Earlier this month, voters in Utah said yes to Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana. But despite the popular victory, Utah’s medical marijuana battle is far from over. Recently, state lawmakers scheduled a special legislative session aimed at replacing Proposition 2 with a “compromise bill.” Now, medical marijuana activists are threatening a lawsuit against state lawmakers and other powerful groups in the state.
On November 14, attorney Ross “Rocky” Anderson sent a “non-spoliation letter” to several key leaders in Utah. Among the recipients were several lawmakers and representatives from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), commonly known as the Mormon Church.
The notice was sent on behalf of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and The Epilepsy Association of Utah. Both were leading advocacy groups in support of Proposition 2.
The letter stated that the groups are now looking into a potential lawsuit. Additionally, it warned recipients against deleting, destroying, or damaging any records that could eventually become evidence if the lawsuit materializes.
The Mormon Church is at the heart of the possible lawsuit. More specifically, the degree to which the Mormon Church is influencing plans to overwrite Prop 2.
The LDS Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, and according to a 2017 report, 62.8 percent of all Utahns are Mormon.
Importantly, a large proportion of state lawmakers are also Mormon. Many have argued that the church’s strong presence in the state gives it too much political power. And that’s precisely what Prop 2 proponents are arguing.
“At this point, I think we’ve got clear evidence that the Church of Latter-Day Saints has interfered in the functions of the state, in violation of the Utah State Constitution,” Anderson told High Times.
“I think we can show through abundant evidence that the church has orchestrated and worked hard to control the results of [Proposition 2] contrary to the expressed will of the majority of voters.”
The Mormon Church and Proposition 2
According to Anderson and Christine Stenquist, executive director and founder of TRUCE, the LDS Church’s opposition to Prop 2 oversteps the boundary between church and state.
In particular, they point to a series of what they describe as concerted efforts to override Proposition 2 with little regard for the democratic process.
For starters, Anderson and Stenquist said that as early as June, chief LDS lobbyist Marty Stephens was organizing closed-door meetings to craft alternatives to Proposition 2.
“Mr. Stephens clearly contemplates, presumptuously and anti-democratically, that he and The Church of Jesus Christ are not going to accept the result if a majority of voters support Proposition 2,” Anderson wrote in a statement.
The LDS Church officially announced its opposition to Prop 2 in August. That month, the church held a press conference announcing its position. It also sent letters to church members in Utah, encouraging them to vote against Prop 2.
Most recently, Stenquist and other medical marijuana advocates became concerned at how quickly lawmakers called for a special legislative session.
As of now, that session is scheduled for December 3. Many marijuana advocates worry that the session will be used to put forward the “compromise bill” backed by the LDS Church.
“They’re going to undermine us with a bill that’s far more restrictive,” Stenquist told High Times. “It’s really hard when you’ve been involved with politics in this state. You can’t argue with [the LDS Church]. It’s frustrating. All you can do is walk away exasperated.”
Prop 2 vs. Compromise Bill
So far, the LDS Church and other proponents of the compromise bill describe it as very similar to Proposition 2. For example, a spokesperson involved in drafting the alternative proposal recently told local media “it was 90% of what was in Prop 2.”
But Stenquist and others say that isn’t true. In fact, they maintain that the compromise bill would dramatically gut medical marijuana.
In particular, Anderson said many of the changes in the compromise bill would make medical marijuana much harder to access.
For example, Anderson told High Times that the compromise bill may call for a “central fill” program. Under this system, one facility would provide product for the entire statewide program. Many fear this would limit supply and introduce operating costs and inefficiencies that could hamstring the program.
Additionally, the compromise bill could limit the number of dispensaries in the state. Finally, it could also call for a reduction in the number of doctors able to prescribe medical marijuana, as well as the number of qualifying health conditions.
For now, no lawsuit has been filed. But Anderson’s letter warned that if the Dec. 3 special session goes through, and alternative legislation replaces Prop 2, a suit would likely follow.
As per last week’s non-spoliation letter:
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.
So far, it’s unclear if such a lawsuit will materialize. But it appears as if the Dec. 3 meeting among lawmakers will take place.
On November 15, Utah’s Senate President Wayne Niederhauser sent a memo to fellow senators about the Dec. 3 special session. In it, he instructed all senators to attend.
“As Senate President, I can compel attendance of absent senators,” Niederhauser wrote. “I will not hesitate to order the sergeant-at-arms to find and ensure your attendance.”
As evidenced by the possible lawsuit, many in the state are concerned that the special session will be used to overwrite Prop 2 with the compromise bill backed—and largely crafted—by the LDS Church.
“We’re seeing adamant and aggressive opposition by the church,” Anderson told High Times. “[Prop 2] still passed and they won’t accept that. It’s so blatantly undemocratic. I think it could fairly accurately be characterized as theocracy rather than democracy.”