Editor’s Note: This article is not intended to be a political statement but rather an introduction to Latter-day Saints who are impacted by this issue. SALT LAKE CITY — Reaction is pouring in after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a legal analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative in Utah, and one active member of the LDS Church whose son is terminally ill read the memo and is confused about why the church is holdin As two very different bills aimed at making medical marijuana available to Utahns make their way through the Utah Legislature, both medical and religious leaders are urging lawmakers to pass cautious and scientifically driven legislation.
The Latter-day Saint Faces Behind the Medical Marijuana Debate
Nathan Frodsham doesn’t use medical cannabis (also known as medical marijuana) anymore, despite the fact that it not only treated the pain caused by his degenerative disc disease but it also helped him holistically in ways he didn’t anticipate.
“I had trouble sleeping. I had trouble concentrating. I’d become more sedentary. I’d gained some weight. When I started taking cannabis, probably after about a month of taking it, I started to notice that I no longer needed my sleeping aids. I had asthma and I wasn’t using my inhaler as frequently,” Frodsham, a data scientist and father of three, says. “I lost 50 pounds. I actually enjoyed exercising.”
Photo courtesy of Nathan Frodsham
But Frodsham and his family no longer live in Washington, where medical cannabis is legal and where it was originally recommended by his physician. The Frodshams now live in Utah, where medical marijuana is not currently legal. Despite the many benefits of medical marijuana for him, Frodsham feels his example as a father is more important than using medical marijuana.
“I could but I don’t because it’s illegal and it’s dangerous,” Frodsham explains. “I don’t use it right now and that’s why I’m campaigning for it. I don’t fault anyone who does, who uses it for medical reasons, but I’m a father and I’ve found it’s almost impossible to hide something like that, and I want to be a good example. It’s not a good example to be breaking the law in front of your kids.”
The Church’s Involvement
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been involved in discussions surrounding the legalization of medical cannabis in Utah for weeks.
In August, the Church joined a community coalition opposing Proposition 2, raising concerns about possible unintended consequences should the ballot initiative be approved by voters in November.
On October 4, a legislative alternative to Proposition 2 was unveiled with broad community support, including from the Church, offering a path forward for medical cannabis while limiting the negative societal impact.
The long road to the legislative alternative is the result of those who have worked tirelessly, many of whom have experienced firsthand the benefits of medical cannabis.
“It could’ve gone so differently, but a lot of patients came together and worked really hard to try to bridge the gap in understanding,” Frodsham says of the efforts toward legalization. “And the Church leaders . . . really responded in a very special way, so I think a lot of people feel like this is a big miracle.”
In an effort to provide readers with a glimpse into why the Church is working to reach an understanding regarding medical marijuana, we interviewed Frodsham as one of four Latter-day Saints who have offered their faces and experiences to help others understand the complexities behind the issue of medical cannabis within the Church.
Former University of Utah football player Steve Tate’s son Hayes passed away peacefully on December 3, 2016, but his parents continue to campaign for the medical cannabis that temporarily eased Hayes’s pain and gave them their son back.
Photo courtesy of Steve Tate
At 9-months-old, Hayes Tate was diagnosed with Choroid Plexus Carcinoma and his parents watched him battle for his life while receiving the most aggressive forms of chemotherapy. Watching his son go through withdrawals in the middle of the night from the drugs he was used to having circulate through his bloodstream, Steve Tate asked himself, “Is there not another option? Is there nothing else I can do?” It was watching these treatments wear on their declining son that led the Tates to explore the idea of medical marijuana.
Together, they debated the moral issue of marijuana as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Regardless of whether it’s [this Church] or religion in general, there’s an issue when it comes to the name ‘marijuana.’ There’s a negative connotation with it,” Tate explains.
But ultimately, for him and his wife, Tate says, it came down to a question of, “What would I rather do for my child? Would I rather have him be addicted and getting withdrawals from the opioid use, or would I turn to something that, for all intents and purposes, is natural?”
They learned that medical marijuana can be administered in many different forms and decided to have Hayes receive his dose through a rice grain-sized droplet on a teething tablet that was absorbed into his bloodstream through his cheek.
While studies are planned to determine if medical cannabis can be helpful in controlling or curing cancer, the goal was not to heal Hayes’s cancer but to improve the quality of the life he had left. And it worked. Within a week, his parents noted improvements in his complexion, appetite, and social interaction.
“It was noticeable just in his appearance and his social interaction,” Tate says. “It really did give my son quality of life, which is all I wanted as a parent.”
Tate doesn’t fault those who may question the family’s decision to use medical cannabis to treat their son’s rare form of aggressive cancer. Before his own experience, he says he probably would have found himself on the other side of the issue.
