The Utah Attorney General’s Office has filed a motion requesting the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by activists against the state over its replacement of a medical marijuana bill approved by voters. In the filing, assistant Utah Attorney General Andrew Dymek said the work of the state legislature is not dictated by the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS) and that lobbying by the Church is a constitutionally protected act.
“Plaintiffs have not alleged facts showing that the Church functioned as theocracy or in tandem with the State on an ongoing basis or that it dominated or directly interfered with state government,” Dymek wrote. “To the contrary, the facts alleged show that the Church, for a limited period of time, simply exercised its constitutional right to engage in free speech on a single matter of public interest (medical marijuana legislation).”
After voters approved Proposition 2 legalizing the medicinal use of cannabis in November’s midterm elections, the Utah state legislature convened a special session to consider changes to the initiative. The legislature then drafted its own replacement bill with input from the LDS and supporters of Proposition 2. Two groups, Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE) and the Epilepsy Association of Utah, sued the Department of Health and Gov. Gary Herbert, alleging that the state acted on instructions from the Church and overrode the will of the voters.
Plaintiffs Allege Theocracy in Utah
Doug Rice, the president of the Epilepsy Association of Utah, told reporters that while he agrees that churches have a constitutional right to lobby the government, the LDS has too much power in the state.
“Lots of denominations have lobbyists walking around Capitol Hill. I’m not opposed to that at all. It’s when they’re given unfettered access to those backrooms,” Rice said. “They’re able to have their members who are sitting on the state legislature act in accordance with the desires of the LDS Church and that’s what really bothers me.”
Rice says that is common knowledge that the LDS has a lot of clout in the Utah State Legislature.
“Don’t lie to me about the fact that it’s happening. Just admit that’s happening and let’s move beyond this. Let’s go back to actual legislation and not theocracy,” he said.
Christine Stenquist, the executive director of TRUCE, said last month at a 4/20 event to raise funds for the lawsuit that the replacement bill is inadequate.
“I’m a brain tumor patient; I’ve been advocating for medical cannabis in this state for the past seven years,” said Stenquist. “We’re suing Gary Herbert and the health department because of the Prop 2 debacle that’s happened… We have a very very poorly written bill that is going to continue to need help.”
The judge in the case has not yet ruled on the motion to dismiss the lawsuit.