Question about Legalizing Marijuana

Question about Legalizing Marijuana October 24, 2014

A reader asks:

Can Catholics support legalizing marijuana based on the Principle of the Toleration of Evil?

I read a blog post arguing that Catholics can support the legalization of marijuana based on the Principle of the Toleration of Evil which the author supports with this quote from Pope Leo XIII:

…as the authority of man is powerless to prevent every evil, it has (as St. Augustine says) to overlook and leave unpunished many things which are punished, and rightly, by Divine Providence. But if, in such circumstances, for the sake of the common good (and this is the only legitimate reason),human law may or even should tolerate evil, it may not and should not approve or desire evil for its own sake; for evil of itself, being a privation of good, is opposed to the common welfare which every legislator is bound to desire and defend to the best of his ability. In this, human law must endeavor to imitate God, who, as St. Thomas teaches, in allowing evil to exist in the world, “neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills only to permit it to be done; and this is good.”

The author concludes his post with this sentence:
So, you need not wonder whether your Catholic faith demands that you oppose marijuana legalization—it doesn’t!

Personally, I don’t support legalizing marijuana, but I’m wondering if this principle is being applied correctly. Can Catholics support legalizing marijuana based on the Principle of the Toleration of Evil?

What are your thoughts?

I think that a case can definitely be made the the War on Drugs–and particularly on marijuana–has created far more evils than it prevents.  I class it with such disastrous social experiments as Prohibition in its cost/benefit ratio.

I do think that some of hard and profoundly destructive drugs–meth, for instance–should be prohibited.

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  • Dave G.

    If that argument was being made in any other time in history, I think I’d pay more attention. Since increasingly we seem happy with an ethic that says ‘as long as it doesn’t directly impact me or mine, eh’, even as the society that encourages this attitude crumbles, I can’t help but think there’s a middle ground between ‘War on Drugs!’ and ‘just legalize pot, we’re sure nothing worse will happen – at least to me.’ I’ve come to realize that a culture that continues to promote or even tolerate our modern attitudes toward drugs and sex, and in an age where both combined have contributed to a body count that would make Mao blush, is a culture that puts far less importance on the lofty principle of solving our problems than its frequent and urgent cries for solutions would suggest.

    • wm97

      Why don’t you share some of those body counts just so everyone can judge the truth of your statements?

      Statements like yours are simply proof that you have never read any of the most basic research on the subject.

  • jroberts548

    I’d be more curious as to which moral principle allows Catholics to support the war on drugs.

    But yes, assuming marijuana use is an evil (and that it shouldn’t be subjected to the same ad usque hilaritem rule as alcohol), toleration of evil permits legalizing weed.

    • kenofken

      I cannot see why it would not fit within that same rule as alcohol, which recognizes the difference between responsible and moderate use and abuse. Pharmacologically, there is nothing which makes marijuana an inherently “harder” drug than wine. It is arguably less so on many measures.

      • Elaine S.

        I had always thought that a Catholic could favor legalization of pot under the moral principle that no substance is inherently evil, only its abuse is evil (that’s why Catholics never totally forbade alcohol, tobacco, gambling, etc. as some other faiths do).

        Alcohol and tobacco are so tightly regulated and taxed these days that I
        see little reason not to simply extend the same restrictions to
        marijuana — no sale to or consumption by minors (under 21), no driving
        under the influence, no smoking in public places (this already applies
        to tobacco in many states and localities), and tax the heck out of it. If we go on the principle that marijuana use in moderation is possible and is not inherently evil, this approach would make sense to me.

        However, if our starting premise is that marijuana use is always evil and the only question is how far can we reasonably go to try to stamp it out, then it is decriminalization, not legalization, that is the appropriate remedy — i.e. rolling back the penalties for possession or use of small amounts to a manageable level that doesn’t overburden the criminal justice system.

        This is an approach we already take with regard to traffic offenses like speeding — there is no way we can send everyone who breaks the speed limit to jail, but neither do we want to just abolish speed limits altogether and let everyone drive as fast as they like. Instead, we allow the police to issue speeding tickets that can, in most cases, be disposed of simply by paying the fine. It’s enough to discourage most people from going too far over the speed limit, but not so draconian that a person’s entire life is ruined with a criminal record if they get busted for speeding. Some localities already take this approach with regard to possession of small amounts of pot — they basically just give the person a ticket and a fine.

        • kenofken

          The problem with decriminalization vs legalization is that you’re still leaving in place massive and violent criminal organizations with the former.

    • sbark

      I’m not sure if your question about which moral principal allows Catholics to support the war on drugs is a serious question or not. Nevertheless, I’ll attempt to answer it.

      Just because something might be permitted doesn’t mean that it is required or wise. I think this falls into the category of prudential judgment. The fact that support might be permitted doesn’t remove any responsibility in the judgment. It means that the decision make must weigh the positives and negatives and make an appropriate judgement.

      In this particular case, I am not in favor of legalization because I don’t think that the result of legalization are likely to be better than the results of criminalization. That is my judgment and other people can and do come to other conclusions.

      The moral principal involved on either side of the question is prudential judgment.

      • jroberts548

        Yes, it’s serious. I should have been more specific. I suppose a Catholic could support marijuana prohibition in Malta or France or a country with a different legal system.

        I don’t see how a Catholic in America can look at the American war on drugs and morally say “This is a morally good thing,” not if they’re honest about the costs of criminalization.*

        I’ve also never heard anyone give an argument as to how marijuana is morally different from alcohol or tobacco, either within Catholic morality or from the perspective of the state.

