It’s not a religious test. It’s an empathy test.

Wednesday , January 03, 2018 - 5:00 AM3 comments

DON PORTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

I know people living in Utah who suffer from fibromyalgia, peripheral neuropathy, glaucoma, epilepsy and other medical conditions that could be treated with medical marijuana. Some are my friends, while others are acquaintances.

But because they live in Utah, their physicians prescribe opioids and other pharmaceuticals to treat their maladies. That’s because it’s against the law to possess or prescribe marijuana and most of its derivatives in the Beehive State.

This is unfortunate because opioids tend to be habit-forming, not to mention very expensive.

For the past two years, Utah lawmakers have debated whether to allow the manufacture, prescription and sale of cannabis products in non-smokable – e.g., edible – forms. But so far, the effort to allow Utah to join some 29 other states that allow cannabis, in one form or another, has failed.

This, to my way of thinking, is both wrongheaded and tragic.

And I’m not alone. A recent Dan Jones and Associates poll for UtahPolicy.com found most Utahns – across the entire spectrum of political and religious philosophy – agree with “legalizing doctor-prescribed use of non-smoking medical marijuana for certain diseases and pain relief.”

It’s kind of amazing, actually, to see so many Utahns from all walks of life in such wide agreement:

  • 73 percent of all Utahns agree.
  • 61 percent of “very active” (“those who pay tithing and have temple recommends”) Mormons agree.
  • 61 percent of Republicans.
  • 80 percent of independents.
  • And 97 percent of Democrats.

It’s worth repeating: that’s amazing.

Which gives me hope that between now and the April 15 deadline enough of us will sign petitions to place the issue of medical marijuana on this November’s ballot. Supporters need 113,143 signatures in 26 counties to meet the Legislature’s absurdly high threshold for voter initiatives. Why? Lawmakers don’t like being second-guessed by the public – the people they are theoretically elected to serve.

All that said, petition supporters – and Utahns looking for non-opioid relief for medical conditions – will be working contrary to the wishes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which formally opposed the 2016 effort to legalize medical marijuana.

At that time, the church’s spokesman said, “society is best served by requiring marijuana to go through further research and the FDA approval process that all other drugs must go through before they are prescribed to patients.”

The faith’s official opposition is not all that surprising when you think about it. It’s an understatement to describe the LDS Church as socially conservative. My guess – and that’s all it is, a guess – is that when most of its senior leaders hear the word “marijuana” they flash back to mental images of long-haired, bearded, tube-top-wearing hippies in the late-1960s and early ’70s who were smoking dope and giving the finger to authority.

Seriously, the ’60s left such a welt on LDS leaders’ memories that it’s now 2018 and they still won’t allow male students at BYU to grow beards.

Anyway, it’s folly to expect the church to reverse itself so soon; the best we can probably hope is that no new anti-cannabis statement will be forthcoming.

This is a pressing public health issue. Medical marijuana can help Utahns with serious diseases. It can give some of them alternatives to opioids and the aforementioned addiction risk.

Think about the people you know, including friends and family, who have those medical conditions that could possibly be relieved or tempered by medical marijuana. Take note of their situations, sign the petition and, when it lands on the ballot, vote yes in November.

It’s not a religious test. It’s an empathy test.

You can email Don Porter at dportercolumn@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DonPondorter.

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