A pair of pro-marijuana groups in Utah is accusing leaders from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint Thursday of "extreme undermining" of a medical marijuana ballot measure, alleging it is exerting its power to push through significant changes to the proposition.
In a letter, the groups called for the cancellation of an upcoming special session of the Legislature set up as part of a pre-election compromise between pot advocates, the LDS Church and state lawmakers to gain the support of church leaders for medical marijuana.
“It is perfect, probably not,” Governor Gary Herbert said. “This is why we have a public process to allow us to modify, approve and amend as we go forward. But we are in a good place here.”
Key revisions to the ballot measure approved by voters last week are expected to be implemented at the session.
“Certainly making sure that those who have a need to have access to medical cannabis will have access to it with the recommendation of a trained doctor. And, make sure we don’t have it going into the black market any more than it already does. And make sure that we control the quantity and quality through pharmacy distribution. I don’t know why anybody would be opposed to this.”
The letter sent by attorney Rocky Anderson on behalf of the groups Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education, or TRUCE, and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, accuses the church of trying to interfere with the measure.
"They lost. They ought to accept their loss and move on," Anderson, a former Salt Lake City mayor, said in an interview.
Doug Anderson, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement that the faith stands behind the work it did to help craft a compromise it considers a "safer" medical marijuana program.
"As members of the community, we have worked, from the outset, with medical professionals, law enforcement, educators and many other groups and prominent community leaders to seek the best for the people of Utah," Anderson said, "to provide relief from human pain and suffering, especially where children are concerned."
The measure passed by voters creates a state-regulated growing and dispensing operation and allows people with certain medical conditions to use the drug in edible forms. It does not allow pot smoking.
Under the plan crafted in the compromise, the measure would be changed to block some marijuana edibles like cookies that might appeal to children. It also won't allow people to grow their own marijuana if they live too far from a dispensary.
The letter was sent to the church, state leaders and the Utah Patients Coalition, the main group backing the initiative approved last week by voters.
The coalition says it agreed to the Dec. 3 special session so it could prevent radical changes to the measure.
The Mormon faith had opposed the ballot proposal over fears it could lead to broader use of marijuana. However, as the proposal seemed to gain support, the church agreed to the pre-election deal to allow access for people with serious medical needs.
Mormons have long frowned upon marijuana use because of a key church health code called the "Word of Wisdom," which prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.
The letter highlights the rift that developed among marijuana backers when the compromise was reached in October.
Anderson called it a betrayal by other marijuana groups to "cower to the demands" of the Mormon church after about 52 percent of the state's voters approved the measure. He said the groups he represents are considering a lawsuit
DJ Schanz, director of the Utah Patients Coalition, said the group would rather be part of the discussion that on the sidelines.
He said it's simply a reality that the religion has a major voice in Utah politics. About two-thirds of the state's residents belong to the religion and the majority of state and federal lawmakers are Mormon.
"We made a conscientious decision to not burn all the bridges down just to control the ashes," Schanz said.
By passing the measure, Utah joined a list of more than 30 states allowing patients legal access to medical marijuana.