As a mother of a child who suffered from seizures every 45 minutes for years, Emilie Campbell was exhausted and needed relief.
Screenshot from KSL
Six-year-old Connor Campbell’s seizures were growing worse each year when, in 2013, his parents, Emilie and Neon Trees bass guitarist Brandon Campbell, began to hear and see more about seizure control being achieved with the help of cannabidiol (CBD) oil. CBD oil is one of two extracts that can be taken from a marijuana plant and does not produce intoxication or marijuana’s “high.” Emilie worked tirelessly with lawmakers and senators lobbying and drafting a bill to make CBD oil available and legal in Utah, and in 2014, the bill was passed. However, she soon found that CBD oil did not help Connor with seizure control.
“Those were some dark years. I was scared,” Emilie recalls. “I thought, ‘If this is how it is going to be forever, we can’t do it.’ You can’t sustain life on 15 sleep interruptions a night. It was a mess.”
She was able to get Connor an oil with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the other extract in the marijuana plant), and he went 18 months without a grand mal seizure—a type of seizure he had been having six times a day. To Emilie Campbell, it was “almost miraculous.”
Connor is now 11, and the family has continued to observe setbacks over the past five years as Connor’s body has grown, which has resulted in changes to dosage and ratios of his oils. But his mother says that nothing aside from medical cannabis has given them any seizure control.
Medical cannabis has provided Emilie Campbell with peace that she is not giving her son something that could be lethal, noting that if she were to accidentally double one of her son’s other medications, it could easily kill him, but he could swallow his whole bottle of cannabis oil, and while it would make him sick, there is zero chance he would overdose. She has seen many of her friends’ children become dependent on their medications, and she is grateful that this will not be the case for her son.
Despite her strong advocacy for using medical cannabis when needed, she says she is also the first to admit that medical marijuana does not come without risks.
“If used improperly, you will be messed up and full of regret,” Campbell warns. “But when it comes to responsible use and medicinal use, I have zero reservations. I realize now, after so many years of using it in different forms for Connor, it’s not as scary as people think. It’s not dangerous like some of the anti-seizure meds are.”
In 2015, Enedina Stanger cheered her husband on in his American Ninja Warrior run from a wheelchair. In 2018, she competed on the show herself. But what most people don’t know is the role that medical cannabis played in helping her get out of her wheelchair and walk again.
Photo courtesy of Enedina Stanger
Stanger suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects an estimated 1 in 2,500 to 1 in 5,000 people and causes one’s joints to frequently dislocate. The pain, which Enedina has described as “grueling, electrifying, paralyzing, intense,” led her to begin discussing hospice and planning her funeral as a young mother of two small daughters.
“My biggest prayer was that I would be able to see my daughter walk, but I didn’t think that would ever happen,” Stanger says. Her youngest daughter was in her first year of life at the time of Stanger’s diagnosis. “That was just a goal—that I would be able to see them a little longer. That was really the motivation.”
For Stanger, the condition began to manifest itself neurologically but progressed to include Parkinson-type tremors, multiple sclerosis-type nerve pain, and a heart that only beat 30 times per minute.
The daughter of a Latter-day Saint bishop, Stanger and her family live in Colorado, where medical cannabis is legal, and she uses it in many forms including oils, tinctures, and pills, but her use is incredibly regulated.
Stanger, along with Frodsham, has been surprisingly vocal in opposing Proposition 2 in Utah, despite having moved to Colorado as a medical refugee, because she has seen unintended consequences that come when laws are passed in haste without the support of doctors and law enforcement. She believes it is impossible to have a viable medical cannabis program in the nation without those things.
“My hope is that Utah can become the example for the nation where doctors, law enforcement officials, and communities are all accepting of a medical cannabis program and doctors are required to get the education to help patients,” Stanger says. “It is an opportunity to change the stigma and educate the communities while simultaneously providing viable research and helping patients all at the same time.
“Medical cannabis is a viable option for patients. Accepting and learning from the plant is crucial in order to understand, accept, and properly treat patients.”
When Frodsham told his family and friends about his use of medical cannabis, he says he could have heard a pin drop.
“It was so silent,” he says. “I think a lot of people were very surprised. They were questioning either A) Did it really help me? or B) Have I changed? Am I one of those guys who was trying to get cannabis for the recreational aspect of it?”
LDS father who uses CBD oil to treat son reacts to church’s stance on medical marijuana ballot initiative
SALT LAKE CITY — Reaction is pouring in after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a legal analysis of the medical marijuana ballot initiative in Utah, and one active member of the LDS Church whose son is terminally ill read the memo and is confused about why the church is holding such a strong stance.
“My faith in God has only grown understanding how cannabis works in our body,” Dave Cromar said.