        *ETA. The war on drugs is a big part of our ballooning prison population. The effects of this have been particularly devastating in the African American community. Even though African-Americans use drugs at the same rate as white people, they’re vastly more likely to go to jail for it.

        • sbark

          The war on drugs has major adverse impacts on our country. The misuse of drugs including pot also has major adverse impacts. Either way, there are major problems. I can understand both the argument that the drug use under legalization is a bigger problem or that the war on drugs is a bigger problem.

          However, I don’t understand how you jump from arguing that a Catholic can support legalization to implying that means that a Catholic must support legalization. As you stated, it can be argued that this is an example where evil can be tolerated. That is a much different argument than stating that it is immoral not to tolerate it.

          • jroberts548

            Most of the harm caused by pot use in this country is the result of it being illegal. If legalized, there’s no evidence that pot is any more harmful than alcohol.

            By contrast, the war on drugs has resulted in mass incarceration, especially of minorities; the militarization of police, and the enrichment of the cartels that supply the black market. The war on drugs hasn’t even significantly affected rates of marijuana, as 38% of Americans, and 47% of American men admit to having smoked marijuana. Criminalization of pot accomplishes literally no good. I’m still unaware of any arguments that it does any good. Criminalization of pot is only an evil.

          • wm97

            “The war on drugs has major adverse impacts on our country. The misuse of drugs including pot also has major adverse impacts.”

            Your assumption being that the war on drugs reduces the problems from drugs. No, it doesn’t. It makes them worse. Alcohol prohibition was the best example.

            ” Either way, there are major problems. I can understand both the argument that the drug use under legalization is a bigger problem or that the war on drugs is a bigger problem.”

            Read the history of the laws. The laws have nothing to do with your assumptions. Start with the short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm

            “However, I don’t understand how you jump from arguing that a Catholic can support legalization to implying that means that a Catholic must support legalization.”

            Should a good Catholic inflict real harm on people who have harmed no one but themselves?

            Putting people in jail for pot inflicts real harm on people who have harmed no one but themselves. Should a good Catholic support that, or oppose it?

            ” As you stated, it can be argued that this is an example where evil can be tolerated. That is a much different argument than stating that it is immoral not to tolerate it.”

            You can tolerate pot smoking, or you can tolerate throwing people in jail for no good reason and doing serious long-term harm to them. Which should a good Catholic tolerate?

            Let’s suppose that someone was cited for littering. That is an offense that has a real harm to others, but not a big one. Smoking a joint doesn’t even do that much harm to others. Would it be moral to take that litterer out and horsewhip them? Would you stand by and tolerate that?

            If you support extreme, unreasonable punishments that seems to me to be about as immoral as you can get.

  • Michaelus

    Marijuana was not illegal in the Papal States…..nor was opium or hashish. People do not engage in mass use of narcotics etc. until society is in a state of decadent despair.

    • Which is exactly why it should be illegal in the United States right now.

  • Mike Hunt

    I’ve always thought the Prohibition analogy was weak. But, it never stopped people from making. Prohibition was a net failure not a gross one. When it was repealed, problems it was designed to fix came back into society with a vengeance.
    That said, Prohibition was still wrong because it was immoral and Protestant.

    • Pete the Greek

      “I’ve always thought the Prohibition analogy was weak. ”
      – I don’t see why. The principle of ‘there is a social problem, let’s not address it but instead ban the substance involved!’ has the same effect, be it alcohol, guns, drugs or what have you.

      “problems it was designed to fix came back into society with a vengeance.”
      – In some ways, the problems came back harder BECAUSE of Prohibition. There are also MANY more numerous problems that were directly caused by Prohibition that are still in effect today. Much of the Federal Government’s overreach that we decry today has some of it’s early seeds planted in this period.

    • malcolmkyle

      Alcohol prohibition in the US ran from 1919–1933
      Where you aware that “The Great Wall Street Crash” happened during this period?

      During alcohol prohibition, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over turf. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have gone on treatment. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?

    • wm97

      Let’s see. During alcohol prohibition, use went up, arrests for public drunkenness and similar crimes set new records, it triggered the biggest teen drinking epidemic ever, it filled the prisons to overflowing and made gangsters rich.

      I guess my question is: What do you see as the difference between a “gross” and a “net” failure?

  • Dan13

    Alcohol can be distinguished from marijuana in that alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, and it is possible that moderate alcohol use has health benefits*. But I think the criminalization of marijuana has done much more harm than good so toleration may be prudent. I also agree with Mark in that harder drugs like meth, heroin, cocaine, etc should remain illegal.

    *There are physicians and scientists who theorize that the correlation between moderate alcohol use and better health is spurious.

    • jroberts548

      You can smoke marijuana in moderation. It is possible that marijuana use has health benefits.

      • Pete the Greek

        WHAT????? Impossible! 😛

      • Procopius

        More than possible, the body of study evidence has substantiated the antiemetic action (for nausea) and reduction of intraocular pressure (for glaucoma) associated with cannabis use.

        • Dan13

          Yes, but its medicinal use is limited to a relatively small set of sick people. Alcohol use is correlated with general health benefits (although that may be spurious because those who drink alcohol in moderation are more likely to eat healthy, exercise, etc.)

          • Pete the Greek

            “Alcohol use is correlated with general health benefits”

            Seems appropriate.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usDuyoec6Lc

          • Most medicines are beneficial only for a relatively small set of sick people.

            But then, most medicines are treated as medicines: studied, regulated, dosed, and prescribed. Many problems might be solved if we treated marijuana the same way.

