Utah group says medical marijuana ballot violates freedom of religion

The Utah group is citing the Masterpiece Cakeshop SCOTUS ruling.

UNITED STATES - AUGUST 30: Inventory including "Merry N'Berry" is on display at the medical marijuana dispensary Takoma Wellness Center, in Takoma Park, August 30, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 30: Inventory including "Merry N'Berry" is on display at the medical marijuana dispensary Takoma Wellness Center, in Takoma Park, August 30, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

An anti-marijuana group has filed a lawsuit arguing that a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana violates their freedom of religion.

To make their case, the group is citing the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which allowed a Colorado baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple due to a religious objection. This is the group’s second lawsuit to keep the proposal off the ballot this November.

The ballot measure, known as Proposition 2, would legalize medicinal marijuana in the states for people suffering from a number of health conditions. While the plant is illegal federally, 30 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized it for medical purposes. But an anti-marijuana group claims such a measure in Utah would violate the religious freedom of members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

The efforts to oppose the ballot measure are being led by a group called Drug Safe Utah, a registered political lobby fronting for the conservative organization the Eagle Forum and the Utah Medical Association. The DEA’s Salt Lake City Metro Narcotics Task Force is also affiliated with the organization, according to the group’s registration papers.


The ballot measure, the group says, would violate the Mormon beliefs of Walter J. Plumb, an attorney who is the primary finance of the anti-medical marijuana group’s efforts. If the ballot measure succeeds, Mormon landlords would be forced to rent to medical marijuana cardholders and people who use cannabis — or as the group states in their latest lawsuit, “mind-altering drugs, substances and chemicals” — violating Mormon code, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The Mormon Church itself hasn’t directly opposed the ballot initiative, though it told the Tribune that it has “grave concerns.”

In its complaint, the group cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s Masterpiece Cakeshop ruling in June, which narrowly sided with Jack Phillips, a baker in Colorado who refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The case was decided on a technicality, with the Supreme Court ruling the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was unfairly biased against Phillips and his attempts to defend his discrimination on religious grounds. The ruling did not directly give people a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people based on their religious belief.

Shortly after the decision was made, the anti-LGBTQ hate group that defended Phillips, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), was handed a defeat in a separate case at the Arizona Court of Appeals for Division One, which cited the Masterpiece Cakeshop case in its ruling. ADF’s client, a calligraphy studio in Phoenix, wanted to overturn the city’s ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation due to their religious beliefs.

Still, religious conservatives have hailed the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision as a victory and have been pushing the boundaries of the ruling. This week, Phillips filed another lawsuit against the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (CCRC) and other state officials after he refused to sell a birthday cake to a transgender person.

Autumn Scardina, an attorney, asked the cakeshop for a birthday cake that was pink on the inside and blue on the outside, celebrating the anniversary of her coming out as transgender. The shop refused because it doesn’t celebrate gender transitions based on religious grounds and Phillips is now trying to get the latest discrimination case against his shop thrown out, arguing the CCRC “harbors hostility” against him.