LDS Church: Legal analysis ‘raises grave concerns’ about Utah medical marijuana initiative

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church on Friday released a legal analysis it commissioned into a proposed Utah medical marijuana initiative, saying the report "raises grave concerns" over "the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."

"We invite all to read (the analysis) and to make their own judgement," The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also said in its statement.

The church statement says:

"The proposed Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative is a matter of great controversy in this state. The negative effects and consequences of marijuana use on individuals, families and society at large are well-known. There are also those who claim that it has medicinal benefits for those in some circumstances.

"Accordingly, the church asked a Salt Lake City law firm for a legal analysis of the proposed initiative to be submitted to the voters next fall. We wanted to know what the initiative would actually do, if adopted. … That memorandum raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted. We invite all to read the attached memorandum and to make their own judgment."

The 31-point analysis referred to by the LDS Church was completed by its Salt Lake law firm Kirton McConkie. Among the conclusions:

• The initiative would require the state "to destroy records of cannabis sales after 60 days, which will hamper law enforcement."

• It raises concerns about where Utahns would buy marijuana, saying that "as far as we can determine, marijuana would be the only serious controlled substance in Utah sold for alleged medicinal purposes without a prescription and outside of licensed pharmacies."

• Illnesses that would qualify a person for a medical cannabis card include "conditions that are difficult to diagnose and can afflict many people in varying degrees, such as ‘chronic pain,’ which by some estimates includes over 15 (percent) of the population."

• A large amount of marijuana could be recommended by a small group of doctors. The analysis claims that about 70 percent of such recommendations in Colorado have been made by fewer than 15 physicians.

• The initiative "doesn’t require physicians … to have any training or experience with the effects of marijuana."

• Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "reveals that marijuana usage among children … is generally significantly higher in states that have legalized recreational and medicinal use."

In a response to the LDS Church statement Friday, Utah Patients Coalition initiative campaign director DJ Schanz said the church’s language about "serious adverse consequences" can also be applied to the dilemmas faced by patients without access to legal medical use of marijuana.

"Current law has ‘serious adverse consequences’ for thousands of sick patients who are either illegally using cannabis to improve their health, or those who want to but suffer to obey the law," Schanz said in a prepared statement.

Schanz and other supporters of the initiative have argued that it is among the most conservative medical marijuana measures in the United States in terms of what types of marijuana use it allows and how an ill person can qualify for it.

"Our tightly controlled proposal — one of the most conservative in the country — preserves the doctor-patient relationship and ensures that those who need this God-given plant for medicinal purposes can use it without fear of criminal punishment," he said Friday.

Schanz has said the measure is based on sound research from around the world, indicating marijuana is a safe and medically beneficial substance. On Friday, he said he welcomes a robust dialogue about the initiative.

"We anticipate a healthy debate in the public square about the merits of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act leading up to November’s vote," Schanz said.

State data last updated Friday shows the Utah Patients Coalition has collected 155,381 signatures on the petition to put its measure on the ballot, and has met required thresholds in enough state Senate districts to do so.

However, a signature removal campaign is also underway to try to disqualify the measure. That push is led by a newly formed political issues committee called Drug Safe Utah, which was organized by the Utah Medical Association and conservative advocacy group Utah Eagle Forum.

The Utah Medical Association has been a vocal opponent of the initiative, arguing that not enough is known about how to prescribe marijuana with predictability. The association has also claimed the measure is too broad and would ultimately make it easy to use marijuana recreationally without legal consequences.

Michelle McComber, Drug Safe Utah president and Utah Medical Association CEO, praised the LDS Church’s statement Friday.

"We think this reinforces everything Drug Safe Utah has been trying to educate the public about," McComber said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office declined to comment on Friday’s statement.

This story will be updated with additional information.

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