Attention LDS Church leaders: You had better get with it concerning medical marijuana in Utah, for a super-majority of citizens wish to legalize what you don’t want.
Mormon leaders have come out against legalizing medical marijuana (MM) in the state, specifically opposing a citizen initiative whose backers are now gathering signatures to get the measure on the November 2018 ballot.
But a new UtahPolicy.com poll shows that 74 percent – three out of four – Utahns FAVOR the legalization of MM.
Only 22 percent oppose the petition, with a rather small 4 percent undecided.
And just as interesting, while the church has come out against the petition, 63 percent – or two out of three – of the folks who told pollster Dan Jones & Associates that they are “very active” in the Mormon Church support the legalization of medical marijuana for specific diseases and/or pain relief.
Thirty-three percent, or one third, of “very active” Mormons – those who attend church regularly, pay tithing and carry the temple recommends of faithful members – stand with their church leaders and oppose medical marijuana legalization here.
Two out of three active Utah Mormons stand opposite to what their church leaders say?
That is basically unheard of in Utah, home of the worldwide church whose leaders often preach obedience to their pronouncements on all kinds of moral and religious teachings.
In response to a KSTU Channel 13 query this past June about legalizing medical marijuana, the LDS Church issued this statement:
"Lawmakers across the country have wrestled with whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This discussion raises legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety.
During the 2017 legislative session, a bill was passed that appropriately authorized further research of the potential benefits and risks of using marijuana. The difficulties of attempting to legalize a drug at the state level that is illegal under Federal law cannot be overstated.
Accordingly, we believe that society is best served by requiring marijuana to go through further research and the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients."
But this message clearly has not been driven home to Utah Mormons.
In fact, Jones finds that across the demographic board, a majority of Utahns favor legalizing medical marijuana.
Jones polled 608 adults from Aug. 30-Sept. 5. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.97 percent.
Utah has a serious prescription painkiller problem, various studies show, with a number of residents addicted to opiates originally legally prescribed by their doctors.
The GOP-controlled Legislature has refused several times to authorize any kind of general medical marijuana use, opting instead to further study its effectiveness.
But a growing number of other states have, in fact, legalized MM. Three neighboring states, Colorado, Nevada and Arizona, have done so.
With legislative inaction, a group now puts forward a citizen petition which would set up a medical marijuana (non-smoking) system in Utah, where a limited number of registered growers would provide types of marijuana to be prescribed by a limited number of doctors for specific diseases and/or chronic pain.
Here are some of the interesting numbers found by Jones in his latest survey:
-- Utah Republicans favor passage of the citizen initiative on MM, 61-35 percent.
-- Democrats really like the idea, 93-7 percent.
-- Political independents, who don’t belong to any political party, favor MM, 87-13 percent.
-- Even those who self-described themselves as politically “very conservative” favor medical marijuana legalization, 51-42 percent.
-- The “somewhat conservatives,” favor it, 71-25; the “moderates” like the petition, 84-14 percent; “somewhat liberals,” 92-8 percent; and the “very liberals,” 97-2 percent.
Those who said they are “somewhat active” in the LDS Church like MM, 80-15 percent; former Mormons who have left the faith like it, 87-5 percent; Catholics favor MM, 80-20 percent; Protestants (which includes born-again Christians), 61-26 percent; and those with no religion like it, 96-4 percent.
More than 80 percent of the 104-member Utah Legislature are faithful Mormons, and it is well known that little or nothing is done on so-called moral issues – like liquor law reform – without the tacit approval of LDS Church leaders.
Former state Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, wrote about his experiences in this manner on a long Facebook blog several weeks ago – which went viral on local social media.
That’s just one reason Jones’ finding on medical marijuana is so interesting – for while state lawmakers are taking the cautious route, it appears citizens at large have, at least for now, made up their minds they are ready to act on legalizing (non-smoking) marijuana for specific medical purposes.
However, the petition still has a long way to go. Backers must gather 113,000 voter signatures statewide, with at least 10 percent of voters in 26 of 29 state Senate districts.
Then they must convince a majority of voters to approve the measure on the November 2018 ballot – by which time it’s likely LDS Church leaders will be weighing in more publicly against the ballot measure.
The Mormon Church rarely loses a public policy battle in Utah.
One nearly has to go back to 1936 when church leaders opposed the re-election of then-President Franklin Roosevelt – only to see Utah vote overwhelmingly for him – to find a case where the church lost a highly-visible election.