Stock photo of marijuana plants. As a petition in Arizona pushes for a vote on the legalization of recreational pot usage, the state's bishops have spoken out against the movement. Photo/Pixabay

Arizona bishops oppose legal marijuana initiative headed for ballot

By  Nancy Wiechec, Catholic News Service
  • July 12, 2016

TUCSON, Ariz. – Arizona's Catholic bishops said they oppose an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state because it is harmful to children and families.

"Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana sends a message to children and young people that drug use is socially and morally acceptable," they said in a joint statement dated June 30. "As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on the children and families of Arizona."

Bishops Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix, Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, James S. Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, whose diocese includes parts of northeastern Arizona, and Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo A. Nevares of Phoenix signed the statement, which came after proponents gathered nearly 260,000 signatures to place the matter before Arizona voters.

The secretary of state still must certify the petitions before the initiative can be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The Arizona Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act would allow adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, to consume marijuana in private and to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. It would establish state controls over the licensing and sale of retail marijuana and enact a 15 percent tax on retail sales of the psychotropic drug. Under the act, public use of marijuana would remain illegal in Arizona.

Supporters of the initiative say it will make communities safer by allowing law enforcement to focus on "more serious crimes," provide additional revenue for education and create new jobs. They contend the drug is less harmful and less addictive than alcohol.

The Arizona bishops pointed to unnamed studies that show marijuana use has adverse effects on the brains of adolescent users. Their statement also said that there has been increase in the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin and other negative consequences in states with legal marijuana use.

"It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, more emergency room visits, more traffic deaths, and more societal costs," the bishops' statement said.

Similar measures to legalize marijuana use also will appear before voters in California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts Nov. 8.

Other U.S. bishops have spoken out against legalizing the use of pot. At least one has spoken in favor of the legalization of the drug for medical use.

In May, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, urged state lawmakers to reject a bill that would legalize recreational use of marijuana. Lawmakers failed to vote on the bill by the close of session in June.

Among his arguments, Bishop Tobin cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states, "The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense."

He also said there are societal concerns, such as the "numbing effect" widespread marijuana use can have on a community, and shared an anecdote about "zombielike individuals" in Colorado, considered one of the easiest places to obtain cannabis. Voters there approved legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012.

In April, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, made news for lending support to an effort in that state to expand a 2014 law that allowed patients with epilepsy to use marijuana oil but left them no means to obtain it.

"I believe now is the time to help suffering Iowans and their families get access to this medicine," Bishop Pates said.

The Iowa bill was defeated in the state's House of Representatives.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes is legal and regulated in Arizona, 24 other states and the District of Columbia. Besides Colorado, three other states – Washington, Oregon and Alaska – and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Federal law prohibits the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana. It applies to offenses committed on federal property.

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