In the past several years, 10 states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington – and the District of Columbia have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. While this has temporarily created an awkward legal situation – the use of cannabis is still a federal crime – it seems clear that the movement in many more states and perhaps even at the level of the national government is to decriminalize the drug.
Is it so Bad?
Not unsurprisingly, this has awakened discussion among some Catholics as to whether or not smoking pot might be acceptable moral behavior. “In the end” one might ask, “why can we not smoke pot? Is it any more dangerous than smoking tobacco? Does it really have more debilitating effects on the mind than alcohol? What is the difference between these ‘acceptable’ drugs and marijuana, other than the fact that the former are legal and the latter – until now – have been illegal?”
Legal Does Not Make it Licit
The human law is not the ultimate source of right and wrong. The human law – at its best – is merely the application of a higher law, whether we refer to that higher law as the natural or divine law. Thus, human law might forbid something that is good according to the divine law (for example, the suppression of religious orders) or permit something which is intrinsically evil (a prime example is abortion). As a result, the fact that laws in various states now permit the use of marijuana does not, of itself, make the use of marijuana morally licit.
Man is Created to Know Love and Serve God
To answer this, one must go higher and consider the natural law (or, the rule of reason), which commands us in the use of material goods to act temperately, i.e., to preserve the health of our body and to order them to the perfection of our mind (whether it be the ability to know the truth or to think clearly about what we should do)[i]. These duties arise in part because God has created us for His own glory, and we are bound to do our utmost to preserve and to cultivate the talents which He has imparted to us. It is ultimately in light of these obligations which we have to make our judgment concerning the use of pot.
Marijuana Affects Mind and Behavior
To make any proper judgment, it is first necessary to have a basic grasp of the physical and psychic effects of the drug. In this article, we will not delve into the medical research which has been done on marijuana and its active component, TetraHydroCannabinol (THC) [ii]. Instead, we will take as our starting point several conclusions that are generally admitted; namely, that marijuana directly produces intoxication with several psychosomatic effects (e.g., a sense of euphoria and relaxation, a distortion of perceptions, inability to judge time, loss of memory) which, taken together, are known as being “high.”
This “high” may be more-or-less pronounced[iii], but its nature is to impair significantly - at least during the buzz or stone effect - both one’s ability to think normally and the capacity to reason properly about how to act. This happens in part because one’s memory of past actions is disrupted and one’s sense of the present and its relation to the future are reduced. Further, one’s conscience and will are weakened, and thus one becomes less able to judge rightly and effectively whether an action is bad and should be avoided.
Common sense says of someone who has been smoking marijuana: “this person is under the influence,” which means that he does not have the complete use of his reason, and that he lacks freedom.
Is it fair to say that regular marijuana users are known for a deficiency in logical thinking and for a lack of the ability to keep a commitment.
Marijuana Affects the Body
Medical evidence indicates that the use of marijuana before age 25 years definitively damages the brain of the user. Some studies indicate that marijuana use could result in sterility. Other studies describe the “burnout” effect or dull inactivity, a sort of deadened response to stimulation which affects prolonged heavy users. These are only a few of the consequences of marijuana use; the absence of exhaustive studies - unlike studies for alcohol use - do not allow us to identify every effect of marijuana on one’s self or children.
The motive of using a substance can be sufficient to condemn its use. Recreation, rest, and entertainment are reasonable means to be used to enable us to carry on with our duties. To flee one’s duty and distance one’s self from reality is certainly immoral when it foes not comply with one’s duty.
Another factor to be considered if the possible physical and psychological “addiction” acquired from the use of marijuana.
The quality of marijuana today is generally stronger today that it used to be. It is difficult to know how much of an effect it will have. Illegal marijuana is the field of criminals who do not follow dose standards. Some growers inadvertently use herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides, while others mix in other drugs to simulate an increase in the level of THC in marijuana. With synthetic recreational marijuana, the regulatory safeguards for food and drug safety are typically nonexistent.
Coping or Covering Up?
Just as some people learn how to cope with alcohol intoxication and mask its effects, some teach themselves how much marijuana they can use and how to function in seemingly normal ways while high. Marijuana intoxication is not usually as apparent as alcohol intoxication, making its use more dangerous because it is less evident. Coping does not change the level of intoxication.
Is Using Marijuana a Sin?
The primary effect of the THC is to induce the “high,” and it is practically very rare that one could effectively avoid the stultifying effects of the drug.
For all of the above reasons – that is, impairing of the ability to think and judge properly, damage to the brain, fleeing from reality, unknown physical or psychosomatic effects, difficulty in dosing - moralists conclude that, even though the use of marijuana does not entirely totally suppress the use of reason, it is certainly gravely imprudent to use it.
Thus, the deliberate use of marijuana for recreational purposes is a mortal sin.
Can marijuana be used for medical reason?
This could only be acceptable if there is a proportionate good to be attained by the consumption of the marijuana - i.e., for a legitimate medical reason[iv]. There are generally many other less dangerous alternatives which are rightly preferred to so-called medical marijuana, however.
We can see that even as more states remove legal barriers to the use of marijuana, Catholics must be faithful to the natural law and avoid this drug. Marijuana can never be used recreationally. As a good disciple of Christ, a Christian acknowledges and assumes with the grace of God and prayers one’s duty of state just as Christ embraced and carried the Cross. Prudence obliges one to organize and use entertainment with moderation and as a means to better carry on with one’s duties.
[i] “For instance, in the consumption of food, the mean fixed by human reason, is that food should not harm the health of the body, nor hinder the use of reason. . ..” St Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. IaIIae Q63 Article 4.
[ii] We are not talking here about the CBD (Cannabidiol) component which can be extracted from marijuana and used as a relaxing remedy.
[iii] The “high” produced depends on a variety of factors, such as the amount smoked, the quality of the cannabis, the consumption of other drugs, and one’s own bodily dispositions. A skinny man is more likely to be affected than a fat man.
[iv] A good comparison is morphine, which in itself seriously deadens the mind, but which can be used for relief of intense pain.