            That said, the medicinal use of opiates has not solved the problem of heroin.

            These are big problems. The current system causes some of them and solves others badly. But that doesn’t mean that a better system to replace it is obvious.

            • malcolmkyle

              According to the Australian National Drug Research Institute (2003): “The research into the global burden of disease attributable to drugs found, that in 2000, tobacco use was responsible for 4.9 million deaths worldwide, equating to 71 percent of all drug-related deaths. Around 1.8 million deaths were attributable to the use of alcohol (26 percent of all drug-related deaths), and illicit drugs (heroin, cocaine and amphetamines) caused approximately 223,000 deaths (only 3 percent of all drug-related deaths).” Marijuana doesn’t get a mention.

              According to DrugRehabs.Org, national (USA) mortality figures for 2009 were: tobacco 435,000; poor diet and physical inactivity 365,000; alcohol 85,000; microbial agents 75,000; toxic agents 55,000; motor vehicle crashes 26,347; adverse reactions to prescription drugs 32,000; suicide 30,622; incidents involving firearms 29,000; homicide 20,308; sexual behaviors 20,000; all illicit drug use, direct and indirect 17,000; and marijuana 0.

              Researchers led by Professor David Nutt, a former chief drugs adviser to the British government, asked drug-harm experts to rank 20 drugs (legal and illegal) on 16 measures of harm to the user and to wider society, such as damage to health, drug dependency, economic costs and crime. Alcohol scored 72 out of a possible 100, far more damaging than heroin (55) or crack cocaine (54). It is the most harmful to others by a wide margin, and is ranked fourth behind heroin, crack, and methamphetamine (crystal meth) for harm to the individual.

              The American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that in the U.S. alone, an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to “excessive” drinking. The study estimates that the overall cost of excessive drinking by Americans is $223.5 billion each year.

          • kenofken

            Apparently it is emerging in research that marijuana tends to decrease insulin resistance and lower blood sugar. That potentially benefits about 30 million Americans with diabetes plus the 40 percent of millenials who are on track to develop the disease at relatively young ages.

          • wm97

            “Yes, but its medicinal use is limited to a relatively small set of sick people.”

            1) How would you know how relatively small it is?
            2) I will bet that you can’t objectively define the difference between “medical” use and “recreational” use.

            ” Alcohol use is correlated with general health benefits (although that may be spurious because those who drink alcohol in moderation are more likely to eat healthy, exercise, etc.)”

            Yeah, that accounts for all the Budweiser sales. All those girls in bikinis at beach parties are showing off the health benefits of getting ripped on beer. Just FYI, your argument wanders into SillyTown when you get into this.

            • Dan13

              Marijuana helps stimulate appetite in some cancer and AIDS patients. It also can treat a very small segment of those with glaucoma. But these benefits could also perhaps be gained with THC tablets.

              Moderate use of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks a day) is correlated with greater health. But, as I said, this correlation may be spurious.

              • wm97

                “Marijuana helps stimulate appetite in some cancer and AIDS patients. It also can treat a very small segment of those with glaucoma. But these benefits could also perhaps be gained with THC tablets.”

                Then why does the US Government itself distribute big tin cans full of medical marijuana joints to a number of patients each month?

                “Moderate use of alcohol (1 or 2 drinks a day) is correlated with greater health. But, as I said, this correlation may be spurious.”

                The argument is spurious, and a little stupid. Yeah, alcohol, the health food. That’s why they sell so much beer. What would this have to do with the law, or morality, anyway?

    • Hezekiah Garrett

      I don’t know that what Mark says about harder drugs is entirely correct. I mean, Leo XIII and St Pius X were avid coke users. Leo especially loved the stuff.

      en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vin_Mariani

      • Coke has health benefits. The year I got socked in the eye for being a young liberal protesting against the first gulf war in Klamath Falls, they put some in my eye to kill the pain of the surgery.

        And no, it wasn’t the bubbly brown drink either.

      • Fairuse

        The overwhelming majority of recreational “hard drugs” users are not addicted and suffer none of the ills of dependency. Most are occasional “weekend” users. Much like those you may know who only smoke when drinking.

    • Fairuse

      I enjoy cannabis in moderation. One misconception is that cannabis users are either stone sober or stoned out of their gourds. I take 1 or 2 puffs in the evening after work and chores. I remain fully conversational, interactive and cognitive. Only slightly elevated, if not a bit more prone to the giggles.

    • wm97

      “Alcohol can be distinguished from marijuana in that alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation,”

      I have news for you. Most marijuana users will tell you that the reason they like it is because it doesn’t screw up their brain and coordination nearly as badly as alcohol does. All you showed with this statement is that you really don’t understand marijuana at all.

      ” and it is possible that moderate alcohol use has health benefits*.”

      Yeah, that’s why there are so many bars and liquor stores — because everyone drinks it for the health benefits.

      ” But I think the criminalization of marijuana has done much more harm than good so toleration may be prudent.”

      “Toleration” — the English translation of that is “we won’t throw people into jail unless they have actually harmed someone besides themselves.”

      ” I also agree with Mark in that harder drugs like meth, heroin, cocaine, etc should remain illegal.”

      Read Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm

      At one time all the drugs were completely legal with no laws at all. There were no age limits. There were no labeling or purity laws. The stuff was sold over the counter like aspirin today. There were no advertising laws. Sellers claimed their product would cure any problem had by you or your mule. Even the Pope was in ads telling everyone to drink cocaine wine for the wonderful health benefits.

      Even under those conditions, those drugs were not as big a problem as they are today. Read the history.

