.- This Election Day, voters in multiple U.S. states will consider several proposals to legalize drugs, ranging from medical and recreational marijuana to harder drugs. Catholic bishops in several states have said voters should look to Pope Francis’ warnings that legalization is ‘highly questionable,’ as it becomes a compromise with drug addiction.
The Oregon Catholic Conference “strongly opposes” Ballot Measure 110, which would decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of controlled substances including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. It would reduce penalties for possession of large amounts of such controlled substances.
“The Oregon Catholic Conference firmly supports treatment and rehabilitation for all those suffering from addictions. We encourage you to get behind solid programs and not accept an initiative that promotes the use of illegal drugs,” the bishops said.
“Pope Francis has unequivocally stated that drug use is incompatible with human life,” the conference said in a flier. It cited the pope’s 2014 address to the International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome.
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” the pope said. “To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem. 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.”
According to the Oregon Catholic Conference, local communities and treatment groups have expressed reservations about how the program will be applied under Ballot Measure 110. Other critics have said decriminalization of the drugs would cause more addiction by making drugs easier to acquire and by removing law enforcement and the courts from drug regulation, the New York Times reports.
“The treatment options the measure provides will be primarily funded by diverting marijuana tax revenues away from education, alcohol/drug abuse prevention and law enforcement,” said the Catholic conference, citing the Oregon Secretary of State’s financial impact evaluation of the measure.
Major backers of the measure include the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance, which previously backed the successful 2014 Oregon ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of social media giant Facebook, and his wife Priscilla Chan have backed the measure through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports.
The text of the proposed act cites poor access to drug addiction treatment compared to other states. Backers of the measure argue that reduced arrests and incarceration will provide savings that can be used to make addiction treatment more widely available and free of charge. They also say drug crimes are disproportionately enforced against racial minorities.
Oregon has already legalized marijuana, which is a talking point in the proposed act.
“Oregon now receives more than $100 million in marijuana tax revenue a year,” it says. “The amount of marijuana revenue is expected to grow by more than $20 million per year.”
Oregon voters will also consider ballot Measure 109, which would legalize psilocybin, a psychoactive compound found in some mushrooms, for mental health treatment. Though the FDA has deemed psilocybin a potential breakthrough therapy for major depression, studies are inconclusive. The American Psychiatric Association and the Oregon Psychiatric Physicians Association both oppose the measure, saying proponents overstate the drug’s usefulness in treating many phenomena including anxiety and addiction, according to the New York Times.
In South Dakota, voters will consider Amendment A, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years and older. It would legalize possession or distribution of up to one ounce of the drug. It would require the state legislature to pass laws providing for a medical marijuana program and the sale of hemp.
Like the bishops of Oregon, the South Dakota Catholic Conference cited Pope Francis’ June 2014 remarks to drug enforcement agencies. The conference also noted the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s paragraph 2291, which teaches that drug use “inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.”
The conference said on its website that marijuana use overstimulates the nervous system while also decreasing high-functioning rational thought.
“Often these effects are accompanied by others, including distorted sensory perception or hallucinations, irrational anxiety or panic, diminished motor control and slowed reactions, and reduced learning and memory,” South Dakota’s bishops said. “Studies have shown that impaired cognitive function continues into the workweek even after a person no longer feels intoxicated, and that regular users are at approximately twice the risk of developing psychosis as non-users.”
“Human beings are endowed by God with the gift of reason. Reason aids us in differentiating between right and wrong and is foundational for human freedom and personal responsibility,” the bishops continued. “Thus, we can understand that to directly intend to suppress our God-given rational faculties is gravely wrong.”
They warned that in Seattle and Denver, where marijuana businesses are legal, they are disproportionately located in poorer neighborhoods. According to another analysis, every dollar raised in marijuana sales costs $4.50 in unwanted effects, primarily in healthcare and reduced workforce readiness.
In Arizona, the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference criticized Proposition 207, called the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would both allow persons 21 and older to possess one ounce of marijuana and provide for the legal sale of the drug.
“It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, increase child fatalities, and result in more societal costs,” the Arizona bishops said in a Sept. 23 statement.
Legalization would send the message to children that “drug use is socially and morally acceptable,” they warned. Marijuana use is 25% higher among teens in states with legalized recreational marijuana, they said.
Self-reported use of Arizona middle- and high-schoolers has already increased because fewer youth believe it is risky, said the bishops. Marijuana is a direct or contributing factor in almost as many child deaths as alcohol, according to the state’s most recent child fatality report.
“As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on children and families,” the Arizona bishops said.
They cited the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area’s September 2019 report on the effects of marijuana legalization in Colorado under a November 2012 ballot measure. That report found that Colorado traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits, and youth usage of marijuana increased significantly in the period of 2013 to 2015, the first two years following the legalization of recreational pot.
In Mississippi, Initiative 65 would license and regulate marijuana dispensaries and allow a patient to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat any of 22 conditions.
The American Medical Association said there is a “lack of rigorous medical evidence to support cannabis as a medical treatment” that is a good alternative to FDA-approved drugs. The Mississippi proposal would require state health officials to create “new complex agriculture and revenue programs” that divert resources from its public health focus, the association said.
“Amending a state constitution to legalize an unproven drug is the wrong approach,” Susan R. Bailey, MD, president of the American Medical Association, said Oct. 8. “Early data from jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis are concerning, particularly around unintentional pediatric exposures that have resulted in increased calls to poison control centers and emergency department visits, as well as an increase in traffic deaths due to cannabis-related impaired driving.”
The Mississippi State Medical Association also opposes the measure.
If approved by voters, fees on dispensaries would fund only the medical marijuana oversight program. The language prohibits revenue from going into the state’s general fund.
Critics say the fees are extremely low and the amendment fails to restrict the number of marijuana businesses. They also argue the amendment could trump local zoning laws. Pot dispensaries are barred within 500 feet of a school, church or child care center, but the language says zoning ordinances on dispensaries must be no more restrictive than they are on pharmacies and “shall not impair the availability of and reasonable access to medical marijuana.”
Some law enforcement leaders say the amount of legal purchase allowed is enough that patients would be able to re-sell marijuana on the streets.
Since marijuana is still an illegal drug under federal law, banks tend to avoid handling money linked to marijuana businesses and insurance companies also avoid involvement, Mississippi Today reports.
Over 228,000 Mississippi voters signed a petition to place Ballot Measure 65 the ballot. The legislature responded by approving its own ballot measure 65A, which would allow lawmakers to regulate medical marijuana. Some thirty-four states have already legalized medical marijuana, with a great diversity of regulations and programs, Mississippi Today said.
In New Jersey, where medical marijuana use is already allowed, the state legislature has introduced Public Question 1, a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.
Legalized drug sales are being touted as a way to boost revenue and employment, save money and redirect police resources.
New Jersey borders Pennsylvania and New York, which have not legalized the drug. Medical marijuana presently sells for about $400 to $500 per ounce in the state, the New York Times reports. The state legislature’s research arm has estimated that a developed recreational marijuana industry would generate about $126 million in tax revenue a year. Municipalities may charge their own 2% tax under the proposal.
Backers of the New Jersey measure also point to the disproportionate criminal charges against Black Americans for marijuana possession, even though they use the drug at similar rates to white Americans.
Catholic News Agency sought comment from the New Jersey Catholic Conference and the Mississippi dioceses of Jackson and Biloxi but did not receive a response by deadline.