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In November, voters in Utah will consider a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana and possibly join 30 other states that allow its use. Opponents, including leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a group of Utah doctors, have characterized Proposition 2 as a dangerous step on the path toward recreational marijuana use in the state. However, there are others in the Church that say the initiative is a move of compassion and has major health benefits.

Mormon Church leaders had long remained silent on the marijuana initiative but recently took a public stance, releasing a brief statement in April coming out against it. The Church issued a memorandum prepared by the church’s legal firm, Kirton McConkie, with 31 different “legal issues” supporting its stance against allowing marijuana for medicinal use.

The Church also praised the Utah Medical Association for “cautioning that the proposed Utah marijuana initiative would compromise the health and safety of Utah communities.” Later, church leaders put out a document citing legal concerns, including “significant challenges to law enforcement,” and that possession and cultivation of marijuana is still a federal crime.

There have been a number of parents of children with severe illnesses, including epilepsy who say that they rely on marijuana for treatment. These supporters also say it’s a necessary response to the opioid epidemic. Between 2013 and 2016, roughly 600 Utahns have fatally overdosed on opiods according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The Church is split on this issue. While Mormon Church leaders have come out publicly against this initiative, there are also members of the Mormon Church like DJ Schanz who think the move would be for good. Some of these members use it for medicinal reasons to combat pain and chronic illnesses.

“We’re talking about medical marijuana, which science time and again has shown to have benefits for people in pain and suffering,” DJ Schanz, a Mormon and the director of the campaign supporting the measure, told the LA Times. “People are being prescribed pills but can’t use something natural.”

“This plant can help those suffering from conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, autism, PTSD, AIDS, MS, ALS, Crohn’s, chronic pain and more – and after a successful vote in November, thousands of Utahns suffering will no longer have to fear punishment from their government simply because they are looking for relief and healing,” Schanz said.

The leaders of the church whose membership is over 16 million worldwide have enormous sway in Utah, said Philip Barlow, a professor of Mormon history at Utah State University. They really have the numbers to influence this decision. Another thing to note is that among the majority in the state who identify as LDS, a fair number of these, as with all religions are not active in practicing their faith, Barlow said.

Brian Stoll, a member who wanted to get married and remain in good standing with the Mormon Church stopped using pot which he was previously using to treat severe back pain. Since marijuana was illegal under Utah, he was told it was forbidden. He turned to opioids despite unpleasant side effects and its inability to match the pain relief he received from medical marijuana. In his case and the case of others in his situation, he sees this as a game-changer.

“This is something that if I drive east or west – to Colorado or Nevada – is 100% legal and helpful to my situation,” he said. “We’re not talking about recreational. This is simply for medical.”

In an interview with the LA Times, he read a passage from the Book of Mormon that said, “And there were some who died with fevers, which at some seasons of the year were very frequent in the land – but not so much so with fevers, because of excellent qualities of many plants and roots which God had prepared to remove the causes of diseases, to which men were subject by the nature of the climate.”

Reminded of his current situation, he said, “Marijuana is a gift from God.”

In accordance with the Word of Wisdom, founder Joseph Smith’s doctrine, the Mormon faith forbids members to drink coffee, tea and alcohol, or smoke or use recreational drugs.

majunznk/flickr.com

majunznk/flickr.com

Rep. Maxine Waters is confident that God has placed her the position she’s in for a specific purpose: to do everything in her power to combat President Donald Trump.

The 79-year-old progressive lawmaker stood behind the pulpit at First AME Church in Lose Angeles declaring she has been sent by God to take on President Donald Trump and his allies.

“You’ve gotta know that I’m here to do the work that I was sent to do, and as pastor said to me when I came in the morning, ‘When God sends you to do something, you just do it,’” she said. “So I have I’m going back to Washington tomorrow morning, I’m going to tell them pastor told me to come here and just do it.”

While some believe her rhetoric is divisive, Waters has always been strong and confident in her expression, gaining support for her unapologetic stance on many issues.

Despite calls to tone down her message from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), she is committed to saying what she believes need to be said.

“I have no fear. I’m in this fight. I know that there are those who are talking about censuring me, talking about kicking me out of Congress, talking about shooting me, talking about hanging me,” Waters told the congregation. “All I have to say is this: If you shoot me, you better shoot straight. There’s nothing like a wounded animal.”

