In November, Utah voters will decide on Proposition 2, a ballot measure known as the Utah Medical Cannabis Act. The measure would legalize medical marijuana use for people with qualifying illnesses. But even though polls show 66% of Utahans supporting the proposition, Walter J. Plumb, an attorney and active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) has filed a lawsuit to stop the vote from happening, and it cites the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling to support it. Basically, Plumb says Proposition 2 would deny landlords their religious freedom to deny housing to weed smokers. But will Plumb’s Mormon church marijuana stance be enough to sink the Utah Medical Cannabis Act? Let’s take a look.
In 2018, the Utah legislature approved a law allowing certain departments and universities to grow cannabis products with less than 0.3% of THC, the intoxicating neurochemical that gives cannabis its trippy high.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would allow use cannabis products containing greater amounts of THC by people with qualifying illnesses such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Alzheimer’s.
Supporting the Utah Medical Cannabis Act is the Utah Patients Coalition, a group of doctors and patients who support cannabis and its medical benefits.
Opposing Proposition 2 is Walter J. Plumb, a pharmaceutical company owner who has spent more than $100,000 of his own money against the measure. He has also filed two lawsuits to keep it from even appearing on the November ballot.
Plumb leads the so-called Utah Medical Association (UMA), a group formed specifically to oppose Proposition 2. UMA considers the Utah Medical Cannabis Act as a backdoor to recreational cannabis legalization and Plumb worries about its potential harm to middle- and high-school kids (not to mention his own pharmaceutical business, we’re sure).
Furthermore, the ballot measure would prevent landlords from not renting to medical marijuana cardholders, and Plumb’s most recent lawsuit says this would force Mormon property owners into renting to cannabis users, something that he says would violate their religious beliefs.
According to his lawsuit, Plumb and other Mormons’ 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.” As such, Plumb says the law would violate his “right not to consort with, be around or do business with people engaging in activities which their religion finds repugnant.”
His lawsuit also cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop decision in which the court decided that Colorado couldn’t enforce its LGBTQ anti-discrimination laws against a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.
However, anyone who actually read the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop decision knows that the court ruled in favor of the baker only because the Colorado Civil Rights Commission made disparaging comments against the baker’s religion during its hearings.
That is, the court didn’t say that people can oppose laws based on their religious beliefs. In fact, in his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the larger issue of whether religious-based organizations are exempt from anti-discrimination laws “must await further elaboration.” (Though Trump’s Department of Justice recently mis-read the ruling in a way similar to Plumb.)
But Plumb’s lawsuit is ridiculous even without citing that case because Utah already allows for the legal use of lots of “mind-altering drugs,” including various medications and alcohol.
In short, Plumb and the UMA aren’t afraid of all mind-altering substances, just marijuana. What he’s really arguing for is the right to deny housing to people suffering from seizures, trauma, cancer and HIV unless they’re taking substances that he himself approves of.
Keep in mind, Plumb’s stance is not the official Mormon church marijuana stance. Even though nearly half of all Utah voters are Mormon, Mormon church leaders have only issued a statement saying the ballot measure “raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted.”
They’ve stopped short of actually advising church members of voting against the law … for now, anyway.
The one upside to all this is that it shows the danger of letting people defy laws on the basis of religious belief. If Plumb and his ilk can deny housing to people just for taking legal medication, then what’s to stop anyone from refusing to provide badly needed services to others just for offending their religious-based prejudices?