ST. GEORGE — Medical marijuana advocates and supporters are threatening state lawmakers and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a lawsuit over the compromise bill meant to replace the recently passed Proposition 2.
A coalition of the advocacy groups TRUCE (Together of Responsible Use and Cannabis Education), the Epilepsy Association of Utah, as well as individuals Doug Rice and Christine Stenquist, sent a letter Wednesday to members of the Legislature, LDS church lobbyists and others involved in crafting the compromise bill that accuses lawmakers of bending to the will of the LDS church.
The coalition is represented by former Salt Lake City Mayor and attorney Rocky Anderson.
“We were contacted by these people and organizations for the first time during the past two days,” the letter states. “We are investigating a legal challenge to (1) the calling of a special session of the Utah Legislature at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ; (2) any effort, in collusion with or at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ, to materially alter the initiative statute supported by a majority of voters who passed Proposition 2 in the recent election; and (3) the long-term pattern of domination of the Utah Legislature and the interference in the functions of Utah government by The Church of Jesus Christ.”
In recent years the LDS church has been credited with using its influence to secure the passage of a nondiscrimination bill protecting the housing and employment rights of the LGBTQ community. And yet, the church was also blamed for using its political clout among lawmakers to kill a hate crimes amendment bill.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“The Church of Jesus Christ”) has a long history of dominating and interfering with the government of the State of Utah, often dictating to state and municipal legislators what legislative measures or policies they are to support or oppose. That dominance and interference is prohibited by the Utah Constitution,” the letter states.
“The power of The Church of Jesus Christ to control public laws and policies, and its enthusiastic exercise of that power, is recognized not only throughout the State, but far beyond Utah’s borders.”
The letter points to Gov. Gary Herbert’s calling a special legislative session – anticipated to convene Dec. 3 – at the behest of the LDS church. Church leaders called for a special session to pass medical marijuana legislation it could support in September.
Though the church began voicing its disapproval of the ballot initiative that became Proposition 2 earlier this year, it kicked the opposition into high gear in August during a press conference in which it announced it had joined a coalition to opposing Proposition 2.
While church representatives stated the faith does not oppose the use of medical marijuana as long as it were properly regulated, it did not support how Proposition 2 proposed to distribute the product. They, along with other opponents, argue Proposition 2 is too broad and is a threat to Utah’s youth while also providing a possible avenue for a marijuana black market to form.
As a way to answer the concerns of the church and others, lawmakers, medical marijuana advocates and others met and created the medical marijuana compromise bill that was introduced in early October. Unlike Proposition 2, the compromise bill has the blessing of the church.
Despite opposing arguments presented by the church, Utah voters passed Proposition 2, which is set to take effect Dec. 1.
The LDS church’s efforts to use the Legislature to undermine the citizens initiative is a violation of the state constitution, Wednesday’s letter argues.
“Although initiative statutes may be amended or repealed by the Legislature, the almost immediate extreme undermining of numerous provisions of Proposition 2 at the behest of The Church of Jesus Christ is anti-democratic and contemptuous of the recognition in the Utah Constitution that the people are to have the power to enact legislative changes,” the letter states.
“To rest on the technical ability of the Legislature to amend or repeal initiative statutes, just as it can amend or repeal its own statutes, is to make a mockery of the initiative process and constitutional recognition that the people are to have some real legislative control – and The Church of Jesus Christ is not to interfere.”
The letter goes on to advise those named therein to preserve all documents and records related to the medical marijuana compromise in the event of a lawsuit.
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