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Medical marijuana push spreads in Utah, Oklahoma

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The push for legalized marijuana has taken hold in Utah and Oklahoma, two of the country's most conservative states, further emphasizing how quickly feelings about marijuana are changing in the United States.

If the two measures are successful, Utah and Oklahoma will join 30 other states that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, according to the pro-pot National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws. Nine of these states and Washington, D.C. also have wide legalization that allows adults over the age of 21 to use pot for any reason. Michigan could become the 10th state this year with its election initiative.

Utah and Oklahoma are already among the 16 states that allow the use of an oil called cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound of cannabis that doesn't have a high proportion of users, but can treat a number of health problems.

Justin Strekal, political director of NORML, is confident that the measures will be implemented in Utah and Oklahoma.

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"America's appetite for cannabis is not diminishing," said Strekal. "We are in the agony of the ban."

Marijuana legalization efforts were previously subject to some setbacks by religions – including the Mormon Church in Arizona and Nevada in 2016 and the Massachusetts Catholic Church in the same year. But not to the extent that it could be this year in Utah, where Mormons make up about two-thirds of the population, said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Pro-Legalization Marijuana Policy Project.

Mormons have long been disapproving of marijuana use because of an important ecclesiastical health code called "Word of Wisdom" that prohibits the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs.

Rebecca Frodsham points to her husband's surgical scars at her home on Monday, April 16, 2018 in Murray, Utah. Nathan Frodsham suffers from cervical arthritis and disc disease. Utah voters this November will consider an election initiative to legalize medical marijuana for people with certain chronic conditions. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejected the proposal this month and said in a statement that drugs designed to alleviate suffering should first be tested and approved by government officials. The church said it respected the “wise advice” of doctors and praised the Utah Medical Association for speaking out against it. The association has accused organizers of disguising their intention of merely paving the way for legalizing marijuana.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert told middle school students in January that he believed medical marijuana would be legalized in the state someday, but announced his rejection of the election in March, which he believes is no guarantee for growing and distributing marijuana.

Lawyers continue to be confident that they have developed a medical marijuana measure that respects the Mormon Church and culture while providing much-needed relief to people with chronic pain, Schweich said. His Washington-based organization helped develop the measure.

Unlike other medical marijuana states, Utah's proposal would not allow a pot to be smoked or residents to grow their own, Schweich said. It would create a state-regulated growing and dispensing process that would allow people with certain medical conditions to get a card and use the drug in edible forms like candy, in topical forms like lotions or balm, as oil, or in electronic cigarettes. Proponents submitted the signatures on Monday to receive the vote measure in November.

Related: Mormon Church Resists Medical Marijuana Initiative in Utah

"It is a question of compassion," said Schweich.

Oklahoma will vote on its proposal in June that would allow doctors to recommend that patients obtain a medical marijuana license that allows them to legally own up to three ounces of the drug, six mature plants, and six seedlings ,

Ted Lyon, a 78-year-old Mormon, has been a supporter because he has seen medical marijuana help two of his neighbors in Provo over the past decade – one with multiple sclerosis and one with seizures. He said he would not support the legalization of the drug for recreational use.

Lyon, a retired professor at Mighon-owned Brigham Young University, said he feared that the Church's opposition would put off members of the faith, but he still hoped that there were enough progressively oriented Mormons to take advantage will see.

"The church can say otherwise in 10 years," said Lyon. "This is not an eternal ban on medical marijuana. My father was a good historian and used to say, "If you don't like something in the church, just wait a while because it will change."

Nathan Frodsham, a 45-year-old married, triple Mormon father, hopes that the measure will be successful in getting rid of opioids and reusing the vaporized form of marijuana that he recommended in Seattle, recommended by his doctor looking for his painful osteoarthritis of the neck.

Frodsham was not discouraged by the Mormon Church's statement, which he found to be not so contradictory when the Church specifically asked members to vote against the full legalization of marijuana in Arizona and Nevada. He said marijuana is a natural plant and the religion's health code doesn't see cannabis as prohibited.

"I think there is room for interpretation," said Frodsham.

The 4,500-strong Utah Medical Association does not contradict the idea of ​​legalized medical marijuana, but has numerous concerns about an initiative that it believes is too extensive and does not require regulatory action, said Michelle McOmber, the group's CEO.

"We want to be very careful about what we bring to our state," said McOmber. "This is an addictive substance."

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Associate press clerk Adam Kealoha Causey from Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

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