  • Pete the Greek

    See…. this is why we can’t have nice conversations around here.

  • Pete the Greek
  • I think the case can be made that the federal government is incompetent to actually handle drug addiction at all.

    But an equal case can be made to say that we must. The toleration of evil just results in more evil.

    • wm97

      You don’t understand the history of how these laws came about, do you?

  • There are a number of studies that show that even casual use of cannabis causes brain damage: http://guardianlv.com/2014/04/marijuana-use-does-cause-brain-damage/; http://www.mcri.edu.au/news/2012/august/adolescents-most-at-risk-of-brain-damage-from-long-term,-heavy-cannabis-use.aspx. Additionally, DUI arrests have increased in states where cannabis has been legalized: http://newstalk870.am/coincidence-pot-dui-arrests-up-33-since-legalization-of-marijuana-in-washington-state/; http://www.hightimes.com/read/medical-marijuana-increasing-dui-numbers-az. A search produces many more articles.

    The “war on drugs” has resulted in many evils. Cannabis use resulted in many evils. Two things can be evil at the same time and in the same place. The evils that have come from the “war on drugs” don’t negate the evils that come from cannabis use.

    • Pete the Greek

      I think the argument is that the ‘war on drugs’ has caused and is causing far more catastrophic and long term damage to our country than weed use has.

      Normal, happy people don’t destroy their lives with heroin, meth and crack, just like normal, happy people don’t destroy their lives with continuous gulping of Thunderbird and Ripple.

      If you want to solve a social problem, then you need to look at the social causes and conditions. Ignoring these in favor of simply attacking a substance ends up breeding the mentality that people are mindless creatures controlled by random environmental forces. It’s not a mentality you see much of until the modern era of history.

    • malcolmkyle

      Health concerns regarding marijuana tend to come from a self-fueling group of discredited scientists funded by the pharmaceutical, prison, tobacco, and alcohol industries. They push non-peer-reviewed papers, fraught with conjecture and confounding variables, while relying upon reports issued by others in their own group to further support their own grossly misleading research and clearly biased agendas.

      The Duke University (New Zealand) study, the one which claimed that smoking marijuana in your teens leads to a long-term drop in IQ, has since been utterly rebuked by a new paper, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that examined the research and found its methodology to be flawed.

      “…existing research suggests an alternative confounding model based on time-varying effects of socioeconomic status on IQ. A simulation of the confounding model reproduces the reported associations from the [August 2012 study], suggesting that the causal effects estimated in Meier et al. are likely to be overestimates, and that the true effect could be zero”.

      —Ole Rogeberg.

    • wm97

      ” The evils that have come from the “war on drugs” don’t negate the evils that come from cannabis use.”

      Correct. It means that we shouldn’t use one set of evils to try to correct another. You know, like we shouldn’t use hammers to cure headaches.

  • Hezekiah Garrett

    You know you’re just making it harder for your allies to argue reefer doesn’t impair cognitive function, right?

  • chezami

    You’re not a good argument for the effect of marijuana on brain function.

  • Pete the Greek

    It seems to me that this entire conversation breaks down to something like the following with people who are opposed:

    “Oh, you want to life the legal ban? What’s next? What, shall we just start handing them out to our kids and promoting it in schools!?!?” or something equally stupid.

    No.

    The ONLY thing people who are against the ‘Drug War’ (at least me) are saying is the following:

    “Yes, drug addiction is a problem. However, we also think that turning our society into a police state and throwing every 20 something we catch with a joint in his pocket into the state pen and ruining his life forever with a drug rap sheet is actually a counter productive and causes FAR more harm then benefit. A different way needs to be found.”

    Why does that seem so insane to people?

    • wm97

      Correct. We don’t need to destroy people to save them from drugs. We should not increase the harm done.

  • Fernanda

    I think this issue gets confounded by the fact that there are several issues going on here. First of all, there is the issue of drug use itself. Is marijuana a harmful drug in every circumstance in which it is used? Should people smoke it? Are there other things that are positive which can be done with cannabis? All those related questions.

    Second, there is the issue of given that people shouldn’t use this drug at all (let’s just say for now that it’s really that simple), then who should be in charge of making sure they don’t use it? Should it be the government at any level? Is that really the government’s job?

    Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that marijuana use is immoral under all circumstances and that it’s not the government’s job to enforce doing the right thing–not smoking weed.

    If that is the case, then when one supports marijuana legalization one can be saying it’s not the government’s job to enforce this type of morality and still believe that marijuana use is immoral. I think theoretically that could be a valid Catholic position. I have similar feelings about artificial contraception: I believe it is immoral. However the last thing I would want is the Federal government having the authority to check out what’s in my medicine cabinet. In this situation no one should be using birth control. But we shouldn’t have birth control police either.

    When it comes to getting behind the passing of laws to legalize pot, I think the situation gets even more complicated. You have to look at what’s driving these laws. Is it a pure concern for freedom? Or is it because people want to be able to smoke their weed (or do whatever else they want) and not be held accountable by anyone? If it’s the latter I do think you have to consider what kind of slippery slope such laws and the attitude behind them can start us on. You also want to consider the laws themselves. Are they even well written? Would they actually deliver on any promises to in some ways lessen the immorality of the drug war, for example? In my experience, a lot of laws really don’t accomplish what they say they will do. They are badly written and full of loopholes and only cause more problems. I often vote against laws whose main point I might agree with because they are badly written and I can see the negative unintended consequences too clearly.

