Hashing out a Catholic response
Pope Francis has spoken out against even the partial legalization of so-called “soft drugs.”
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!” the pope said in a 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.
“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise … Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”
While the Catholic Church does not teach that the use of marijuana specifically is inherently sinful, paragraph 2291 of the Catechism speaks about the use of drugs in general, describing as a “grave offense” their use apart from strictly therapeutic reasons. It also states in paragraph 2211 that the political community has a duty to protect the security and health of families, especially with respect to drugs.
“The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life,” the Catechism says.
Jared Staudt, a theologian and professor at the Augustine Institute in Denver, disagrees with the view that marijuana is similar to alcohol. He told CNA that the use of marijuana to get “high” would be morally equivalent to the abuse of alcohol, as both impair the proper use of reason, which is at the center of human dignity and our ability to make free and rational choices.
“We are often told that we should not legislate morality and that if someone chooses to consume drugs they should be permitted to do so,” Staudt said in written answers to CNA.
“The kind of moral libertarianism, however, degrades our society … The whole purpose of society and law is to achieve real goods together.”
The use of marijuana to get high can lead people to “check out” and escape the difficulties of life, rather than take responsibility and turn to God for strength, Staudt said.
“As more people in our country use drugs, this only accelerates our cultural decline as more people refuse to sacrifice themselves for greater goods, committing themselves to family life and the work needed to build up society,” he said.
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Staudt’s native Colorado — which was one of the first states to legalize recreational weed, in 2012 — has seen demonstrably higher rates of teen marijuana usage, traffic accidents, homelessness, and drug-related violence since legalization.
“If something is harmful to one’s bodily, moral, and spiritual health then the Church must oppose it for the good of the soul. Society also has a responsibility not to affirm as good something that is actually harmful, which is happening all too often,” Staudt said.
“When something is legalized, it communicates a message that it is not problematic. The penalties associated with the use of drugs, however, is another matter, and it is possible for someone to hold that the penalties for marijuana use have been too harsh.”