Some time ago, Aleteia published an apology for the legalization of marijuana titled “Bongs for Bishops?”. The article’s theme is that the bishops should take a long hard look at backing marijuana’s legalization.
Marijuana Use a Sin
This is a delusion belonging to the social utopians yearning to usher in a Brave New World. Faithful, obedient Catholics share no common ground with this article’s positions. There is no way to justify a push to legalize marijuana backed by the Catholic Church, unless it is medicinal.
The bishops cannot endorse legalizing drug use because they are called to the opposite of leading the flock into sin; smoking marijuana, outside of medical use, is a sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that drug use “inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.” (CCC 2291) It goes on to state that drug use except as medicine is a “grave offense.” Dealing drugs is a scandalous practice and a “direct co-operation in evil,” that encourages behaviors “gravely contrary to the moral law.”
Many people think the Church believes pot is bad because pot is illegal. This is simply not true. The Church’s official position will always be against the habitual or recreational use of marijuana or any other state altering substance. The Church opposes immoderate alcohol consumption for the same reason. The sin of gluttony leads to the same admonition for the misuse of food. It is legal to drink alcohol and eat food, but illicit to get drunk and overeat because it has adverse effects on the human body and thus violates the Fifth Commandment (Deuteronomy 5:17; cf. Exodus 20:13). Marijuana is not “health-inducing”; there are verifiable damaging effects from smoke and other content.
Holy Mother Church calls all members of the Body of Christ to the virtues and to purity. By its nature, she cannot give permission to use even innocuous recreational drugs. Marijuana is used to alter the state of sobriety towards inebriation. Even if marijuana were as “harmless” as the world would have us believe, this is something no bishop can sanction. If some bishop does by some moral misfortune, it would be a violation of the divine law that governs Holy Mother Church. The onus would be on the bishop, not the Church.
Divine or Conventional Law?
A key distinction to understand in this case is that there are at least three kinds of laws: manmade or conventional law; natural law perceivable through reason; and God’s law made accessible by divine revelation. There are three different standards by which we judge those laws. Divine law is revealed to us by the power of the Holy Spirit; in it we recognize the Creator’s authority. Holy Mother Church is beholden to divine law, and must measure all decrees and statements against the objective moral standard of the Logos, Christ Himself. This law is eternal, unchanging, and not subject to human opinion. It is the law written on our hearts, whether or not we are aware of it.
By contrast, conventional laws are made by human opinion, often forged by human consensus, and have no effect on the divine law. The state of Washington has already legalized marijuana by conventional law, and several more probably will. A good man-made law will line up in accordance with natural and divine law. Unfortunately, many of our conventional laws do not line up with natural and divine law, the most extreme case being the statute that allows the legal termination of an innocent life in the womb. This is legal by conventional law; but the Church can never respect such a perversion of justice. Marijuana use made legal by conventional law doesn’t inform the Church one single bit, and it never truly will.
The author of the article panders to pathological sentimentality by falsely claiming that marijuana is beneficial to human health. It’s claimed in some circles that that illegal marijuana has an adverse effect on minority groups, and that legalizing it would alleviate some of those ill-effects and bring peace to society.
The peace this false argument speaks of is not the peace of the kingdom, but the peace of the world against which Jeremiah lamented: “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14) The idea that the Catholic Church could support the legalizing of a substance that does damage to human bodies and souls is unfathomable; there is no true peace in that, only anguish and degradation. The only peace the Church recognizes is peace in accord with the will of God.
Finally, we might ask what ought the Church say about legalizing marijuana use considering the polls show that people now believe pot should be made legal. Should the Church should follow suit? Of course the Church must do what it has always done, regardless of public opinion. She must do the right and moral thing and oppose the legalization of a substance that causes harm to human souls.
In reality, the arguments to legalize marijuana are wholly unconvincing. They are not reasonable. They are not rooted in any notion of divine law. They are rooted in the spirit of falsity and that untruthful notion of freedom called licentiousness. The simple refutation is that it is unvirtuous to cultivate habits of vice and no poll can controvert the truths of Christ or insist that the Holy Roman Catholic Church endorse sin. The world asks of the Church for what She cannot give. There never has been and there never will be bongs for bishops.