    Like all things related to the Catholic faith, you have to look at the big picture. You have to be pretty well versed in what the secular government’s role is in enforcing Catholic morality. This is a concept I’m still learning. I know we don’t want our government trying to force everyone to be a practicing Catholic. On the other hand, there are some aspects of Catholic morality that we believe our government ought to have a role in–preventing and punishing murder, for example. And there is a happy balance somewhere which I am not entirely clear on where it falls.

    I don’t think at this point there is a one size fits all blanket position on whether or not it’s permissible to vote in favor of marijuana legalization. I can totally see it where in one state or county the law for legalization is truly a great law and should be supported, whereas in another state or county it’s a bad law and should be fought. I personally voted against marijuana legalization proposals which hit my ballot a few years ago because while in principle I wasn’t opposed to legalizing pot, I did feel uncomfortable with both the laws themselves and the way in which people were going about promoting them. I felt it was more about libertine pursuits than about true liberty (free from the tyranny of Big Brother). I also felt they were not well written. My no vote was more of a “try again” vote than an “absolutely not ever” vote.

    • wm97

      “Is marijuana a harmful drug in every circumstance in which it is used?”

      According to the US DEA, marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any objective measure it is safer than alcohol, tobacco, and cheeseburgers, among other things. The risk of death from overdose of marijuana is lower than the risk of death from overdose by drinking too much water. You can find the DEA’s statement on the subject at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer under Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.

      “Should people smoke it?”

      That is a personal decision. The better question is: “If someone smokes it, how does this affect your day? What does it matter to you?”

      “Are there other things that are positive which can be done with cannabis?”

      There are too many things to list. Some doctors are now saying that we are in the midst of a cannabis revolution in medicine because of the things we are learning about the beneficial effects of various cannabinoids.

      “Second, there is the issue of given that people shouldn’t use this drug at all (let’s just say for now that it’s really that simple), then who should be in charge of making sure they don’t use it? Should it be the government at any level? Is that really the government’s job?

      “Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that marijuana use is immoral under all circumstances and that it’s not the government’s job to enforce doing the right thing–not smoking weed.”

      Just FYI, the marijuana laws never had anything to do with morality. They were passed for the most lunatic reasons, and every major government commission that has ever studied the subject has said that the marijuana laws do more harm than good. It is not the morality of marijuana use that needs to concern us. We need to be concerned with the morality of our response to marijuana use. Just because marijuana use may be immoral doesn’t mean that we are entitled to do more harm to the person.

      “If that is the case, then when one supports marijuana legalization one can be saying it’s not the government’s job to enforce this type of morality and still believe that marijuana use is immoral.”

      The “morality” of marijuana use is not the point. It never was. The “morality” issue is our extreme response to marijuana use. A sinner may sin, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea to horsewhip them every time they do.

      “I think theoretically that could be a valid Catholic position.”

      What about the harm done by the laws themselves? That is the real point. All the major government commissions have shown that the laws cause a lot of harm in a lot of ways and produce no real good. What is a valid Catholic position on throwing people in jail, seizing their property, and bankrupting them with lawyer fees for a cause that produces no benefit to society?

      “I have similar feelings about artificial contraception: I believe it is immoral.”

      I respect that position. That is your choice. If you feel that way, then don’t use it. But you also have to recognize that is a position that never had anything to do with the law. How do you feel about throwing people in jail for no good reason? Is that moral, or immoral?

      ” However the last thing I would want is the Federal government having the authority to check out what’s in my medicine cabinet.”

      Even the people who voted on and passed the original drug laws agreed with that. There is good evidence that, if Congress had really realized what the bills were about, they never would have passed them in the first place.

      “When it comes to getting behind the passing of laws to legalize pot, I think the situation gets even more complicated. You have to look at what’s driving these laws.”

      It is clear that you don’t really know. Start by reading the short history of the marijuana laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm You will find it quite funny and surprising.

      “Is it a pure concern for freedom? Or is it because people want to be able to smoke their weed (or do whatever else they want) and not be held accountable by anyone?”

      Just FYI, alcohol causes far more of those “accountable” issues than all the illegal drugs combined. Alcohol accounts for about half of all deaths from homicides, suicides, auto accidents, fires, and drowning. It accounts for about half of all domestic abuse, two-thirds of all sexual assaults on children, and up to forty percent of all inpatient hospital care. It has always beat all the illegal drugs combined, and it always will. Marijuana isn’t even a blip on the radar by comparison. You will note that we don’t have any problem holding people accountable for their actions while they are high on alcohol.

      Nobody is escaping any “accountability” that you need to worry about. If they actually harm anyone besides themselves then you don’t need a drug law to deal with them.

      “If it’s the latter I do think you have to consider what kind of slippery slope such laws and the attitude behind them can start us on.”

      So you figured this would be the first step to repealing the drunk driving laws?

      “You also want to consider the laws themselves. Are they even well written? Would they actually deliver on any promises to in some ways lessen the immorality of the drug war, for example?”

      Read the short history of the laws at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm See also the full text of the largest study of the subject ever done by the US Government at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm

      “And there is a happy balance somewhere which I am not entirely clear on where it falls.”

      Read the history of the laws and get back to me on that happy balance stuff. I think you will have some new ideas.

      “I don’t think at this point there is a one size fits all blanket position on whether or not it’s permissible to vote in favor of marijuana legalization. I can totally see it where in one state or county the law for legalization is truly a great law and should be supported, whereas in another state or county it’s a bad law and should be fought. I personally voted against marijuana legalization proposals which hit my ballot a few years ago because while in principle I wasn’t opposed to legalizing pot, I did feel uncomfortable with both the laws themselves and the way in which people were going about promoting them. I felt it was more about libertine pursuits than about true liberty (free from the tyranny of Big Brother). I also felt they were not well written. My no vote was more of a “try again” vote than an “absolutely not ever” vote.”

