Latter-day Saint Life

General Primary Counselor Explains Why A Worldwide Church Is Involved In Utah’s Medical Marijuana Debate; Reiterates Church’s Opposition to Prop 2


On Friday afternoon, Sister Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, sat down with Dr. Paula Cook, a doctor and assistant professor at the University of Utah, and DeAnn Kettenring, health commissioner for the Utah PTA, with the intent of reiterating the dangers of Proposition 2. Utah will vote on this initiative next week, which could potentially legalize medical cannabis in the state.

Sister Harkness explained that there was a lot of confusion following the announcement of the compromise, many people believing that the necessary changes had already been made to Prop 2. She said this is not the case and reiterated that the Church’s position on Prop 2 has not changed. However, the meeting also provided insight into why a Worldwide Church has become involved in a community issue. Church leaders have been a part of a coalition that has worked to develop a compromise that will address the concerns raised regarding Prop 2.

“Our goal is to help relieve pain and suffering as followers of Jesus Christ. That’s what we covenanted to do: to relieve pain and suffering no matter where it is, no matter where we find it, in our own communities or anywhere in the world. With that said, it needs to be used wisely, when there is sound science to necessitate its use,” Sister Harkness told LDS Living. “There is not a lot of ground-breaking, foundational science behind the use of medicinal cannabis. We’re hoping that this unique compromise in Utah can help generate some of that science so that, moving forward, patients can actually know exactly what they should do for the conditions that they have. And that’s not just here in Utah. That’s wherever they find themselves.”

Being a member of the coalition, Sister Harkness says that she has observed “a unique set of people with intense creativity and a real heartfelt desire to help those in need.” She said that the Church’s involvement in making medical cannabis available to those it can help will not end after Tuesday’s ballots have been counted.

“We’re not stopping with our participation in the coalition and any support that we can give after the ultimate availability of medicinal cannabis, but [we will also keep working on] the protective safeguards. We want to make sure that both of those are taken care of because it wouldn’t make sense to provide accessibility and at the same time create all kinds of dangerous side effects to our children and communities,” she says.

There are many questions surrounding the current safeguards put in place by the compromise, but Sister Harkness explains that one thing it will provide is additional research—something Dr. Cook says is currently missing regarding medicinal cannabis.

“We don’t have great data to back it up,” Dr. Cook says. “We don’t know a lot about where it is really useful. We do know, in some conditions, it has been studied. For what it’s being advertised as —kind of a panacea for a lot of different things, especially pain—we just don’t have good data.”

Sister Harkness says that in addition to encouraging further research, the proposed compromise will also help patients have clear dosage information, regulated usage, and support from physicians—all things that are necessary to the safe, successful legalization of medical marijuana. She explains that her life has been enriched by those she has observed enduring medical hardships.

“I have been enriched by seeing how resourceful people are in the midst of great trials. It’s been very touching to watch how a lot of people are trying just to do anything to find relief for their children, for those that they care for, and to see how resilient they are despite the real challenges that they go through in their lives. Listening to them and to their daily, hourly challenges, you just say ‘Oh, can there please be something?’” Sister Harkness says. “Their worry doesn’t ever rest. It never gets a day off, and it’s something that they carry with them all the time. It never sleeps. If we could help families by relieving the pain and suffering of a child, that is exactly what we want to do.”

Lead image by Morgan Jones
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