Through prayer and revelation, Cromar says he was guided to medical marijuana four years ago to help his then 7-year-old son, who suffers from epilepsy.
“It’s the first time we found true success and healing in our son,” Cromar said.
So Cromar moved his family from Utah to Colorado to legally get CBD oil for his son. He said he was overwhelmed with support from fellow LDS members as well as his local leaders in Colorado.
“Our stake president in Colorado said, ‘I’m a cancer survivor and I wish I had that option when I was going through all that,’” Cromar said.
When CBD oil was legalized in Utah his family moved back, but he says there’s a stark contrast in how he is treated.
“I was just blown away,” he said. “I don’t know what the issue is with it specific to Utah.”
Friday, the LDS Church released its most detailed argument yet for why Utah should not legalize medical marijuana using the current ballot initiative. The analysis outlined 31 results that the LDS Church said “raises grave concerns.”
According the analysis conducted by a law firm in Salt Lake City, those concerns include allowing people to grow their own marijuana, creating significant challenges for law enforcement, allowing dispensaries to give free samples, allowing minors to use medical marijuana, requiring science to be ignored, and concerns that large numbers of Utahns will likely qualify for medical cannabis cards.
Those behind the medical marijuana ballot initiative say they respect opinions of those who disagree but say the initiative, “…ensures that those who need this God-given plant for medicinal purposes can use it without fear of criminal punishment.”
But now some LDS Church members like Cromar are left with questions for church leaders.
“I would like to know these statements that you’re making, are they coming from revelation or are they just pure opposition to legal issues, or where is this coming from? This isn’t doctrine so what is it?” Cromar said.
The ballot initiative appears to have secured enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot, but the Lt. Gov. must officially certify which ballot initiatives were successful by May 15.
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Research and control at center of marijuana debate; LDS Church issues new statement
FILE – In this June 26, 2015, file photo, different varieties of marijuana flowers are displayed at medical marijuana dispensary in Portland, Ore. The American Medical Association agreed Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, to push for regulations requiring warnings be written on medical and recreational pot products and posted wherever they are sold, based on studies suggesting marijuana use may be linked with low birth weight, premature birth and behavior problems in young children. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka, File)
SALT LAKE CITY — As two very different bills aimed at making medical marijuana available to Utahns make their way through the Utah Legislature, both medical and religious leaders are urging lawmakers to pass cautious and research-driven legislation.
The two bills, SB73 by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, and SB89 by Sen Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, have drawn the attention of the Utah Medical Association, which is concerned about controls and distribution of products it says are still in need of research for their medical benefits.
“There’s a national movement,” to legalize medical marijuana, said William Hamilton, president of the Utah Medical Association, with more than 20 states so far choosing to do so. “But we think there’s too big of a rush to legalize this potentially very dangerous drug.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has similar concerns and Friday issued a statement detailing “access, distribution, control” as principal concerns for opposing Madsen’s bill, while not opposing nor endorsing Vickers’ bill or the responsible pursuit of medical treatments associated with marijuana.
“While we are not in a position to evaluate specific medical claims, the church understands that there are some individuals who may benefit from the use of compounds found in marijuana,” said church spokesman Eric Hawkins. “For that reason, although the church opposes SB73, it has raised no objection to SB89. These two competing pieces of legislation take very different approaches when it comes to issues like access, distribution, control and the potential harm of the hallucinogenic compound, THC.”
The church statement continued: “In addition to the therapeutic, treatment, and control questions, there are several other important issues to be resolved. At the forefront is that the use of medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. We agree with groups such as the American Medical Association, who have said that further study is warranted before significant public policy decisions on marijuana are advanced. For these reasons, the church urges a cautious approach,” Hawkins said.
The statement follows an announcement from the church last week opposing Madsen’s bill, which would allow nearly 100,000 Utahns with certain medical conditions access to the whole marijuana plant in edible form.
Vicker’s proposal would make cannabinoid products manufactured in the state available to a few thousand Utahns on a shorter list of medical conditions. It would only allow use of a mariuana-infused oil with high levels of CBD, a chemical believed to fight seizures, but low in THC, the hallucinogenic chemical known to give consumers the “high” associated with marijuana.
Vicker’s bill is backed by the Utah Medical Association as the “slow and thoughtful” approach Utah needs, said the association’s president, William Hamilton.
He worries Madsen’s approach is too broad, while Vickers’ bill would limit exposure to THC, what Hamilton called “the most harmful component of the plant.”
“(THC) causes drug-seeking behavior, since about 10 percent of the people who take it will become addicted to it,” Hamilton said. “And we know it’s very harmful to the development of the brain in adolescents who use it chronically.”
