The New York Times concluded its December 28 article about the January 1, 2018 legalization of recreational marijuana in California by stating, “People are gaining confidence as legalization spreads, and the growth is going to be huge.” Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states, and recreational marijuana legal in eight states. Companies investing in marijuana are growing exponentially, well-exampled in Silicon Valley and Oakland, especially since selling marijuana in California has the potential to generate $5 billion yearly.
The moral slope is worrisome and dangerous as society grows in its support of recreational marijuana use (about 58 percent of Americans). California led the nation in legalizing medical marijuana in 1996. As demonstrated in the 2013 documentary Weed by CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, positive medical effects have been witnessed, e.g., treating pain and relieving nausea. Since these facts are generally accepted, it is now a simple next step to conclude that recreational marijuana likewise carries curative effects. It’s a facile approach to believe that what is legal is beneficial and moral.
In January 2017, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a pivotal report on professional research carried out about the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Along with December 2017 facts released by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), serious concerns are raised that demand schools and local municipalities to put into place as quickly as possible substance abuse prevention programs. (Parishes, especially those with schools, would do well to consider educational workshops for parents and youth.)
These reports raise grave concerns. Despite efforts to the contrary, the use of recreational marijuana has increased in Colorado and Washington among tenth graders and teenagers below the age of sixteen. There is overwhelming evidence showing that when persons of this age begin to use marijuana, they become addicted and fall into bottomless pits, e.g., serious driving accidents, truancy, memory impoverishment, respiratory problems leading to bronchitis, especially heightened when also smoking cigarettes. Heavy use of marijuana, especially when started in early years, has been shown in some cases to lead to schizophrenia.
Marijuana (cannabis sativa) is known by several names, e.g., reefer, pot, dope, weed, bud, Mary Jane, hippie lettuce. It is often called “grass.” Adults who smoked grass in their teenage and young adult years might think that present-day “grass” is the same. It is not. Marijuana is a drug composed of at least 86 diverse chemical compounds, with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) being the compound that stimulates the brain to release dopamine, creating euphoria while often inducing hallucinations and delusions.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the compound primarily responsible for alleviating certain medical problems. Most marijuana dispensaries make their money on products that are high in the psychoactive compound (THC) and low in the compound (CBD) that offers medical benefits. Today’s recreational marijuana contains higher doses of THC than ever before. It is naïve to believe that it is just like “smoking a little weed” or having a vodka and tonic.
Recent statistics released by JAMA present grim data that go to the heart of the moral use of recreational marijuana. Between 2009-2016, the use of marijuana among pregnant women in California jumped from 4.2 percent to 7.1 percent. THC can be transmitted from the mother to her fetus, as well as to her baby while breastfeeding. This ushers in the addictive cycle. If the mother smokes, so does the fetus.
The use of marijuana among California teenagers under 18 jumped by 12.5 percent to 21.5 percent during this same time period. Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana – Medical, Recreational, and Scientific (2012) testifies that troubled adolescents who start smoking marijuana at a young age are more likely to become heavy users, drop out of school, and display various behavioral problems. Seventeen percent of teenagers who use marijuana regularly become addicted to its use. Roughly 36 percent of 12th Graders in 2013 reported having used marijuana on a regular basis. This is a severe and moral issue that legislation exasperates, no matter what safeguards are in place.
Pope Francis has spoken out against the “liberalization of drug use.” “Drug problems already ravage the lives of young people, and society should not multiply this problem exponentially. Instead of sowing the seeds of suffering and death, we should educate young people in the values that build up life in society.”
What’s to be said, then, about recreational marijuana: pleasure? panacea? poison?
Statistics lean heavily, convincingly and despondently toward poison.
Gerald D. Coleman, P.S.S.
Graduate School of Pastoral Ministries
Santa Clara University