This is not the first time she’s talked about God regarding the president. She also said God was “on our side” when she urged her party in late to June to take on members of the Trump administration.

“If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere,” Waters said.

Jeff_Sessions_official_portraitFreedom of religion has long been enshrined in American culture and is one of the first freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights. The right to not only believe in a specific faith but also to practice it has come under attack in recent years. This has led to the creation of a religious liberty task force charged with implementing Justice Department guidance on respecting and accommodating religious beliefs. According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, this task force has become necessary as America becomes increasingly “less hospitable to people of faith.” Though few people seem willing to discuss the issue, it is abundantly clear that American culture is becoming less and less tolerant of free exercise of religion. Faith, it seems to a vocal minority of Americans, is meant to be believed quietly inside a person’s head. When people try and practice it publically, however, that is seen as unacceptable.

The vitriol seems rather disproportionately aimed at Christianity, if one judges by recent events. Sessions referenced some of these events while warning of the “dangerous movement” that worked to erode the protections for religious Americans. The task force is, in part, a response to this movement managing to invade even the highest levels of government. Sessions noted that Congress had begun to question judicial and executive branch nominees about their faith and dogma before supporting an appointment. This flies in the face of both the Bill of Rights and the long upheld idea of separation of church and state. Under both of these, religion cannot be used as a reason to give or deny someone a position. One could also argue that by trying to exclude candidates from certain religions, church and state have been joined once more. People have simply made the state religion atheism.

“A dangerous movement…is now challenging and eroding our great tradition of religious freedom,” Sessions said. “It’s no little matter. It must be confronted intellectually and politically and defeated…Such a reversal will not just be done with electoral victories, however, but by intellectual victories.” How those victories will be handled and when they will come is still in question, but there is no doubt that something needs to happen soon before the right to exercise one’s faith is swept aside.

Rhinocéros_blanc_JHEIt sounds like something straight out of science fiction, but science may allow mankind to reverse the extinction of the northern white rhino. At the moment, there are only two northern white rhinos left in the world, and both of them are female. The last male, named Sudan, died in Kenya in March of 2018, but scientists hope that new INF techniques could save the species. The plan is to use southern white rhinos as surrogate mothers to carry northern white rhino embryos. Far-fetched as it may sound, the technology is very real, and scientists have already managed to create a northern white rhino embryo in a laboratory.

There are numerous practical questions that need to be considered. One of the largest is that, even if the INF techniques create healthy northern white rhino calves, the revived species may suffer from a crippling lack of genetic diversity. There is also the fact that collecting the necessary eggs from the surviving female northern white rhinos is risky and will require the rhinos to be sedated for two long hours.

Unsurprisingly, ethical concerns have already been raised. Captive breeding has been largely accepted, but the use of new and largely experimental medical technology has created a sense of wariness. This is especially true given that INF has promised incredible results for endangered or extinct species in the past, but it has rarely delivered. Only the giant panda, Asian elephant and black-footed ferret have ever profited from human intervention in the reproductive cycle. Even if the technique worked, there is no guarantee that the revived species would survive for long. The lack of genetic diversity would lead to inbreeding depression and an extreme susceptibility to disease. There is every possibility that INF would only preserve the northern white rhino for another generation or two.

Even so, there are many people who feel that the INF technique should be given a chance. The northern white rhino, people argue, is not essentially extinct because it failed to adapt to its natural environment. It has been driven to the brink by habitat destruction, poaching and human civil wars. Humans have killed the species, the argument goes. Humans have a responsibility to try and bring it back.

The debate is far from settled, but it is likely that the project will move forward regardless of moral concerns. There simply is not time for the ethics to be considered, debated, reconsidered and then agreed upon. By the time all the would-be philosophers have decided if the INF project is ethical, the last two northern white rhinos would likely already be dead and the species doomed regardless.

One thing to consider, however, is what happens if the project succeeds.  Should the project fail, the northern white rhino will die off entirely. If the project succeeds, however, any number of endangered species could potentially make a comeback. The question, however, is whether mankind will be content to stop at saving endangered species or if scientists will try to resurrect the long extinct. Precedent is a powerful thing, and while saving the northern white rhino is noble, no one really wants to deal with a real-life Jurassic Park because someone decided to bring back the dinosaurs.