Smoke rises during the annual marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, April 20. Msgr. Frank Leo, general secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, says with the exception of cannabis use for medicinal purposes, consuming marijuana violates the virtue of temperance and should be avoided. CNS photo/Chris Wattie, Reuters

Marijuana use will still be a sin after becoming legal, bishops say

By  Deborah Gyapong, Canadian Catholic News
  • June 25, 2018

OTTAWA – Marijuana use across Canada may soon be legal in the eyes of the law, but it will remain a sin in the eyes of the Church, warn Canada’s bishops.

With the exception of cannabis use for medicinal purposes, consuming marijuana violates the virtue of temperance and should be avoided, according to Msgr. Frank Leo, General Secretary of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The virtue of temperance, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ‘disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine’,” said Leo. “In a particular way, the Catechism underscores that the use of any drug, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is also a ‘grave offence’ — for the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.” 

After the Liberal government’s Cannabis Act received Royal Assent in the Senate on June 21, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced recreational use of marijuana will cease to be a crime as of Oct. 17. Canada is the second country in the world, following Uruguay, to legalize the drug nation-wide.

Under the law, those over 18 years old can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, cultivate up to four marijuana plants per household and can use cannabis to prepare edible products. It will be sold in regulated outlets.

Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, whose cathedral opens onto a view of Parliament Hill, said that unlike many others, he is not “hailing” the legalization. 

“Recreational use of substances—whether marijuana, other drugs and opioids—is part of a continuum of consumption of substances that allow people to escape what they regard as the burdens and challenges of life,” said Prendergast. 

“Bishops, priests, catechists, youth and pastoral care workers will need to give teaching on temperance and how it comes into play in the decisions we take,” he said. “Guidelines for confessors should help them assist penitents with wise guidance in this matter,”comparing it to “addressing other contemporary problems such as the plague of pornography.”

The archbishop stressed that parents play an important role in steering children away from the drug.

“Parents try and discourage their teens from smoking and underage drinking, so how is marijuana use different? They also counsel young adults about overindulging in alcohol, drinking to get drunk or binge drinking.

“Our bodies are ours to use but we have to account one day to the Lord as to how we took care of them and what we did with them,” he said. “Is it a good idea to knowingly use a substance that produces harmful effects? Is this wise stewardship?”

Both Prendergast and Leo stressed the serious health effects of marijuana use, especially on the young. Those aged 12 to 18 are prohibited from possessing more than five grams (about 7 to 10 marijuana cigarettes).

The CCCB issued a statement in 2017 on the opioid crisis that also called the intent to legalize marijuana “unwise” and “potentially dangerous.” 

“The very significant health risks associated with the use of cannabis are widely recognized, particularly in young people,” the statement said. “They include the heightened risk of heart attack, stroke, all of the respiratory and carcinogenic pathologies associated with tobacco smoke, and a multitude of psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia.

“Studies have pointed to marijuana as a ‘gateway drug,’ underscoring the propensity of users to consume it in combination with other licit and illicit drugs, including some which may be ‘harder,’” the statement said. “At a time when so many resources are already being spent to discourage recreational tobacco use, it is difficult to comprehend the disregard for public safety entailed in legalizing marijuana, which is arguably much more dangerous.”

The Catechism calls the production and trafficking of drugs scandalous practices which “constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law,” Leo said. “To this latter point might be added the legalization of drugs for recreational purposes, for this legalization risks being another way to proliferate seriously addictive substances as well as to condone practices which harm individuals and society as a whole.”

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