Medical marijuana measure spurs religious freedom lawsuit in Utah
A ballot measure permitting medical marijuana within the state of Utah may go up in smoke pending a First Amendment lawsuit filed Wednesday in Salt Lake County Court.
Led by a longtime marijuana legalization opponent and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), Walter Plumb III, the litigation aims to stop Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox from letting voters cast ballots during the November midterm elections on Proposition 2, a measure legalizing medical marijuana for patients diagnosed with certain health conditions including HIV and epilepsy, over the faith’s staunch stance against inebriants.
“In the United States of America, members of all religions, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints have a constitutional right to exercise their religious beliefs,” attorney Kenneth Melrose wrote in the 30-page complaint. “This includes the right not to consort with, be around, or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant.”
DJ Schanz, a medical marijuana activist who supports the measure, took umbrage with Mr. Melrose’s characterization.
“To call these medical patients repugnant, these people that are in some of the most dire and desperate medical situations in their lives, we find distasteful,” Mr. Schanz said, Salt Lake City’s ABC News affiliate reported. “We don’t think this lawsuit has any merit. Once again we think this is a political parlor trick, and unfortunately it’s a very offensive one.”
If brought to a vote and passed Nov. 6, the Utah Medical Cannabis Act (UMCA) would threaten “the fundamental constitutional rights of every Utah citizen, and especially those who own property,” Mr. Melrose argued for plaintiffs in the lawsuit, because a provision of Prop. 2 explicitly prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to medical marijuana patients regardless of their own religious beliefs.
“Can the state force me and others that are property owners to rent to someone with a medical marijuana card?” Mr. Plumb asked in an interview with the ABC affiliate.
As a member of the LDS Church, Mr. Plumb’s “religious beliefs include a strict adherence to a code of health which precludes the consumption and possession of mind-altering drugs, substances and chemicals, which includes cannabis and its various derivatives,” his attorney wrote.
“Any practicing member of the LDS faith would find this mandate deeply offensive and incredibly repulsive to their religious beliefs and way of life,” Mr. Melrose said.