Even the Stoners Are Crying Out

Why is marijuana legalization a bad idea?

With presidential candidates bragging about it and state after state legalizing it, the use of recreational marijuana is fast becoming a cultural norm in our country.  The Church, with only a few notable exceptions, has remained strangely silent on the issue, tacitly implying consent to the drug’s “responsible use.”  If the Church is going to remain the last voice of moral reason in a decadent culture, then Catholics must not fear stirring the pot and challenging the culture to fight a trend that is sure to speed its downfall.  But in order to do that, we must understand why it is a bad idea.

To begin, we must be willing to tackle liberalism’s obsession with personal liberty such that it can no longer see sin for what it is.  Sin is not about breaking some arbitrarily imposed law, but is ultimately about offending God and — this is important — doing harm to ourselves.  “We do not,” St. Thomas says, “offend God except by doing something contrary to our own good” (SCG III, 122).  Marijuana use is a sin ultimately because it is harmful to us.

To leave it at that, however, is insufficient.  We must be able to address why it is harmful.  It is not harmful because of any damage it does to our body, though that is certainly part of it.  It is harmful because of what it turns us into.  It is harmful because it makes us less human by inhibiting our use of reason.  It is harmful because it turns us into stones.

Admittedly there are other things that do that as well (sleep and painkillers come to mind) that we would not classify as wrong.  What makes it wrong is that the loss of our ability to reason is the goal.  In other words, it treats our gift of reason as a burden and an evil to be avoided.  It is a deliberate attempt to lower oneself down to those creatures without reason.  And this is why Aquinas’ understanding of sin is helpful.  Marijuana is wrong because it lowers us to a level beneath what we actually are as rational animals, made in the image of God.

With this clarified, we can see that “responsible use of marijuana” is impossible.  Alcohol, to which it is often compared, can be used responsibly; when used temperately it raises one’s spirits without diminishing the capacity to reason.  Pot, on the other hand, cannot be used moderately because its mind-altering effects are felt immediately.  Any use is an irresponsible attempt to shirk the responsibility of being human.  This is especially true as market forces have called for stronger varieties to be produced.  The marijuana of today bears little resemblance to the weed the hippies smoked in the 70s.

One might agree with all that has been said so far but still think there should be no laws against it.  After all, we cannot legislate every vice.  But the fact that we must even explain why it is wrong shows exactly why it must remain illegal.  When most people see nothing wrong with acting like animals or even rocks in order to decompress, then a law is necessary.  Law is the primary teacher of morality, especially in a post-Christian age.  To de-criminalize now implies there is nothing wrong with it.  In other words, society actually encourages drug use through legalization.

Jesus once said something to the effect that if His followers were to remain silent even the stoners would cry out.  I guess that isn’t exactly what He said or what He meant, but the fact is: the Church is remaining silent and the stoners are crying out.  They are crying out for the message of truth and hope that can save them from the humdrum of existence.  Why else would drug demand be so high except that so many people are trying to escape the Bad News?  Catholics must lead the charge against marijuana legalization if they are to remain faithful to the Church’s mission.  To continue to remain silent is to give up on the vulnerable.


Rob holds an MA in Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary, with a concentration in moral theology. He has a passion for spreading the joy of the Catholic Faith through teaching and writing.

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