SALT LAKE CITY — New poll numbers from Utah Policy show 43 percent of the state's likely voters are less likely to support the medical marijuana ballot initiative as a result of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' opposition to it.
The news site reported that 25 percent of likely voters were "much less likely" to support Proposition 2 as a result of the church's position, while 18 percent were somewhat less likely.
Yet nearly as many said they were more likely to support the initiative because of the church's stance.
The Utah Policy poll asked the following: "Leaders of the LDS Church have come out against the medical marijuana ballot initiative. Does their opposition make you more or less likely to vote for the initiative?"
Forty-one percent of respondents said they were more likely to support Proposition 2 as a result of the church's opposition. That included 26 percent who said they were much more likely to support it and 15 percent who said they were somewhat more likely to favor it.
Seventeen percent of respondents said they didn't know whether the church's opposition made them more or less likely to support Proposition 2. An option saying the church's position would have no effect on their support was not included in the poll.
Among respondents who identified themselves as "very active" Latter-day Saints, 65 percent said their church's position would make them less likely to support Proposition 2, 18 percent said it would make them more likely to support the initiative, and 17 percent said they didn't know.
Still, the same poll asked whether respondents "support or oppose legalizing doctor-recommended use of marijuana for certain diseases and pain relief," to which 64 percent of all respondents and 45 percent of "very active" Latter-day Saints said they were in favor. Results from that question were released by Utah Policy last week.
Seventy six percent of Catholic respondents said Latter-day Saint leaders' opposition to Proposition 2 made them more likely to support the initiative, as did 69 percent of Protestants and 80 percent of respondents who said they hold no religious beliefs.
Of Latter-day Saint respondents who identified as "somewhat active," 48 percent said their church's stance made them more likely to support Proposition 2, compared to 36 percent who said they were less likely to support it, and those numbers were 66 percent to 15 percent, respectively, for former members of the church.
DJ Schanz, director of the ballot initiative campaign called the Utah Patients Coalition, said the findings about the church's influence on people's support shows that "when churches dive into the realm of politics, it tends to be fairly divisive."
"Look, the church definitely has an influence on people, but we maintain that its best influence is in the spiritual realm and religious realm of things, and to leave the politics … for the people to vote on."
The poll also found 55 percent of those surveyed said they had not "read the language of the medical marijuana initiative," while 43 percent said they had. Two percent said they didn't know.
The poll was conducted among 809 likely Utah voters from Aug. 22 to Aug. 31 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percent.
Schanz also responded to a recent Deseret News report in which Latter-day Saint leaders said they want to see Utah lawmakers call a special session by the end of this year to legalize medical marijuana, and reiterated their disagreements with the contents of Proposition 2.
"The idea that the church, and this coalition of prohibition was pushing to undermine the ballot initiative by doing a special session, is … nothing new," Schanz said, adding that he believes the initiative will be passed by voters regardless of the prospect of a special legislative session.
"We've known from the beginning that legislative elected officials have the ability to change and modify the initiative once it passes," he said.
The initiative campaign would in that case make sure "that the voters' will is followed through," he said, even if lawmakers do address "a few minor issues with the ballot initiative."
Also Monday, Salt Lake City law firm Kirton McConkie released a report rebutting criticisms of a legal analysis it conducted into Proposition 2 earlier this year on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The church said in May that Kirton McConkie's 31-point analysis "raises grave concerns about this initiative and the serious adverse consequences that could follow if it were adopted."
Kirton McConkie's original analysis raised concerns about the difficulty to diagnose some medical conditions that would qualify a person for a medical cannabis card under Proposition 2 and permission the initiative would grant allowing people to grow their own marijuana plants if they live 100 miles or more from a dispensary.
That analysis also concluded that the initiative would make it more difficult for police to enforce laws prohibiting recreational marijuana use, and would leave the state prone to exploitative or negligent recommendations of medical cannabis cards by doctors.
Responding to Kirton McConkie's report, Libertas Institute in May called it "a poor attempt to provide biased assertions and misleading talking points."
Libertas Institute at the time also included a point-by-point response to the analysis, saying provisions allowing the growing of plants for personal use was designed to encourage more dispensaries throughout Utah, that there is "ample evidence that the list of conditions included in the initiative can be alleviated or helped" with marijuana, and that Proposition 2 retains "the ability of law enforcement to adequately police the issue."
Addressing Libertas Institute's criticisms in a memorandum sent to the Church of Jesus Christ and released Monday, Kirton McConkie said "Libertas' response is not really a legal rebuttal but rather an assertion of its own libertarian policy preferences."
"Libertas appears to favor full legalization of marijuana, and the marijuana initiative is a big step in that direction," the law firm's memo to the church says. "The primary purpose of our analysis, by contrast, was to identify some of the legal problems and risks the marijuana initiative would create.
"Whether those problems and risks are worth it — or whether the marijuana initiative is a slippery slope to full legalization — is a policy question for voters to decide."
The memo added that "in almost every respect, Libertas actually agrees with our analysis" and that "where Libertas disagrees on the law, it is simply wrong."
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, said Monday it was "misleading" for Kirton McConkie to say Libertas' own analysis of the initiative was in agreement with the original critique.52 comments on this story
"In fact we stated that what was being complained about was either intentional or important. That doesn't mean there's agreement as to their original concern, it means that rather it's out of context, or irrelevant, or mischaracterizing the truth," Boyack told the Deseret News.
He added that "at the end of the day, no one's going to care about a rebuttal to a rebuttal."
"The polling still shows a strong majority of support, so at this point we think voters get the issue," Boyack said.