Guam archbishop: Marijuana proposal should be nipped in the bud

Marijuana leaf Credit Mr Green via wwwshutterstockcom CNA 12 18 15 Mr. Green / Shutterstock.

The head of the Catholic Church in Guam has expressed strong opposition to a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana, which this week has been a center of debate by the country's legislators.

In a March 25 statement, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Agaña, Michael Byrnes, said the Guam Cannabis Industry Act of 2019 will harm the general welfare of the island.

"Certainly it will adversely affect the common good of our families, marriages, youth, government organizations, businesses and the very identity of our island as a family-oriented community," said Byrnes.

Bill 32 was introduced by Sen. Clynt Ridgell in January 2019. The bill is currently being debated by lawmakers following a public hearing on the issue.

Byrnes said many of Guam's people already struggle with substance abuse, and a greater promotion of marijuana will not alleviate the situation.

"While the Catholic Church permits the use of some drugs for therapeutic purposes such as relieving pain and nausea, it is clear about the evils of drug abuse," he said, warning that many people who use marijuana are seeking an escape from the burdens and responsibilities of life.

Calling the proposal a "false solution" that will only lead to more problems, the archbishop stressed that what Guam needs is for people to be more present and attentive in their various walks of life – as students, employees, family members, and youth.

"Rather than escape, we need engagement," he said.

He cited passages in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that emphasize the virtue of temperance and instruct that the use of drugs, "except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense."

While the bill would allow for the legal use of marijuana only by those age 21 and over, Byrnes said underage users will be affected as well.

He pointed to a survey by the CDC's High School Youth Risk Behavior, which reported that 49 percent of high school students in Guam have used marijuana, 10 percent more than students on the U.S. mainland.

Byrnes said other studies have shown that long-term abuse of marijuana, when initiated at a young age, is especially detrimental to brain development and can also become addictive.

"We need our youth and our young adults – people of all ages – to be fully engaged in the various activities of their lives and our communities," he said.

The legalization of marijuana has seen engagement from both sides of the issue. A petition at has received more than 800 signatures in opposition to the bill. However, a separate petition on the website has received more than 3,000 signatures in favor of it.
Archbishop Byrnes said the bill's passing will "only harm the common good of our island, not enhance it."

"As a community already riddled with a drug problem of epidemic magnitude, we need to focus on reducing the presence of illegal drugs and substances that intoxicate our people, not aid their proliferation."

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