      Sooooo, when in doubt, vote to continue to throw people in jail for no good reason at all, because you presume that is the moral thing to do. You are thinking, but you really need to read more about the facts of the issue. See the links I have provided.

    • Why not just have a single worldwide six month war on drugs, where we inspect everywhere and eliminate the entire species?

      • wm97

        And kill anyone who gets in the way of our righteous morality campaign, right? Any social problem can be solved if we just kill and jail enough people. Right?

  • Elmwood

    Marijuana isn’t inherently evil, nor is its use. Obviously hemp and hemp oil may have good and useful qualities, so may ingesting the drug itself hence the logic behind medical marijuana. The big question is whether one can use marijuana recreationally without being inebriated.

    I think the big problem is the potency of marijuana now is such that it precludes its legitimate use as a social drug like tobacco or alcohol. Gateway problems aside, legalization would likely be a toleration of evil and could only be justified as preventing greater evils. Our Holy Father seems opposed to these recent international attempts of legalizing marijuana.

    • malcolmkyle

      There are no differences between daily marijuana users and those using no marijuana in their use of the emergency room, in hospitalizations, medical diagnoses, or their health status.

      “Researchers from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) studied 589 adults who screened positive for drug use at a primary care visit. Those patients were asked about their drug use, their emergency room use and hospitalizations, and their overall health status. In addition, information about other medical diagnoses was obtained from their medical records. They found the vast majority of the study sample (84 percent) used marijuana, 25 percent used cocaine, 23 percent opioids and eight percent used other drugs; 58 percent reported using marijuana but no other drugs. They also found no differences between daily marijuana users and those using no marijuana in their use of the emergency room, in hospitalizations, medical diagnoses or their health status.”

      A study at the beginning of the last decade and reported in Scientific American magazine seemed to show that “workers testing positive only for marijuana exhibited absenteeism some 30 percent lower than average”.

      According to a report published by NIDA in 2002, Utah Power and Light actually “spent $215 per employee per year less on the drug abusers in health insurance benefits than on the control group. Those who tested positive at Georgia Power had a higher promotion rate than the company average.”

    • I do not see the point of medical marijuana either. Near as I can tell, it’s snake oil sold as a cure all to gullible idiots.

      • wm97

        So you never read the Drug Czar’s own report on the issue. That is standard for anyone with this opinion.

    • wm97

      Let’s assume that everything you said was correct. It isn’t, but let’s just suppose it was.
      Where did Jesus say that we ought to be in the business of punishing people who have harmed no one but themselves?

    • wm97

      “The big question is whether one can use marijuana recreationally without being inebriated.”
      If you interviewed any significant number of marijuana users you would find that most of them like it precisely because the intoxication never gets more severe than the same buzz someone would get from one or two glasses of wine. It appears that you really don’t know much about the subject.

      “I think the big problem is the potency of marijuana now is such that it precludes its legitimate use as a social drug like tobacco or alcohol.”
      Wrong on its face. It obviously is being used as a social drug like tobacco or alcohol. You really don’t know anything about the subject.
      “Gateway problems aside,”
      You can read the history of the marijuana gateway idea at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/gateway_myth.htm It is, and always was, absolute nonsense. It would earn you a failing grade in any basic class on logic.
      ” legalization would likely be a toleration of evil and could only be justified as preventing greater evils.”
      No, it is a recognition that the laws were absolutely lunacy, passed by lunatics from the very beginning. The only people who support the current laws are those who don’t know anything about the subject and couldn’t pass the most basic factual quiz.
      ” Our Holy Father seems opposed to these recent international attempts of legalizing marijuana.”
      The Holy Father, like you, can’t point to the place that Jesus said we should be punishing people who have harmed no one but themselves.

  • malcolmkyle

    Debating whether a particular drug is harmless or not is missing the whole point. Are drugs like Heroin, Meth or Alcohol dangerous? It simply doesn’t matter, because if we prohibit them then we sure as hell know that it makes a bad situation far worse. If someone wants to attempt to enhance or destroy their lives with particular medicines or poisons, that should be their business, not anybody else’s. Their lives aren’t ours to direct. And, anyway, who wants to give criminals a huge un-taxed, endless revenue stream?

    Why on earth do you think it’s acceptable to want to control certain behaviors, such as the bedroom habits or choice of poison of fully grown adults? Isn’t it high time you evolved enough to get past this c**p? Surely we all need to accept, that the only way to truly be free, is that we agree, in return, to allow other people to be free, even if it offends our personal sensibilities. What’s more; if it’s not directly hurting you and you forbid it, then you can be sure that it will create unforeseen circumstances which WILL have an adverse affect on YOUR wellbeing! —actually, a large proportion of those arising circumstances do not come as such a surprise to those of us who are capable of paying due attention to historical precedent.

    • Dave G.

      And in an age where we are segregated from everyone else except a carefully hand-picked demographic or two, that works. But if we consider the impact of society, our communities, our debt to others as well as our duty to others, then that thinking begins to have issues.

      • wm97

        Tell you what, Dave. Read Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm That is the best overall review of the major issues ever done. It is the one book to read if you only read one on the subject. It tells the story of how these modern problems got started. If you haven’t read it, then you really don’t know the subject.

        Read it and give us another take on the issues when you are done.

        • read my propaganda, don’t mind the gas chamber behind me.

