Utah voters favor medical marijuana over Mormon Church's advice

Utah voters favor medical marijuana over Mormon Church's advice

VicesSeptember 05, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Utahns love their church. Most follow Mormon church advice on coffee and alcohol and tobacco — they stay away. But will they listen to their church about legalizing marijuana?

November will offer an answer.

Residents of Utah will vote on medical marijuana, and it could give an indication on whether Mormons are more devoted to their church or more sympathetic to the charms of sticky plants.

Public opinion has been in flux. In March, support for medical marijuana legalization was an astounding 77 percent, according to one poll. Holy, hell, times seemed to have changed — momos craved the medicine! 

Then, the Mormon Church got its sacred underwear in a bunch, and, in late August, sent out an email urging people to vote no.

Although, strictly speaking, the church says it is not opposed to using marijuana as a medicine, it said this system proposed in the initiative could be abused by stoners faking injury and illness, "creating a serious threat to health and public safety."

But the church is not God, it turns out, and members don't always listen. A new poll out today suggests Utahns could ignore church advice and support medical marijuana: 64 percent of likely voters still plan to vote yes to medical marijuana.

A big number of "active Mormons" do pay attention to the church, though, and have flipped.

In May, 59 percent of active Mormons supported medical weed. In the new poll, only 45 percent support it. That means 14 percent of serious Mormons switched their thinking.

Still, 45 percent is an amazingly high number to support something the church hates, a political scientist says.

"If you had asked me to have predicted the initiative ahead of time, I never would have thought the support would be that high," Matthew Burbank, political science professor at the University of Utah, tells Rooster Magazine. "Support on this initiative is just much stronger than I would have guessed."

The continued support doesn't show the waning influence of the church, Burbank says. It shows that regular churchgoers are torn about this specific issue: weed. They've seen friends' arthritis soothed by topicals; kids with epilepsy calmed by tinctures. So the moral pronouncement of the church are weighed against the evidence of their eyes.

[The Book of Mormon, the play, is even funnier when you're high. A vote in November will make it easier for very lucky ... we mean very sick ... Utahns to score weed: as long as they don't listen to their church's advice and vote "no."]

So will they end up believing the church, or their own lying eyes?

"The church, like it or not, is a big player in Utah politics," Burbank says.

The betting markets have been on a roller coaster ride, too. PredictIt, the largest political betting market, had marijuana legalization pegged at a 90 percent chance of passing in mid-July. After the church issued its anti-pot statement, the market dropped to 41 percent. With this new poll, "yes" jumped up to a 55 percent chance.

So if you listen to the betting markets — and maybe you should — Utah will soon have legal weed.

Betting, by the way, is also frowned on by the church. There are no plans to legalize that anytime soon.

[cover photo via Shutterstock]