Smoke rises during the annual marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, April 20, 2018. CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters

Editorial: Pot-ful of trouble

  • July 4, 2018

Canada’s bishops typically are cautious when passing comment on public policy. So they grabbed our attention when, in the first paragraph of a recent press release, the bishops predicted Canada’s new marijuana law will have “disastrous effects” on society.

We wish they were wrong but believe they are right.

The statement from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was released after the Cannabis Act received royal assent June 21, and after the prime minister invited Canadians to legally light up starting Oct. 17, the day recreational marijuana use becomes legal. It is a seriously flawed piece of legislation in that it disregards the documented harm that legal pot will inflict on public health, family life and spiritual wellbeing. 

Heavyweight organizations opposed to legalization include the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association and the Canadian Paediatric Society. They join a long list of social agencies and religious groups that understand the physical and spiritual damage cannabis inflicts on society, particularly among the young and the poor, in terms of addiction, mental health and respiratory illness. On top of that is the heartbreak drugs exact on families and the havoc impaired drivers cause on roadways.

“It is lamentable that the federal government has decided to facilitate the provision and use of an addictive substance that will have disastrous effects for so many people,” read the bishops’ statement.

We fear that the bishops are right when they warn legalized cannabis will contribute nothing to help create more just and humane communities, but will only “exacerbate or multiply” the many existing ills of society. This is particularly true among young people, where incidents of anxiety, depression and suicide, particularly within Indigenous communities, are already at alarming levels. 

Politicians argue that legalizing cannabis and trusting governments to regulate its distribution will eliminate illegal sellers and put organized criminals out of business. Fat chance. The only way street dealers will disappear is if legal weed and its by-products are superior in quality, cheaper in price and available in more places than street drugs. That won’t happen with debt-ridden governments setting the price on products that inevitably will be taxed like alcohol and cigarettes.

The bishops are astute when they lament the shaky logic of trying to eliminate the social and moral evil of illegal drugs by capitulating and normalizing drug use. It’s like proposing to end the illegal gun trade by allowing guns in every home. Surely it is obvious that society is made worse, not better, by making dangerous substances fashionable and commonplace. 

This law is bad on many levels. The bishops are right to be concerned. We all should be.

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

The greatest sin in the world is the Vatican Child Rape program and the cover up by the Pope.

Comment was last edited about 1 year ago by Ena Goquiolay STOP Vatican Child Rape
This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

I'm a proud Catholic and I love my Bishops; but I am disappointed the statement is so strong about marijuana being a sin, when there isn't (a) proof in a scriptural sense, and (b) we the Church still support substance use that has proved to be...

I'm a proud Catholic and I love my Bishops; but I am disappointed the statement is so strong about marijuana being a sin, when there isn't (a) proof in a scriptural sense, and (b) we the Church still support substance use that has proved to be harmful, such as alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol other than sacramental wine (which is no longer truly "wine" when it is consecrated) has been crafted by religious orders for centuries, including wines, and trappist beers, among many, many others. Yet we know that the population at large has a hard time using alcohol with good judgement or moderation, which is why we have so much need for substance abuse programs, or police doing regular DUI checks on the highway for drunk drivers. Liver disease is caused by over consumption of alcohol, along with other harms to the body and brain. And Blessed Matt Talbot went to his priest for help with addiction to alcohol, which formed the start of the 12 Step program that eventually became Alcoholics Anonymous, among other addictions programs. So: Why has the Church not stated that even hard liquors are a sin? Nor have we had strong words about cigarette use from the bishops, or open words condemning cigarettes; or, conveniently, how many bishops smoke cigarettes. Yet Marijuana is the target of words like "sin" or addiction. This is sadly misinformed, as unlike alcohol or nicotine we know that pot is NOT addictive. It is a halucinogen that does not act upon the misolimbic reward pathways of the brain. Alcohol has a much stronger effect on the brain and the reward mechanism, and nicotine directly acts upon it. Pot? No.
Scripture quotes Christ as saying "it's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you; you are defiled by the words that come out of your mouth." (Matthew 15:11), and the vision of St. Peter where he is permitted to eat any of the creatures on the Earth (acts 10:11), which was about animals and freeing Christians to eat non-Kosher meat; but I would be happy to learn of any plants forbidden by Kosher laws in scripture.
My point is, this kind of statement from the Bishops seems to be more about appeasing politics and seeming as much like a Freudian super-ego as they can, than it is about the truth or fact. It means that people who know more about the topic are turned off by the lack of nuance. Or, worse, that people who have issues but smoke pot will turn away from the healing love of the Mother Church when they need it most. We cannot, must not, give blanket statements from our too-human comfort zone. The call of the Bishops is a holy one, being the call to change from Simon into Peter, from Saul to Paul. I hope they will consider that, and call upon more than just people who disapprove as a knee-jerk instinct when considering policy moving into the future. I don't personally like pot use, but what it does for me and what I've seen it do for people with very different physiological responses - like people who need it to manage pain - are not the same thing. I would be causing harm to tell those in pain that their medication is sinful, when really it's just one of many substances.

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