“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.”
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.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.