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LDS Church stance on medical marijuana ‘makes it more difficult’ to pass, Senate President says

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Posted at 3:08 PM, Feb 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-08 19:36:31-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' position on one of the medical marijuana bills being considered by the Utah State Legislature certainly puts it in a difficult spot.

"Well it makes it more difficult," Senate President Wayne Niederhauser told reporters on Monday. "I don't know if I would characterize it as dead on arrival."

Over the weekend, the LDS Church said it opposed Sen. Mark Madsen's SB73, which would allow for so-called "whole plant" marijuana use to treat ailments. The Church said it did not oppose SB89, which would allow for a marijuana extract (but opposed by patients and advocates).

The LDS Church holds significant influence on Utah's Capitol Hill, where a majority of lawmakers are Mormon. The church can weigh in on issues where it has a moral or doctrinal position (and it has on alcohol, marriage, gay rights, immigration and gambling) but a spokesman said it is politically neutral on parties and candidates.

Madsen, R-Saratoga Springs, told FOX 13 on Monday he is moving forward with his bill, counting votes and preparing for a debate on the Senate floor that could happen this week. Madsen said he was not altering the language of his bill to appease the LDS Church.

"I don't seek out things to clash with the church on, but from time to time I've had to ask my colleagues to go a different direction than the church lobbyists have told them to go and I've been successful in some instances and others not," he told FOX 13.

Madsen would not say if he had the votes to pass the Senate.  A similar medical marijuana bill he ran last year was narrowly defeated.

"I think we'll have a little bit better margin (than last year). I don't want to speak out of school. We always work like we're behind," he said.

Sen. Niederhauser said he predicted SB89, sponsored by Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, and Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, would pass. He would not predict how the Senate would vote on SB73.

"One of the options is we leave the session with the status quo," he said. "I guess we'll see what happens when these bills come up towards the end of this week."

Meanwhile, Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Salt Lake City, introduced a resolution in the legislature urging congress to make marijuana a Schedule II drug, freeing it up for research and medicinal uses. A resolution in the legislature is non-binding.