          • wm97

            Yeah, that is about as intelligent as prohibitionists ever get. They really don’t know anything about the subject so they have to make comments like this. Thanks for the demonstration.

    • That looks like regression, not evolution. “I give up, do whatever the hell you want”

      • wm97

        No. It is “It isn’t worth jailing people who have harmed no one but themselves — and Jesus wouldn’t agree with the idea of inflicting harm on people who have harmed no one but themselves, either.”

  • Fairuse

    Immortal, I support your posts all over the netspace, this one not so much.
    I’m not Christian but I know a large spectrum of them and most are moderate, cannabis friendly(or indifferent), supporters of women’s and gay rights. Event the Catholics I know.

  • wm97

    The first thing that everyone ought to understand is that the drug laws never were about morality, or protecting public health and safety. If anyone is looking at this as an issue where laws were put in place to protect our health and safety, our children, or our moral fiber has been bamboozled. The laws were never about those reasons at all.

    Marijuana was outlawed for two major reasons. The first was because “All Mexicans are crazy and marijuana is what makes them crazy. The second was the fear that heroin addiction would lead to the use of marijuana – exactly the opposite of the modern “gateway” nonsense.

    Only one MD testified at the hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. The representative of the American Medical Association said there was no evidence that marijuana was a dangerous drug and no reason for the law. He pointed out that it was used in hundreds of common medicines at the time, with no significant problems. In response, the committee told him that, if he wasn’t going to cooperate, he should shut up and leave.

    The only other “expert” to testify was James C. Munch, a psychologist. His sole claim to fame was that he had injected marijuana directly into the brains of 300 dogs and two of them died. When they asked him what he concluded from this, he said he didn’t know what to conclude because he wasn’t a dog psychologist. Mr. Munch also testified in court, under oath, that marijuana could make your fangs grow six inches long and drip with blood. He also said that, when he tried it, it turned him into a bat. He then described how he flew around the room for two hours.

    Mr. Munch was the only “expert” in the US who thought marijuana should be illegal, so they appointed him US Official Expert on marijuana, where he served and guided policy for 25 years.

    If you read the transcripts of the hearings, one question is asked more than any other: “What is this stuff?” It is quite apparent that Congress didn’t even know what they were voting on. The law was shoved through by a small group of lunatics with no real awareness by anyone else of what was happening.

    See http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/History/whiteb1.htm for an entertaining short history of the marijuana laws.

    See http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/taxact.htm for the complete transcripts of the hearings for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.

    This never was about any real morality. This was about a bunch of lunatics who put these laws in place and then later claimed it was all about morality and protecting us. The real moral issue is that, decades later, we continue to throw people in jail and destroy their lives in the process for no good reason at all.

    • kenofken

      It was instituted by prohibition cops and agency heads who needed a job and a justification for their budgets.

    • Pete the Greek

      From what I understand from reading period literature too, it might have the horrible affect of seducing our white women into sleeping with those dirty minorities!!

      Yeah, lot of common sense went into that discussion.

  • wm97

    The question of what to do about drugs is not a new one. Over the last 100 years there have been numerous major government commissions around the world that have studied the drug laws and made recommendations for changes. You can find the full text of all of them at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer under Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy.

    They all reached remarkably similar conclusions, no matter who did them, or where, or when, or why. They all agreed that the current laws were based on ignorance and nonsense, and that the current policy does more harm than good, no matter what you assume about the dangers of drugs. You don’t have to take my word for that. Read them yourself.

    If you are new to the collection, start with Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm That is the best overall review of the drug problem ever written. If you only read one book on the subject, make it that one. It will give you a good summary of what you would learn if you read all the other major reports.

    In 1973, President Nixon’s US National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse completed the largest study of the drug laws ever done. At the end of their study, they said the real drug problem was not marijuana, or heroin, or cocaine. The real drug problem, they said, was the ignorance of our public officials who keep spouting off with solutions but have never read the most basic research on the subject.

    In a perfect illustration of their point, Nixon refused to read his own commission’s report. The full text can be found at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/nc/ncmenu.htm

  • Jonk

    I’ve always rolled my eyes at the conspiracy theorists and the folks trying to evangelize that pot makes you awesomer. But, in this case the pro-legalization crowd is on to something.

    Marijuana can be used in a controlled environment to achieve a good, say, in non-opioid pain relief. Therefore, it’s not inherently evil.

    Prohibition, on the other hand, results in militarized police, militarized, wealthy, and extra-legal drug cartels, and, most damning, it results in the users being removed from their communities.

    By that last point, I don’t just mean that they’re tossed in jail. I mean that the illegal status of their activities separates them from their friends and families who would otherwise help them. Removing people from legal society makes them prey to criminal society. It’s been the MO for organized crime for years, from the Mafia to the Taliban to the Zetas. Continued prohibition encourages that behavior, which increases the influence of the cartels and reduces the ability of people to depend on legal social institutions. That is the inherent evil of prohibition, and that’s why it needs to end.

    • wm97

      As one major study observed, the more dangerous you assume the drugs to be, the more important it becomes to treat them in a non-criminal manner. The reason is that making them criminal just drives the problems underground where it is harder for ordinary social services to deal with them. Like the lessons of alcohol prohibition, for example.

