Medical marijuana advocates meet with LDS Church ahead of ballot initiative

SALT LAKE CITY -- Advocates for medical marijuana in Utah confirm they have met with representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ahead of a likely November ballot initiative on the topic.

Nathan Frodsham of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) confirmed to FOX 13 on Monday he first met with LDS Church officials last year as medical marijuana was being debated in the Utah State Legislature. He has had recent ongoing conversations with them about medical cannabis.

"I think there’s people right now who need this right away. I think they’re sensitive to that. It’s the pathway forward they’re most concerned with," he said of the meetings.

Frodsham said he felt church officials listened to his arguments about why medical marijuana in Utah is necessary.

"They’re very sensitive to the needs of patients. They know patients who use it out of state, legally, and have had some benefit from it," he said.

Frodsham told FOX 13 that church officials did express some concerns.

"They are concerned about recreational or misuse, especially while it’s federally illegal," he said.

TRUCE isn't the only group to speak to the LDS Church about the topic. The Utah Patients Coalition, which is running the medical marijuana ballot initiative, confirmed it also has met with church officials, but declined to comment further on it.

The LDS Church is a major political influence in Utah. Right now, medical marijuana is polling at 77% approval, according to the political news website UtahPolicy.com, with Mormons making up a majority of that. But it's unclear if the LDS Church will weigh in on it. They operate in states where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal (the church opposed recreational cannabis ballot initiatives in California, Nevada and Arizona in 2016).

Frodsham said he had no indication where the faith stood on the initiative. In the past, the LDS Church has only expressed its desire for a "cautious approach" as a medical marijuana bill made its way through the Utah State Legislature in 2016.

The LDS Church has repeatedly declined to weigh in when FOX 13 has asked for their stance on the pending ballot initiative. Similarly, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City has declined to comment on medical marijuana, but has been vocal about its support for the Utah Decides Healthcare ballot initiative, which would allow for full Medicaid expansion.

By law, churches are allowed to weigh in on political issues and social topics, but they cannot weigh in on specific candidates for office.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently announced he would "actively oppose" the medical marijuana ballot initiative. Instead, he said he supports bills he signed into law giving terminally ill patients a "right to try" medical cannabis and ordering the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food to grow the product for them. On Monday, the governor reiterated his support for some kind of medical cannabis -- but opposed the initiative.

Medical marijuana supporters have argued the Utah State Legislature has not done enough to help more patients with conditions from cancer to epilepsy that would benefit from cannabis, which is why they are putting their faith in the ballot initiative.

The medical marijuana ballot initiative appears poised to be on the November ballot. The Utah Patients Coalition told FOX 13 on Monday it had validated signatures in 23 of the 26 Utah senate districts necessary to qualify, and had more than 123,000 signatures verified by the Lt. Governor's Office (they need only 113,000).

The deadline for ballot initiative signatures is April 16.