Oklahoma voters reject marijuana legalization

marijuana OpenRangeStock/Shutterstock

Oklahomans on Tuesday night overwhelmingly voted down a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana, which the Catholic bishops of the state had urged voters to reject because of the physical and spiritual harms of drug use.

State Question 820, which would have legalized the consumption of marijuana for adults 21 and over, was put before Oklahoma voters in a special election March 7. The final tally was 62% no to 38.3% yes, with a turnout of about 25% of registered voters, the Associated Press reported.

The vote continues a recent trend of conservative-led states rejecting marijuana ballot measures, despite analyst predictions that marijuana legalization has, for the past decade or so, largely been a winning issue no matter what state it is introduced in. At the midterm elections in November 2022, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota rejected measures put before them to legalize recreational pot while Missouri and Maryland approved theirs. Catholic bishops in all of those states had urged voters to reject marijuana legalization.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level but has been legalized for recreational use in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Supporters of State Question 820 had argued that the state would benefit financially from a likely influx of Texans from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex who would travel to Oklahoma to avail themselves of legal marijuana. Oklahoma already has, since 2018, one of the most liberal medical marijuana programs in the country, with roughly 10% of the state’s adult population having a medical license, the AP reported.

The Catholic Conference of Oklahoma, representing Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City and Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa, strongly urged voters to reject the measure, citing the well-documented harms to society, children, and the family associated with the proliferation of marijuana.

“As a result of our current lax marijuana laws, Oklahoma is now the largest exporter of illegal marijuana in the country,” the conference wrote in a March 1 post on social media.

“We can’t let our children grow up in a state where marijuana is commonplace. Use of the drug is harmful to developing adolescent brains and is associated with an increased risk for depression, suicide, and psychosis. Chronic marijuana use is associated with cognitive impairment, degenerated academic performance, and short- and long-term memory deficits.”

The marijuana measure in Oklahoma proved contentious. Law enforcement groups as well as numerous state lawmakers, including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, announced their opposition to the measure, citing in part a rise in crime associated with the illegal growing and shipping of marijuana out of Oklahoma. In addition, instances of accidental marijuana poisoning of children in Oklahoma have risen sharply since the state legalized it for medical use.

What does the Catholic Church teach about marijuana?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the use of drugs apart from strictly therapeutic reasons is a “grave offense” (No. 2291). Paragraph 2211 of the catechism also states that the political community has a duty to protect the security and health of families, especially with respect to drugs.

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. … Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.”

In November 2016, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences held a meeting at the Vatican with international experts, led and inspired by Pope Francis and Queen Silvia of Sweden, to discuss the worldwide drug epidemic and provide recommendations.

“The international epidemic is led by a globalized network of criminals and legal business interests, with children and youth as their primary targets,” the conference’s final statement reads.

The statement recommended the rejection of “drug legalization for recreational purposes as a hopeless, mindless strategy that would consign more people, especially the disadvantaged, youth, the poor, and the mentally ill, to misery or even death while compromising civil society, social stability, equality, and the law.” It also called for authorities to “educate the public with up-to-date scientific information on how drugs affect the brain, body, and behavior, to clarify why legalization of marijuana and other drugs for recreational use is poor public policy, poor public health policy, and poor legal policy.”

More in US

St. John Paul II spoke against the legalization of drugs in a 1997 address to a colloquium on chemical dependency.

“Some are of the opinion that the production and sale of certain drugs should be legalized. Certain authorities are prepared to do nothing, seeking merely to limit drug consumption by trying to control its effects. Consequently, in school the use of certain drugs is becoming common; this is encouraged by talk that tries to minimize the dangers, especially by distinguishing between soft and hard drugs, which leads to proposals for liberalizing the use of certain substances,” the saint noted.

“This distinction disregards and downplays the risks inherent in taking any toxic product, especially behavioral dependency, which is based on the psychic structures themselves, the blurring of conscience, and the loss of one’s will and freedom, whatever the drug.”

Beyond the spiritual effects, ample scientific evidence exists on the physical risks of using marijuana, especially for the developing brains of young people. Reports from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have found that marijuana impairs short-term memory and judgment and distorts perception, meaning it can impair performance in school or at work and make it dangerous to drive.

Marijuana also affects brain systems that are still maturing through young adulthood, NIDA said, so regular use by teens may have negative and long-lasting effects on their cognitive development. Marijuana use is also associated with an increased risk of alcohol use disorders, nicotine dependence, marijuana use disorder, and other drug use disorders, NIDA found. Research has also shown that pregnant women who use marijuana have a 2.3 times greater risk of stillbirth.

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.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.