Anna Abbott is a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She has written for Catholic World Report and Canticle. She had a weekly column on religion for four years at the Napa Valley Register, the Weekly Calistogan, the St. Helena Star and the American Canyon Eagle. She is aunt and godmother to two boys, as well as a newborn girl. She currently resides in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Thirty-three states, including the District of Columbia, have legalized marijuana in some form. In fact, the District of Columbia and 11 other states, including California, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont, have expanded legalization to include recreational marijuana. Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) has called for an end to the so-called “war on drugs” and legalization of marijuana nationwide in his first 100 days.
Celebrities like singer Melissa Etheridge, talk show host Montel Williams and comedian Chelsea Handler have cashed in on the cannabis craze with their products. Singer Miley Cyrus opened Lowell’s in West Hollywood, a restaurant that pairs fine dining with weed. In California, developers and real estate agents use “cannabis open houses” to sell luxury homes. Pot is now chic and trendy.
There are a few brave opponents who dare to be “uncool.” Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence (Free Press: New York, 2019) and television personality Dr. Phil’s criticism of marijuana got backlash as “fear mongering,” “alarmist” and “paranoia.”
However, serious Catholics need to consult their catechism. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, drug use is a serious sin. Paragraph 2291 states, “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except for strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct cooperation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.”
As if on cue, marijuana is touted in the media as mostly harmless and indeed therapeutic. “Medical marijuana” is legalized for “therapeutic reasons” and advertised as a panacea that can cure nausea, PTSD and sexual dysfunction. Marijuana is even considered a possible solution to the tragic opioid epidemic. Its so-called curative powers surprisingly go unquestioned.
Recently, counter indications have come to light. A recent study by the journal Lancet Psychiatry, published this past October, the mental health risks of cannabis outweigh benefits in treating conditions like depression and anxiety.
A previous study last March in the Lancet also showed that cannabis use increases psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.
Two preliminary studies presented this November out of Oklahoma and Virginia at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia tentatively connect cannabis use with doubled stroke risk and heart rhythm disorders.
In September, the journal Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, published a study showing how parental marijuana use spreads to the next generation. Marina Epstein, the study’s lead author is part of the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, noted that chronic users had the worst outcomes in terms of quality of life and health, had less financial stability, tended toward criminal behaviors, and suffered from poor mental health. Parental drug abuse goes to the next generation.
This echoes what God told the Israelites (Exodus 20:5), “Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation.” This study shows that marijuana use victimizes the family.
The Catechism (CCC 2291) describes drug abuse as a sin that harms health and life. Some argue that treating drug abuse as sinful deters people from seeking help. It doesn’t help that the culture views marijuana addiction as a punchline, from Cheech and Chong to the movie about Harold and Kumar going to White Castle to feed their “munchies.” Normalizing destructive behaviors harms society.
St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, addresses care for the body when he says (1 Corinthians 6:18-20), “The immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
The core problem with marijuana use is that it is simply an intoxicant. Marijuana use is about getting “high” — the moral equivalent to getting drunk. Smoking for the “high” abuses the mind and body. It is a form of self-destruction.
Scripture provides ample warning: Noah’s intoxication after the Flood leads to familial division (Genesis 9:20-27); Lot’s drunkenness leads to incest (Genesis 19:30-37). Proverbs warns against getting drunk (Proverbs 20:1, 23:20). St. Paul exhorted the Ephesians to drink in the Holy Spirit rather than drunk with debauchery (Ephesians 5:18). St. Peter urged early Christians to give up carousing and orgies (1 Peter 4:3).
The recent horrific massacre of women and children in Mexico are only the most recent examples of which we are aware in the United States; but Mexico is declining into a failed state because of the money and power of the cartels. Lest we feel like innocent onlookers, CCC 2291 warns against “direct cooperation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.”
The legalization of marijuana is such a form of cooperation, even if it claims to be “harm reduction” and treating the drug as equivalent to alcohol. The point of marijuana is intoxication, while intoxication is a side effect of alcohol in excess. This is the reason why hosts at wineries and breweries turn away drunk customers, because drunkenness is not the purpose of the tastings.
While “clandestine production” is scandalous, putting it out in the open is worse. Trafficking in illegal drugs is wrong, but when the government engages in it, “legality” compounds the problem. The first government-run pot dispensary in North Bonneville, Washington, turns the state into a drug dealer. Drug abuse becomes a state-sanctioned activity.
There are conflicting studies over the effects of legal marijuana on violent crime and youth, but pot smoking, whose purpose is intoxication is immoral. And moral law trumps positive law. Colorado Master Trooper Gary Cutler told a Minnesota CBS affiliate this November that driving while high is the biggest issue in the Rocky Mountain state, which shows how God’s law sets the best conditions for life.
While the U.S. Catholic bishops have consistently opposed marijuana legalization, it has not been articulated clearly to the laity in the pews. According to an April 2013 poll from the Public Religion Research Institute, 46% of Catholics consider pot smoking moral.
However, CCC 2290 states, “The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine. Those who incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.” Pot consumption is inherently intemperate.
Legalized marijuana has encouraged illegal and immoral behaviors. Though cannabis use is allowed in California, more than $1.5 billion worth of illegal marijuana has been seized in the state this year. Xavier Becerra, California’s Attorney General said in a Nov. 4 statement, “Illegal cannabis grows are devastating our communities. Criminals who disregard life, poison our waters, damage our public lands, and weaponize the illegal cannabis black market will be brought to justice.” The violence of Mexican drug cartels shows the steep, true cost of legal drugs. American appetite for legalized pot ensnares us in the viciousness and trafficking of cartels; it is cooperation in evil.
In a culture that glorifies intoxication, it is best to heed the words of St. Peter who said at Pentecost (Acts 2:15-17), “For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.’”
Present-day stressors are so great that many seek solace in intoxication. Jesus Christ and his Church is a refuge to find healing and peace. While society exalts getting “high,” the real answer is found in the Spirit of the Most High God.