The Mormon church signals opposition to a Utah medical marijuana ballot initiative, an item most voters have supported

The LDS Church on Tuesday appeared to come out against a ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana in Utah, a move that followed opposition by Gov. Gary Herbert and the powerful Utah Medical Association in recent days.

In a two-paragraph statement, the Salt Lake City-based faith commended the Utah Medical Association (UMA) for issuing its own recent statement opposing the initiative. But the church did not explicitly criticize any part of the legalization effort.

“We respect the wise counsel of the medical doctors of Utah,” the statement on the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ website said, indicating that it agreed with the association’s general position that medical marijuana “would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities.”

“The public interest is best served when all new drugs designed to relieve suffering and illness and the procedures by which they are made available to the public undergo the scrutiny of medical scientists and official approval bodies,” said the statement, which was issued by the church’s governing First Presidency. LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, the leader of that group, is an internationally acclaimed heart surgeon.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said he could not provide clarifying information beyond the statement.

“The church is supporting the UMA — it’s not the church that’s coming out and attacking,” said Christine Stenquist, president of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), a group working to educate Utah voters on medical marijuana. She said her group was trying not to be overly reactionary to the statement, seeking to calm its LDS members who were unsure what to make of it.

Debate over the initiative has heated up in recent weeks, with Herbert opposing it late last month and

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