By Brady McCombs
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church came out against a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Utah on Tuesday as opposition mounts against the proposal that would allow people with certain medical conditions access to pot.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said in a statement Tuesday that drugs designed to ease suffering should be tested and approved by officials first. About two-thirds of Utah residents belong to the religion.
The church says it respects “the wise counsel” the state’s doctors and pointed to a statement from the Utah Medical Association, which earlier this month accused advocates of just trying to pave the way for legalizing recreational marijuana.
“We commend the Utah Medical Association for its statement,” the church said, “cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities.”
The church stance isn’t surprising. The religion in 2016 opposed a Utah proposal that would have allowed the use of edible pot products. That same year, they urged members in Arizona, California and Nevada to vote against proposals legalizing marijuana.
The Utah-based religion teaches its 16 million members worldwide to abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican and member of the religion, said last month he’s against the initiative because it lacks safeguards for the growing and distribution of marijuana.
Advocates say those living with chronic conditions need access to the drug. Organizers say they already have the 113,000 verified signatures needed by the April 15 deadline to get it on the November ballot.
They would be asking voters to approve a state-regulated marijuana growing and dispensing operation to allow people with certain medical conditions to get a card and use the drug in edible forms like candy, in topical forms like lotions or balms, as an oil or in electronic cigarettes — but not for smoking.
The Utah Patients Coalition, which supports the initiative, issued a statement Tuesday from its medical adviser, Dr. Dan Cottam, that pushes back against the notion that the Utah Medical Association speaks for all doctors.
Cottam said he’s a member and was never consulted, saying the association’s position reflects only the opinion of the board.
“Far from being based on research or science, let alone the consensus of the doctors they purport to represent, it is a position that does not speak for many doctors like myself who are prepared to provide this medicine for our patients,” Cottam said. “The initiative will relieve the suffering of hundreds of patients each year.”
Utah’s mostly Republican state legislature has passed a few pieces of piecemeal medical marijuana laws in recent years.
That includes a new law this past session that will make it legal next year for approved farmers to grow medical marijuana for researchers and dying patients. The state passed a law in 2014 that allows parents of children with severe epilepsy to use an oil called cannabidiol or CBD, a derivative of cannabis, to provide to their children.