  • bob

    I think the best part about the legalization question involves criminal actions. Now there will *be no more crime* since people are assumed to be stupid enough to buy a substance at around $12,000 a pound that they can also grow in their basement. Even pot smokers can figure this out. Maybe you have to smoke a lot of it for this to make sense so I’ll never know. Assuming (big assumption) that all “former” pot growers/sellers were now out of business, what will they do *now*? Oh, teach cello? Become doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, bricklayers, welders? Gee, does anyone think they might possibly simply go into other criminal means of making a living? That having been a criminal for so long it might just be the way they decide to keep on getting money? What other examples of instant repentance and rehabilitation are there to show what the pot utopians have in mind? You have to smoke even more to actually think of asking your priest about whether it’s a “good idea” or not.

    • jroberts548

      They’ll either convert their operations to being legal or find something else to do. Some of them will continue breaking the law. So? How is this an argument for prohibition? “We can’t change this law that serves no purpose because people are already breaking it! What will they do if they’re no longer breaking the law?!?!?!”

      With continued prohibition, everyone involved in the drug trade is breaking the law, and will continue to do so. With legalization, some people presently involved in the illegal drug trade will join the legal drug trade, some will find other legal work, and others will move on to other illegal trades. Legalization still results in their being fewer people breaking the law. As prohibition continues, more people will join the illegal drug trade. If you don’t want people plying illegal trades, you should be all for legalization.

    • wm97

      “Now there will *be no more crime*”

      Who, besides you, ever said anything that dumb?

      ” since people are assumed to be stupid enough to buy a substance at around $12,000 a pound that they can also grow in their basement.”

      1) If you are paying 12Gs per pound then you need a new connection.
      2) There have been thousands of stores openly selling it in California for more than ten years now. As it turns out, most people don’t have the time, skill, or facilities to grow it, so they buy it at the store. You know, same as they do with alcohol, even though they are free to make wine or beer whenever they want.

      ” Even pot smokers can figure this out.”

      It appears that they are already way ahead of you.

      ” Maybe you have to smoke a lot of it for this to make sense so I’ll never know.”

      Well, it might be worthwhile for you to learn something about the subject, however you did it. As it is, you don’t seem to know much.

      ” Assuming (big assumption) that all “former” pot growers/sellers were now out of business, what will they do *now*? Oh, teach cello? Become doctors, lawyers, physical therapists, bricklayers, welders? ”

      Most of the ones I know seem to want to go into the legal sale of marijuana. Get the license, that sort of thing.

      “Gee, does anyone think they might possibly simply go into other criminal means of making a living?”

      So your argument is that we need to keep weed illegal and highly profitable for them because, if we don’t then they will do something worse. So marijuana prohibition is really a full employment plan for criminals. Right?

      “That having been a criminal for so long it might just be the way they decide to keep on getting money?”

      Actually, it seems to be a popular way to pay for the expenses of college. They usually wind up in the corporate life, just like everyone else. You might even have heard of some of them like the founders of Microsoft, Richard Branson, etc.

      ” What other examples of instant repentance and rehabilitation are there to show what the pot utopians have in mind?”

      Well, since this seems to be coming entirely from your imagination, I wouldn’t have any idea what other examples you might have, other than the standard Reefer Madness zombies running through the streets.

      “You have to smoke even more to actually think of asking your priest about whether it’s a “good idea” “or not.”

      Yeah, that would be like asking the priest for advice on sex. He simply wouldn’t know enough about the subject to give an intelligent response. You know, like you on the subject of pot.

  • As the author of the piece, thank you to the asker and to Mr. Shea.

    I’ve read through the comments here, and I’m happy to see the dialogue. If anyone has any questions for me, I would be happy to see them over at the site of the original article.

    Pax.

    • Replying just to keep this in mind. I’m waiting until AFTER Oregon’s election- I think that maybe people raised in rural areas have a vastly different definition of the usefulness of toleration of evil than those raised in urban areas. In fact, now that I think about it, there’s definitely a difference in that “virtue” when you have police a minute or two from your doorstep and have to get along with many people of many different beliefs in a small space, vs when the nearest official governmental response is 20 minutes to two days away and your closest neighbor is a good half mile run.

      When it comes to Oregon’s Measure 92, well, urban people in Oregon occupy 1/10th the land but are now 66% of the population. Rural concerns and traditional communities do not fare well in Oregon’s elections.

  • wm97

    “I do think that some of hard and profoundly destructive drugs–meth, for instance–should be prohibited.”
    Like all the other “hard” drugs, meth only became a major problem in society after it was outlawed. See “How Speed Was Popularized” in Licit and Illicit Drugs at http://druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/cu/cumenu.htm
    The moral of the story is that prohibition never was about protecting society from dangerous drugs. If that was the case, then alcohol would be the first drug to be outlawed. But we tried that with alcohol and proved conclusively that prohibition only makes matters worse. Prohibition is not control. Prohibition is the complete lack of control.

  • wm97

    Some actual facts about how “evil” things really are. The deaths from drugs in the US each year are approximately:
    Tobacco – 400,000
    Cheeseburgers (obesity) – 350,000
    Alcohol – 100,000
    Prescription drugs – 50,000
    All the illegal drugs combined, from all related causes – less than 20,000
    Cocaine – 5,000
    Heroin – 3,000
    Aspirin, Tylenol, etc. – 3,000
    Water overdose deaths (drinking too much, not drowning) – 100
    Marijuana – 0
    In addition, alcohol accounts for about half of all deaths from auto accidents, homicides, suicides, fires, and drowning. It also accounts for about half of all domestic abuse, two-thirds of all sexual assaults on children and up to 40 percent of all inpatient hospital care. According to the US DOJ, it is the ONLY drug with any real connection to drug-induced violence.
    On the other hand, even the DEA admits that marijuana is not connected to any such problems.
    So how exactly do people here determine what is “evil”?