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LDS Church calls for more study of medical marijuana

FILE - LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18, 2008.
FILE - LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, July 18, 2008.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An LDS Church statement says more research on the benefits and risks of medical marijuana is necessary before it is approved for use by patients.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement Wednesday in response to questions about a proposal that would put an initiative legalizing medical marijuana on the Utah ballot in 2018.

The Utah Patients Coalition filed paperwork for a ballot initiative on Monday. If the Lt. Governor's Office certifies the paperwork, the coalition will attempt to gather 113,000 signatures by April 15 to put the issue on the 2018 ballot.

"Lawmakers across the country have wrestled with whether to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes," LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. "This discussion raises legitimate questions regarding the benefits and risks of legalizing a drug that has not gone through the well-established and rigorous process to prove its effectiveness and safety."

The Utah Legislature approved a bill that earlier this year authorizing further research of marijuana use.

The church's statement pointed out that passing a ballot initiative in Utah would put state law at odds with U.S. law.

"The difficulties of attempting to legalize a drug at the state level that is illegal under Federal law cannot be overstated," Hawkins said. "Accordingly, we believe that 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 FDA has approved two pills that use cannabinoid chemicals. Otherwise, the federal government continues to list marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no accepted medical use.

The proposed ballot initiative would provide marijuana treatment options for autism, Alzheimer's, cancer, HIV, PTSD, MS and ALS, epilepsy patients, as well as patients with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, chronic pain sufferers and those with rare conditions.

Patients would be allowed to use marijuana topically, in oils and edible treatments. They also could vaporize cannabis as an immediate relief option.

The proposal would ban smoking marijuana, home growing of marijuana and public use. DUI enforcement would be unchanged. The initiative would tightly restrict who can prescribe cannabis and limit prescription renewals within two-week periods.

The measure borrows 95 percent of its core language from SB73, a bill that failed during the 2016 Legislature.

In October, LDS leaders asked Mormons to oppose measures to legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona, California and Nevada.

The letter noted that a growing number of scientific studies show that marijuana use disrupts brain development, according to a review of the literature published by the American Psychological Association. Findings suggest structural and functional brain changes, and one decades-long longitudinal study showed an average loss of six IQ points among persistent users, similar to damage from exposure to lead.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse launched the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study last year. The longitudinal study of 10,000 American children, including 1,000 Utah children working with University of Utah researchers, is studying brain development from ages 9 to 19. Research includes interviews with clinical psychologists and an MRI. The goal is to learn about the effects of drugs, alcohol, concussions and other variables.