until months after a proposition was well underway, rolling out muddled messages between opposition and support for legalized medical marijuana, disadvantaged the church’s position, resulting in desperate political tactics that have unfortunately and unnecessarily discredited the church and its leaders, alienating even some of their supporters.

5. Trusting in the deliberative legislative process could have attenuated political machinations that have unfortunately sullied the goodwill of the church. The purpose of Utah’s Legislature is to deliberate over public policy to protect the health, welfare and safety of the public, including policies passed by public referendum. The church can petition the Legislature to statutorily remedy any perceived risks resulting from the passage of Proposition 2. Of course, it would have been more expedient, now that the church declared its support of legalized medical marijuana, for the church to have proposed appropriate legislation in previous legislative sessions, making Proposition 2 irrelevant and the divisive and diminishing public debate unnecessary.

By proxy there is a much better way for the church to manage its public policy involvement, but that is a discussion for others at another time and place when the powers that be one day seek a more effective way forward.

File photo Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

Stuart C. Reid is a former lobbyist for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City council member and Utah state senator.