What is the Church’s Position on Marijuana?
Jimmy Akin lays out the Catholic Church’s position on when medical use of marijuana and other mind-altering substances is appropriate, and explains the principles behind the Church’s general opposition to marijuana’s recreational use.
Host: We go now to Jim in Brighton, Michigan, listening on Ave Maria Radio. Jim, you’re on with Jimmy Akin.
Caller: Hey, thanks for taking my call. I have not heard a whole lot—we’re in Michigan, and I assume it’s gonna be on the ballot here about legalization of marijuana—but also the medical marijuana exists here in our state, and I don’t see a lot of response or any kind of, well, opinion from the Church—maybe they’re not putting it out yet, but is there a position at this point from the Catholic Church yet on these two areas?
Jimmy: On medical marijuana and recreational marijuana, and should they be allowed legally?
Caller: Well, I should say, does the Church have a position on them? For example, if I was a patient that had some type of illness where my doctor said, “You should be consuming marijuana,” is that acceptable within the Church?
Jimmy: Okay. Well, so, assuming that your doctor is right, yeah. I mean, now, in assessing that somebody should be pursuing a particular course of treatment, there need to be several facts that are verified: number one, that there’s a genuine condition, medical condition that the person has; number two, that this treatment will effectively address it; number three, that there aren’t better alternatives, such as alternatives that are more effective or less expensive or have fewer side effects.
But assuming that those conditions are fulfilled, then…the medical advice is sound, and the Church doesn’t have a problem with sound medical advice. Now there’s a question, when it comes to marijuana, about–well, how effective is it, and what conditions might it be appropriate for? It is obviously a substance that affects the way your mind works, but there are lots of substances that do that; I mean, morphine does that, and doctors give patients morphine all the time, because it’s a pain reliever and there are conditions in which you need serious pain relief. And so morphine has some side effects, but there are situations where it’s appropriate to use morphine; and in the same way, hypothetically, there could be situations where the medical use of marijuana is appropriate.
However, because the medical marijuana movement in this country has been part of a broader movement towards pushing for its recreational use, there’s some question about, well, how effective is it, really? Is this just a cover for recreational use? And that’s something that is—whether there are legitimate uses for it medically—is an empirical question. And it’s one that, I’m not a doctor, I haven’t studied the evidence, I can’t give you an opinion on that. I can sketch out the principles that are involved in when use of a treatment, including a narcotic, is appropriate; but then there are appropriate situations, medically, for the use of narcotics—like morphine, to mention just one.
In terms of recreational use, the problem there is that…when people use marijuana or alcohol or anything in a way that deprives them of their ability to make moral decisions, then they are—and they’re doing it just for fun, not because there’s a compelling reason, like “I need to have surgery,” but they’re doing it just for fun, and they’re depriving themselves of the capacity for moral reason—that’s something that, of itself, is sinful because it puts you in the proximate occasion of committing sins, potentially even grave sins; like when a person gets drunk on alcohol and goes out driving, okay. That would be an example. In terms of marijuana, I’m not aware of a specific position paper that’s been taken on this; however, the Church, in general, opposes the legalization of recreational use of narcotics. And so that’s the calculus that would likely be applied in this situation.
Now there can be situations where a law, even though it’s a good idea in principle, could be producing really bad effects in society; for example, when the United States tried to outlaw alcohol, you know, in almost all circumstances, during prohibition. That produced some really negative consequences, including the rise of organized crime. And so…now, the use of alcohol is not, in principle, problematic, as long as it’s used in moderation; but the United States experienced the problems of a law that a lot of people thought had a good moral justification, but it had really bad consequences and ended up getting repealed. So the question of legalization of recreational use of marijuana, or any other narcotic, is something the Church is going to be opposed to in principle; however, if there were really horrendous problems being caused by it, then there could be some discussion of that question.
Host: We’ll have to leave it there, Jim. I hope that was helpful.
What does the Catholic Church teach about medical use of marijuana? What does she teach about recreational use? Can it ever be moral? Jimmy Akin explains.
Catholic church and medical marijuana
Father Kenneth Doyle
By Father Kenneth Doyle • Catholic News Service • Posted August 25, 2017
Q. Many localities are in the process of decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana. What is the church’s view? Is using pot recreationally the same thing morally as having a drink? Is it OK in moderation? (Suffolk, Virginia)
A. The question as posed relates only to the recreational use of this drug. When used instead (with proper controls) for medical reasons, its use can not only be permitted but applauded; research has found medical marijuana effective for certain patients with epilepsy, bipolar disorders, cancer, etc. — as well as for some children with severe autism.
But, as for recreational use, Catholic moralists in general would be opposed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense” (No. 2291).
Pope Francis — speaking at the 2014 International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome — spoke strongly against the legalization of drugs for recreational use.
With regard specifically to marijuana, the cannabis plant contains the mind-altering chemical THC, which often induces hallucinations and delusions and diminishes one’s ability to reason.
Pia de Solenni, a moralist and theologian who was recently named chancellor of the Diocese of Orange in California, has noted that unlike taking a glass of wine to relax, marijuana cannot be used moderately. “Once you’ve gone beyond the buzz,” she says, “you actually lose control over your rational functions. It’s wrong. It goes against our nature and who we’re supposed to be.”
Q. I need some clarification on the church’s marriage laws. I am a Catholic currently married to a divorced non-Catholic whose first marriage was not in the Catholic Church.
I tried to arrange to marry him in the church, but a parish priest told me that my husband-to-be would need to get his previous marriage annulled first. My husband does not believe in the annulment process, so we did not go through with it.
Later, I happened to go to confession at a Catholic chapel in a mall, and the priest there told me that I can, in fact, get married in the Catholic Church; he said that, since my husband is a non-Catholic, since his prior marriage was not in the Catholic Church and since he is now divorced, he would be free to marry me in a Catholic ceremony.
That priest in confession said he himself would not be able to perform the ceremony because he is assigned to a chapel, but that I should reach out to a priest at a parish. So I did that, and to my disappointment that parish priest told me the same thing the priest had said originally — that my husband would first need an annulment granted by the Catholic Church.
I am getting conflicting information, and I am hoping that you can help me to understand what it is that I need to do. (Eastern Massachusetts)
A. The parish priests were right, and the priest at the mall was wrong. In all likelihood, your husband’s first marriage was presumed by the Catholic Church to have been valid at the time, and a formal annulment process would be required to have that earlier marriage annulled before the two of you could be married in a Catholic ceremony.
(Two non-Catholics have no obligation to have their pending marriage approved by the Catholic Church, and it would be hugely unfair — not to mention, an ecumenical disaster — if the Catholic Church were to say that such a marriage “does not count” in the church’s eyes.)
You and your husband should sit down with a priest and have the annulment process explained: In annulling a marriage, the church is not saying that he was never really married to his first wife — or, that any children of that marriage were illegitimate — but only that some essential element was lacking that would have made it a permanent and binding commitment in the church’s eyes.
Often, such grounds involve emotional immaturity or instability on the part of one or both parties — or a flawed understanding of what the marriage commitment involved.
The annulment process, with the necessary paperwork and testimony, can normally take upward of a year. (If it happened, however, that your husband’s first wife was a Catholic and they were married without church approval, that is a simpler process. It is called, technically, a “declaration of nullity for absence of canonical form” and can often be completed within a few weeks.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.
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Catholic church and medical marijuana Father Kenneth Doyle By Father Kenneth Doyle • Catholic News Service • Posted August 25, 2017 Q. Many localities are in the process of decriminalizing