This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The LDS Church is urging Mormons in four Western states to "let their voices by heard" in opposition to legalizing recreational marijuana use and physician-assisted suicide.
In a letter sent Wednesday, the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has called on church members in Arizona, California and Nevada to oppose pro-marijuana initiatives on ballots in those states, citing the drug's perceived risks to children, youths and adults.
"Drug abuse in the United States is at epidemic proportions, and the dangers of marijuana to public health and safety are well documented," says the one-page letter, signed by LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson and his counselors, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.
In a separate letter sent to Coloradoans, the trio invoked the faith's "firm belief in the sanctity of life" in encouraging members to oppose that state's Proposition 106.
The measure would permit terminally ill patients to die by self-administering lethal drugs with the consent of two doctors.
Based on experiences in foreign countries and a few U.S. states where physician-assisted suicide is legal, the First Presidency wrote, "such legalization can endanger the vulnerable, erode trust in the medical profession and cheapen human life and dignity."
"Life is a sacred gift," they wrote, "and should be cherished even in difficult circumstances."
Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Friday that the letters were sent to leaders and members, without explicit instructions they be read from the pulpit.
Federal tax laws prohibit churches and other tax-exempt entities from participating or intervening on behalf of political candidates, but allow them to advocate on issues "in the political arena."
In an Oct. 5 letter urging participation in the election by all U.S. church members, the First Presidency affirmed "its constitutional right of expression on political and social issues."
A political observer and scholar at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University said the marijuana and assisted-suicide letters are likely to significantly influence views held by the large blocs of Mormon residents living in those states.
"We have a lot of direct evidence that these messages work," said Quin Monson, a political science professor at BYU, who is no relation to the church president.
In recent years, church officials have taken public stances against loosening state liquor laws and legalizing same-sex marriage and gambling, and in support of immigration reform. Their backing in 2015 of a statewide anti-discrimination bill protecting gay and lesbian Utahns from housing and job discrimination was said to be instrumental in its passage. In February, the LDS Church voiced its opposition to a medical-marijuana bill before the Utah Legislature, without immediately explaining its reasons. The measure ultimately died.
In their letter on assisted suicide, church leaders noted that the worldwide faith's doctrines also give discretion to family members on end-of-life decisions for loved ones.
The church's Handbook 2, their letter noted, clearly discourages deliberately taking a life "even when the person may be suffering from an incurable condition or disease." But, they added, faithful Mormons "should not feel obligated to extend mortal life through means that are unreasonable," saying those decisions are best left to families, with divine guidance and competent medical advice.
While not tying its stance on recreational marijuana directly to church doctrine, the First Presidency's letter cites "recent studies" on the risks it poses for brain development in young people.
California's Proposition 64 would allow those 21 years old and older to possess and use marijuana for recreational purposes, while also levying taxes on its cultivation and sale to fund a range of social programs.
In Arizona, where medicinal marijuana was first legalized in 1996, Proposition 205 would permit adults to possess and use up to an ounce of marijuana, as well as grow up to six plants in their homes.
Nevada legalized the herb for medical uses in 2000. Its Question 2 ballot measure would permit adults to possess, consume and cultivate limited amounts for recreational purposes.
Like California's measure, Nevada's would impose an excise tax to raise funds for schools and law enforcement.
Mormons in Maine and Massachusetts, which also have recreational marijuana measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, were not sent letters from church officials.