As expected, there was some resistance to and controversy around my last post on the morality of Marijuana. In the comments I saw, there seemed to be a few different approaches to arguing that I am wrong about marijuana. I do appreciate thoughtful responses and some of those comments were, but most of them were unclear about which part of the argument was wrong. Therefore, I’d like to maybe clarify the conversation a bit with this short follow-up post.
So, let’s try putting my argument into a simple syllogism and going from there.
My argument is basically as follows:
Premise 1: To deliberately impair one’s rational faculty for the sake of recreation is sinful
Premise 2: Marijuana impairs one’s rational faculty
Therefore, using marijuana recreationally is sinful.
Now, some people apparently took issue with premise 1. Some seem to think that, as long as it’s not too often and as long as you can manage a “successful” life, then there is nothing wrong with the occasional high. For Catholics, there really isn’t room for debate on this topic. We have always considered drunkenness other such mentally impaired states (like getting high) to be sinful when brought on for it’s own sake. A person’s ability to be “smart” about when, where, and how often they do this to themselves has no bearing on the wrongness of doing it.
There were, however, many who took issue with my second premise, which is also the place where the science of Marijuana’s effects is most important. Some people claim that it is possible to use a tiny bit of marijuana without any significant effect on their consciousness, alertness, rationality, etc. in the same way that it is possible to have one or two drinks without getting drunk.
I have a few responses to that:
First, I’m pretty sure the vast majority of people who use marijuana do it specifically to get high. It is usually the mind-altering effect that people seek when they turn to marijuana. Maybe it’s possible to moderate the effects, to smoke without getting high, but I never hear of people saying that that is what they want. Which brings me to my second response.
It is still my understanding that even a little marijuana has a significant effect on one’s mental state. Testimonies from multiple former users and some of the research suggest to me that it’s not comparable to the use of alcohol. As one person told me: “when you smoke it, you think you’re still rational, but you’re not.” Those who claim to use it moderately and be largely unimpaired have to deal with the fact that it’s hard to be objective about your own state of mind while under the influence of marijuana. How can you be sure that the effects of the drug are not skewing your ability to judge your own state of mind? I realize the science is not perfectly settled on this issue. As I responded to one comment, this is the point that is the crux of the issue. If someone wants to convince me and other clergy and moral theologians that recreational use of marijuana is not sinful, they’ll need a solid case for moderating the immediate effect of the drug on a person’s judgment and rational abilities. From there, it is necessary to address the long term effects, especially on children.
My final concern is this: the effect of this substance on the developing brain. The brain is under significant development until the age of 25 or higher. The government, the American Psychological Association, and others have expressed their concerns that marijuana has long-term, possibly permanent, effects on the developing brain. If one can really make a convincing case that an adult (over 25) can reasonably use weed without significant rational impairment, they then have to explain how it’s proliferation and approval will not contribute to long-term negative effects on adolescents and, through them, on all of society. Keep in mind that the 18-25 age range is close to the largest, if not the largest demographic of regular users of marijuana.
No, I don’t have all the answers. No, I cannot say I am as certain about this as I am about grave evils like abortion. But I cannot in good conscience tell Catholics that using marijuana recreationally is anything other than sinful. In my state, recreational use is still illegal, but even if it were legal, I’d oppose it’s use. As for the questions of how the government should best deal with Marijuana and it’s users, I’m not sure. I know that we should keep it away from kids and young adults and I’m pretty sure it should always be frowned upon, but there is room for debate about how best to deal with prevention, punishment, and treatment.
In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: “why do I care about the answer to this question?” Bias, attachment, and pride are all significant obstacles to finding the truth. For Catholics, the question isn’t even just “is it sinful.” Rather, we should consider it this way “will this glorify God, save souls, or make me holier?” Look to the saints, look to the Church, and be sincere. God can do an awful lot if you’re sincere in searching for the truth.