Utah Medical Marijuana Vote Creates Rift Among Mormons

By Kelly Burch 07/31/18

As the vote nears, Church policy looms large in a state where more than 60% of residents identify as Mormon.

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When Brian Stoll fractured his back in college, he was put on opioid painkillers to manage his discomfort. The pills helped, but Stoll was wary of becoming addicted. He wanted a more natural pain relief method, and he found it in marijuana. 

“Marijuana is a gift from God,” Stoll told the Los Angeles Times.

However, when Stoll wanted to get married he had to make a choice: continue using cannabis to treat his pain, or get married in the church where he and his fiancée wanted to wed.

As Mormons, the couple needed to be in good standing with the church in order to be married in the temple, and because marijuana was an illegal drug, Stoll’s use of it was against church teaching. 

“This was devastating... I had to choose between my health and my fiancée,” Stoll said. “It seemed asinine that if I lived in another state, I wouldn't have to make such a difficult decision.”

Stoll stopped smoking pot and began taking Tramadol—an opioid painkiller—every day. It helps with his pain, but leaves him feeling drowsy. Even his wife Rachael, said that Stoll was better off when he could use cannabis. Because of that, husband and wife are both advocating for the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah. 

“As a family, we need this to become law,” Rachael said. “We pray for this.”

Voters in Utah are consider legalizing medical marijuana in November. As the vote nears, church policy looms large in a state where more than 60% of residents identify as Mormon.

According to polling, two-thirds of voters are in favor of medical marijuana, but the leadership of the Mormon church has taken a less enthusiastic stance.

In April, the church praised the Utah Medical Association for “cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities.”

Utah was among the first states to ban marijuana in the early 1900s, reportedly after Mormon missionaries tried the drug in Mexico. 

The state’s governor, Gary Herbert, a Republican and a member of the Mormon church, has said that he has reservations about legalizing medical cannabis. 

“I am concerned about this initiative because of the lack of medical science on the safety, efficacy and proper dosage for compounds found in cannabis,” Herbert said in an email to the LA Times. “We should have clinical studies—just like we do for any other FDA-approved medicine. We need to isolate what helps and heals from what harms.”

People like Stoll, however, wholeheartedly hope that the measure passes, legalizing marijuana and making its use acceptable in the eyes of the church. 

“This is something that if I drive east or west—to Colorado or Nevada—is 100% legal and helpful to my situation,” Stoll said. “We’re not talking about recreational. This is simply for medical.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.