Hamilton said the entire marijuana plant has not been adequately studied enough to be certain it provides real relief while not also harming patients in the long term.
Plus, Hamilton said Vicker’s bill requires research, while Madsen’s doesn’t.
“Most of what we hear are just anecdotal stories of people that claim it helps their conditions,” he said. “Marijuana is a dangerous drug, particularly for young people. One of the things we do know is it’s very harmful to the development of the brain in adolescents who use it chronically. … And it’s not a lifesaving intervention, therefore we think Vickers’ bill is the correct bill to pass to take a slow, prudent approach to what has become a national rush to legalize marijuana.”
Madsen said Friday it “defies logic” to be wary of THC in cannabis, since it’s already synthesized into a pure form and prescribed in FDA-approved drugs.
Madsen also said he’s frustrated that the UMA claims there is not enough research, while there are studies dating decades back that have researched marijuana’s effects on medical conditions, plus testimony of Utahns who say they have found relief from the drug.
“I will agree that there is a lot of opportunity to understand how the plant works,” Madsen acknowledged. “There is a lot of research to yet to be done, yes, but it’s a real tragedy that the (federal) government has so screwed up this policy for so long that we haven’t been able to do research on it for 70-plus years now.”
Under federal law, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 substance, ranked alongside heroin, and is deemed illegal, despite some states’ decisions to legalize.
Madsen said he’s currently working on a substitute to the bill to make it more research friendly, but said his priority is to provide relief for Utahns.
Hamilton said Vickers’ bill does more to place controls on licensing and tracking of those approved to produce and dispense the oil. Doctors recommending the oil would be registered with the state with special training, and their patients would be issued a medical cannabidoil card.
Hamilton did acknowledge, however, that Madsen’s bill has more restrictions than most states.
“I think Madsen, to his credit, is trying not to let Utah turn into California, but we just think it’s a lot more likely to turn into a California-type situation with his bill than with Vickers’ bill,” he said.
Medical marijuana creates not only medical concerns, but also cultural concerns, according to Mark A. R. Kleiman, a professor at New York University and previously the University of California, Los Angeles, and an expert on marijuana policy who was the chief adviser to Washington state on its marijuana law.
Kleiman said in states like California with lax medical marijuana laws, dispensaries can create an “unhealthy culture.”
“Some places are run by people who genuinely believe in the therapeutic power of cannabis and give sincere advice to their customers, but others are essentially whole-sale dope dealerships,” Kleiman said. “There are places where there are signs in the window that say, ‘Please don’t resale on the street right outside this door.'”
He said if Utah passes medical marijuana legislation, it should be prepared to have a strong “medical discipline regime,” because in states that allow their doctors to have casual relationships with their patients, “the medical marijuana user looks a lot like a marijuana user and not very much like a patient.”
Hamilton said that’s his fear with Madsen’s bill. He said even though Madsen’s bill has tighter regulations in place than California, it’s a much larger step than Vickers’ bill.
“I don’t think Utah is ready for that,” Hamilton said. “We’re not California or Oregon, Washington or Colorado. We’re culturally a different state, and I think it’s important we take a slow, prudent approach to what has become a national rush to legalize marijuana.”
While the Utah Medical Association represents the state’s medical leaders, Madsen indicated “at least one doctor a day” has come to the Capital this session to support his bill.
Supporters of Madsen’s bill say Utahns who are suffering should not have to wait any longer for relief. They also argue Vickers’ bill would provide treatment to a smaller group and limit relief since some medical conditions benefit from the THC component of the plant.
While some doctors and physicians have spoken in support of Madsen’s bill, so have some religious leaders, including Pastor Steve Klemz of Zion Lutheran Church.
“As I’ve heard the stories of those shared by those in chronic pain, my heart goes out to those people,” Klemz said. “If (medical marijuana) is going to help those to receive medical marijuana, I see it as a gift from God, quite frankly.”
Klemz said he favors Madsen’s bill over Vickers’ because it would do more to help suffering Utahns.
“As far as health care goes, I’m tired of this way of being cautious or doing it the Utah-way, which continues to leave, especially the poor, without adequate health care,” Klemz said.
The Rt. Rev. Scott Hayashi, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, issued a prepared statement Friday:
“If medical science is proving that cannabis oil is demonstrably helpful to ease the pain and suffering of people with certain medical conditions, than as a person of faith and compassion, I support the easing of that pain and that suffering and the healing of their bodies,” Hayashi said.
He did not weigh in on either bill.
The Catholic Diocese of Utah, also declined to take a position on either bill Friday. Spokeswoman Jean Hill said the diocese is more concerned with other bills dealing with the death penalty, criminal justice reform and Medicaid expansion.