In recent years, the general public’s perception of the acceptability of recreational drug use, particularly in the form of marijuana, has increased. This follows the same trend of tolerating behaviors that were once taken for granted as inherently immoral. For the present situation, what is the problem with a little drug use here and there? Does it not only impact the individual user? From a moral standpoint, is it not a “victimless crime” and subsequently a “personal sin”? Is this the Catholic Church trying to keep people from having fun again, shutting down yet another society-wide party?
Some posit that the ingestion of certain narcotics is no worse than social drinking in moderation (recalling that, from a Christian perspective, while alcoholism is an obvious scourge, the consumption of alcohol in moderate quantities is permissible – after all, Jesus did not turn that water into milk during the Wedding at Cana [John 2:1-12]). The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the distinct problem of drugs under the heading “Respect for Health” in paragraphs 1288-1291.
Although the Catechism does not delineate particular types of drugs, paragraph 1291 gives the most specific description of the moral adversity of drugs generally: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.” In essence, the use of recreational drugs harms not only the individual, but also the individual’s family (especially children) and society (especially by way of the affront to the public’s wellbeing, such as in the form of automotive safety).
During the nationwide general elections of Tuesday, November 8, 2016, ballot measures resulted in recreational marijuana use becoming legal in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada, joining various other states in which marijuana is legal to at least some degree. However, what does the Catholic leadership in the United States say about the problem of marijuana in particular? It turns out that their opposition is just as valid following the elections as it was beforehand. Ultimately, we should reflect on the words of Saint Paul: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Here are some resources to better understand why we should not partake in drugs, even if they are legalized:
California Bishops: Legalizing Marijuana Hurts Kids, the Poor (Catholic News Agency)
Massachusetts Bishops’ Statement on the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana (Massachusetts Catholic Conference)
Cardinal [Seán O’Malley] Releases Video Series on Question 4 (The Pilot newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston); here are the videos featuring Cardinal O’Malley, by way of Boston Catholic, the Archdiocese of Boston, and the CatholicTV Network):
Although the ballot measures passed, and there will most likely be continued efforts to legalize marijuana and other drugs in the near future, the words from the November 9, 2016 Statement of the Archdiocese on Question 4 are both ominous yet alluding to hope, as the Church continues her mission of leading the faithful to embrace God’s plan for their true flourishing: “Anticipating significantly increased demands on many of the Archdiocese’s social service and assistance programs, due to the documented effects of widespread marijuana use, we will continue to as best possible provide for the needs of the people we serve.”