The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints recently distanced itself from the label “Mormon,” but for the sake of simplicity, we’ll use it. For centuries, Mormons have been known for their unwavering abstinence of alcohol and other mind-altering recreational drugs. While recreational cannabis is fundamentally against some of the core teachings of the church, in some cases, medical cannabis is acceptable for members who have proven medical needs.
The modern church now supports medical cannabis—albeit only “under the care of a competent physician, and then used only as prescribed.” The church’s evolution on cannabis from never acceptable to sometimes acceptable is a miracle to behold.
The Word of Wisdom and Its Origin
Per the church’s 1833 decree called the Word of Wisdom, almost all inebriants were discouraged for members of the church, including seemingly innocent everyday items such as coffee. The Word of Wisdom was church founder Joseph Smith’s revelation in response to the nuisance of tobacco spit and other unhealthy habits that took place at early church congregations. While originally an optional moral code, eventually, the Word of Wisdom evolved into a mandatory set of laws for all Mormons of good standing.
Most people are familiar with the church’s key body of doctrine, The Book of Mormon, but the church’s official guidance on drugs and health is found in the Doctrine and Covenants, an equally revered scripture translation.
While the Word of Wisdom does not actually mention “cannabis” or “marijuana” explicitly, similar substances are discouraged such as tobacco. But even tobacco’s medicinal properties are recognized in the church’s scripture. “Tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill,” Doctrine and Covenants 89:9 reads.
And you guessed, just like the Bible, the Mormon translation of the scriptures also indicate that herbs should be used liberally for medicinal purposes. “Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;” Doctrine and Covenants 59:17–18 reads. “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart.”
Admittedly, it’s pretty safe to assume that if cannabis was popular for recreational purposes in the 1830s it would also surely be banned. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints abandoned polygamy long ago, in 1890, despite fundamentalist sects that continue the tradition. Other church policies have evolved as well, including how members abide by the Word of Wisdom and treat cannabis. But more Mormons currently consume cannabis than you might initially think.
A 2016 Next Mormons Survey found that one in ten Mormons said they had consumed cannabis within the last six months—perhaps a bit more than you’d automatically assume for a church known to be highly restrictive. According to the survey, 9.5 percent self-identified Mormons in the United States said “yes” when asked if they had consumed cannabis in the past six months. Predictably, most were Millennials, while older generations avoided cannabis almost altogether. Seventeen percent of Mormon Millennials had partaken compared to seven percent of Generation Xers and four percent of the combined Baby Boomer and Silent Generations. OK, Boomers.
The Next Mormons Survey also found that poorer Mormons were more likely to indulge in cannabis. They also found that inactive Mormons (Mormons who attend church sporadically) were more likely to consume.
But as far as the final verdict, recreational cannabis is always off-limits. The Mormon church has come out to confirm that recreational cannabis use officially violates the Word of Wisdom according to recent church updates.
Active in Legislation
Utah—being 62.8 percent Mormon in 2016—is also led by a Mormon supermajority in the Utah Legislature. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was instrumental in crafting Utah’s medical cannabis ordinance “compromise” that replaced the state’s voter-approved Proposition 2. The church initially fought valiantly against Utah’s less restrictive Proposition 2. The church only backed an especially restrictive version of the bill after numerous changes, setbacks and compromises. The restrictive nature of medical cannabis in Utah led one mother to nearly lose custody of her child after she tested positive for THC with traces of the compound from CBD products. In addition, judges living in the state have trouble distinguishing CBD from illegal cannabis products.
In order for medical cannabis to be acceptable in the eyes of Mormon leaders, it must be prescribed by valid doctors. Vaping is also prohibited under the Word of Wisdom, according to recent clarifications.
The changes in the way Mormons view cannabis reflects a generational shift between old-school Mormons and the faith’s growing number of members who fall under Generation Z. A temple recommend is required for any Mormon to enter church temples, which are considered to be the most sacred areas, and a temple recommend will currently be denied to any member who consumes cannabis without a legitimate doctor’s recommendation.