Two patient advocacy groups are threatening a lawsuit over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ involvement in the Utah Legislature’s planned special session to change the state’s medical cannabis laws.
Salt Lake City attorney Rocky Anderson, representing Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, sent a letter Thursday to Republican lawmakers, LDS Church lobbyists and others involved in draft legislation that would significantly change the ballot proposition approved by voters in the November election.
The letter cites a separation of church and state clause in the Utah Constitution.
“It is common knowledge that no liquor bill, sex education bill, gambling bill, or sexual orientation/gender identity bill would be passed by the Legislature without the support of The Church of Jesus Christ,” the letter said.
Christine Stenquist, president of TRUCE, said the LDS Church exercises outsized influence over Utah policymaking, especially in the case of Proposition 2 and medical marijuana.
“The church has a right to make an opinion,” she said. “But what they’re doing is egregious influence — whispering in the ear constantly of the legislators, knowing that the majority of them are LDS members.”
A church spokesman said its representatives got involved in the compromise for new legislation as members of the community “to provide relief from human pain and suffering.”
“Broad community engagement was the reason a workable, beneficial and safer medical cannabis program was put together at the direction of state leadership,” said church spokesman Doug Andersen. “We stand behind and look forward to the safe, responsible and compassionate solution that will be considered by the state legislature.”
The letter was sent to Gov. Gary Herbert and state lawmakers including House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper; House Speaker-elect Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville and Senate President-elect Stuart Adams, R-Layton.
“I think certainly, the LDS Church has influence because most of the people of Utah — the majority — happen to be members of that church,” Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday at his monthly KUED news conference.
Herbert dismissed the idea of being pressured into a special session by the Church and said he floated the idea of having one after the election earlier this spring.
Lawmakers are still hammering out details of a140-plus page draft bill, which they plan to vote on Dec. 3.