Medical pot: Moabites have mixed feelings about compromise law
LDS Church on trial? Groups file lawsuits
by Doug McMurdo and Zenaida Sengo
The Times-Independent
Jan 03, 2019 | 2541 views | 0 0 comments | 101 101 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Doug McMurdo

The Times-Independent

When two medical marijuana advocacy groups filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gary Herbert and Dr. Joseph Miner, the executive director of the Utah Department of Health, their attorneys also put on notice the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ross Anderson and Walter Mason of the law offices of former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, in a complaint filed in Salt Lake County’s Third District Court, essentially allege the church attempted to subvert efforts to garner voter support for medical marijuana and then attempted to reject voters’ approval of Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana in the state by forcing a “compromise” they claim violated the law.

While the statewide vote was separated by less than 59,000 votes out of more than 1 million that were cast – Grand County voters overwhelmingly supported the measure by a ratio of more than 3 to 1.

According to the lawsuit, patients in rural Utah might not have access to medical cannabis and they won’t be able to grow their own – both key elements of Proposition 2.

The Epilepsy Association of Utah and TRUCE (Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), claim through their attorneys the Utah Legislature violated the constitutional rights of the people of Utah to “directly pass legislation through the initiative process… and second, the unconstitutional domination of the state, and interference with the state’s functions, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in violation of … the Utah Constitution.”

Court documents note voters passed Proposition 2, “which vastly expanded access to medical cannabis; authorized the establishment of private facilities to grow, process, test, and sell medical cannabis; and set forth limited circumstances in which patients could grow cannabis plants for personal medicinal use.”

The attorneys recounted how Herbert, at the “behest of the church” and in “direct contravention of the expressed will of the people,” called a special session of the Utah Legislature two days after Dec. 1, the effective date of the initiative statute, “with the intent of undermining the core purposes of Proposition 2 by radically reducing and burdening the access of patients to medical cannabis."

They further claim the compromise “unreasonably burdens access to medical cannabis; drastically reduces the authorization for private facilities to sell medical cannabis and completely eliminates the opportunity for any patients to grow cannabis for their personal medicinal use; regardless of their lack of reasonable access to a medical cannabis dispensing facility.”

The Epilepsy Association claims it and its members are directly affected by House Bill 3001 – the compromise bill lawmakers came up with Dec. 3. They claim it severely reduces or even eliminates access to cannabis and it “unconstitutionally” undermines or entirely defeats the core purposes of Proposition 2.

Co-plaintiffs Douglas Arthur Rice, president of the Epilepsy Association and Christine Stenquist of TRUCE were among several citizens who submitted sponsor statements in support of putting Proposition 2 on the ballot. They helped canvass the state and gather nearly 154,000 signatures of valid registered voters to qualify. The vote passed statewide and was supposed to take effect Dec. 1.

The attorneys in court documents allege the church resisted Prop. 2 months ahead of the election. They claim an email sent to the plaintiffs and others by former Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens, who is the current director of Community and Government Relations for the church, demonstrated “a palpable disregard by Mr. Stephens and the church for the democratic process by which the people are to have the legislative power to pass laws pursuant to initiatives.”

The attorneys allege Stephens and by extension the church stated they “would not accept the result if a majority of voters supported Proposition 2.” They also allege Stephens threatened a “long political and legislative fight” was ahead if “we cannot find room to work together.”

In August, according to court documents, the church sent its members an “official announcement” through Elder Craig C. Christensen, president of the church’s Utah area, urging them to vote against Proposition 2.

Stephens told a large gathering of wards to vote against Proposition 2 the Sunday before the Nov. 6 election, according to court documents.

They point out that at least 87.5 percent of the Utah Legislature’s members are members of the church, compared to comprising about 63 percent of Utah’s population. They claim the compromise violates the people’s legislative power per the Utah Constitution and is a violation of the right to governance free of domination and interference of the church – which also is spelled out in the state Constitution.

According to Third District Court records, no hearings have been scheduled in the case as of Wednesday, Jan. 2.

3 out of 4 Grand County residents voted for Prop. 2

Standing outside City Market on a snowy New Year’s Eve, a reporter asked Moabites how they felt about the passage of Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Utah, and the subsequent special session of the legislature, which resulted in the law being significantly watered down – leading to a bevy of lawsuits and threatened lawsuits, all that claim The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints interfered in the constitutional rights of the people to pass laws through initiatives.

More than 75 percent of the Grand County electorate voted to approve Proposition 2, the largest margin among the state’s 29 counties.

The newspaper held short interviews with a broad cross section of the county to gauge the response. We spoke to voters in their 20s to their 80s, male and female, single adults and married parents and persons of color.

Here’s what we found:

47 – The percentage of people who fully support Proposition 2 and oppose what they consider unconstitutional government and church over-reach.

33 – The percentage of people who are fine with people using medical marijuana “for those who need it” and are OK with the legislative compromise.

20 – The percentage of people who declined to comment or who were unaware of the issue.

“They don’t have the right to just override voters,” said Moab resident Lisa Brown. “They people have spoken. It’s what the people wanted. If they can just override the majority of voters that way, why didn’t we do that for (President) Trump? After he won, why didn’t we just say, ‘Nope. That’s not what we want?’”

“Well, the potheads are all for it, said Bill Adair, wearing a BYU hoodie. “Wouldn’t you be if you were a pothead? I don’t like mind-altering things. I support medical marijuana for people in pain who really need it.”

As for the compromise, Adair said it’s “probably a good thing, although it’s too bad for the people who really need it badly right away. They may die now.”

Not everyone was willing to give The Times-Independent his or her name, but they were not shy in sharing an opinion.

“Mormons control everything,” said a woman in her 60s. “The voters said what they wanted and then the church gets to put their heavy thumb down like they always do.”

“I think its (passing) is a really good thing,” said a man in his 30s. “It could be really good for the economy … and for the school system. If they just realized, we could put that money towards schools, like what Colorado does, and like we do with revenue from alcohol.”

Others said they support Proposition 2 as written because they have relatives who suffer with seizures, and the cannabis helps them. Other ssupport the measure as long as it’s not abused, while others support it – but only with the compromise in place.

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