This is a guest post by Mormontarian, who describes himself as “a radical free choice advocate and otherwise chill dude living in flyover country. He’s ready for the current Sunday School program to follow home teaching and High Priests’ Group into history.”
Oklahoma just legalized weed.
On 26 June the state of Oklahoma, where I live, held a primary election. As with any primary, there were different ballots printed based on party affiliation. The Republican primary ballot my wife got handed was pretty busy, as one might expect in a state sometimes called “the buckle of the bible belt”. Lots of action there. My own Libertarian ballot only had three names on it, as the party is only contesting the Governor’s race this go-round.
But every Oklahoma voter also got a bonus ballot this time, to vote on State Question 788 regarding medical marijuana. The question passed with 57% of the vote statewide. This passage came in spite of a huge push from a law enforcement and medical coalition that spent half a million dollars on ads demonizing the measure in the most furrowed-brow we-know-better manner possible.
And demonize it they did. We were told that it was just “recreational” marijuana in disguise (it’s too broad!). We were told that the police would have to retrain or retire all their beloved drug dogs (won’t you think of the dogs!?). We were told people would spark up in restaurants and the state’s smoking laws wouldn’t apply (no one will be able to do anything about it!). We were told that it was horrible that a license card would last 2 years before you had to see the doctor again (imagine not having to visit a doctor for a follow-up for two years!). We were told that the measure would allow veterinarians to prescribe marijuana to people (they’re “doctors” too!). It got absurd.
And it passed anyway, in an election that saw abnormally heavy turnout considering it was otherwise a primary election in a non-presidential year. In theory, the state health department now has 30 days to get a licensing scheme into place, and 60 days before they have to start issuing licenses. A marijuana specialty clinic opened in Tulsa before the polls even closed, even though they won’t be able to write actual prescriptions for months.
Over 30 states have now approved medical marijuana. Eight have approved recreational use. This trend isn’t going away. Is this just the latest sprouting of weeds (if you know what I mean) in the pure garden of America? Or is this really not that big a deal and the squares are overblowing the danger of a harmless plant? Or is this something that needs to be addressed in a nuanced way? What are we, as Latter-Day Saints operating under longstanding proscriptions from the Word of Wisdom, to make of this?
I’ve got some thoughts.
Obviously I’m not in charge (and I’ll be the first one to express thanks for that). But let’s have a reminder about good ol’ Oliver Cowdery. Specifically, let’s talk about the divine advice he got in Doctrine & Covenants 9:8:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”
We’re clearly advised (one might even say commanded) to study a thing “out” (or if you prefer, “thoroughly”), and then pray about our conclusion. It’s a lesson that cannot be repeated enough. How does this apply here?
Right off the bat, taking a moment to study a thing may reveal that your initial impression of the thing may have been incomplete or flawed. What is becoming increasingly clear is that, notwithstanding decades of outright fearmongering about it, cannabis has demonstrable and legitimate medicinal properties. Research into the full extent of those benefits is not yet complete, and as a new thing there are also surely some promised benefits of cannabis that are total bunk. We’ll find that out (as well as get specifics on its infamous drawbacks) as time goes by and a clear examination of the plant’s applications continues. But bringing it out of the shadows is the first step in genuinely evaluating it, so I can’t fault the Oklahoma voters for choosing to do so.
It’s incumbent on us to be studying marijuana. And we’re not the only ones. Given the direction this is going across the U.S. and Canada (check out Netflix’s new show, Cooking on High, but not with your kids), I also fully expect that we’re going to get a clarification of some kind relating to the Word of Wisdom in the next few years. I presume it will hit a series of points like these:
· The Word of Wisdom specifically describes the plants and herbs of the earth as being potentially beneficial for the use of mankind, when used responsibly and appropriately.
· Certain people may have medical conditions that are treatable with cannabis or a derivative.
· Those who can use marijuana for relief (and where permitted by law) should always do so under the guidance of a medical professional.
· Care should be taken that medical drug use not turn to recreational drug use. Addiction is a devastating problem that does enormous harm both to the sufferer and the sufferer’s loved ones, and should not be risked.
· While some U.S. states have laws allowing cannabis sales and consumption, it remains illegal at the federal level, and its use may carry federal consequences. The members of the Church should seek to obey the laws of the land.
Or something like that. The brethren are both smarter and more articulate than I am, so I’m sure they’ll cover more ground more effectively in whatever statement they end up making. There’s nuance here that they’ll need to parse and consider, and I trust them to study it out and then pray about it, per the pattern already established as the path to divine guidance. I have no doubt they are already doing so. And this brings the warning: whatever statement is eventually made, some segment of the church membership is going to disagree.
The fault lines are obvious: to one side any acknowledgement of the possible benefits of cannabis will be received with stentorian disappointment as a pathetic cave to the forces of the world, while on the other anything less than a full-throated endorsement of weed will be sneered at as hopelessly behind the times. In the middle will be a huge swath of members, unsure of how to carry forward. Let us remind ourselves going forward of the importance of study and prayer. It will take study and prayer for guidance like this to come to us from the brethren, and it will take study and prayer for us to figure out how to digest it and move forward.
President Nelson has told us plainly that if we don’t know how to get personal revelation we’re not going to make it much longer. He’s right. More and more things like marijuana legalization are going to happen, and leaning on the understanding of others won’t be sufficient for long. It’s incumbent on us all to be both educated and prayerful in times like these, where it can seem like some new horror-storm is smashing into society every few weeks.
The Holy Ghost can be our compass to navigate these storms. Study and prayer combine to create the act of looking at the compass. I hope we can all figure out how to keep the compass in view.