Legalizing recreational marijuana is a major issue for consideration during Minnesota’s 2020 legislative session. Many worry that legislators and the public have not fully realized the negative consequences that would likely follow legalization.
The Minnesota Catholic Conference opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana as a threat to the flourishing of individual persons — particularly, the young, the poor and those who struggle with either substance abuse or mental health challenges.
A spirit of solidarity requires that we reject the wishes of the small segment of the population that has the means to address the consequences of frequent marijuana use, and instead promote the common good.
Forsaking the other for oneself
Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana has prompted an increase in marijuana use accompanied by declines in mental and bodily health. People of color, youth and the poor have been disproportionately harmed by marijuana legalization. Since its decision to legalize marijuana in 2012, the state has experienced an increase in traffic accidents and deaths, a higher prevalence of marijuana in toxicology screenings of youth suicides, and rising rates of arrests for underage marijuana possession among Hispanic and African American youth.
Research conducted on Colorado comprises only a small portion of the literature detailing the impact of recreational marijuana across the United States. Publications link marijuana use with cognitive impairment, lung damage and an increased risk of psychotic disorders (among other concerns).
Physical ailments and increases in traffic accidents and mental illnesses can lead to expensive medical bills (shouldered by the individual or the taxpayer), higher care insurance rates, traffic fines and fees, and costs associated with mental health treatment such as medication and counseling.
For instance, residents of Colorado experienced an average increase of $200 in their auto premiums in the year following the state’s legalization of recreational marijuana. These financial burdens especially harm the poor, who may struggle to finance basic expenses, and cannot afford these unanticipated costs. Marijuana legalization increases financial costs for all of society.
Some of Minnesota’s transportation leaders have urged lawmakers to “hit the brakes” on marijuana legalization. Citing concerns such as increases in impaired driving and traffic deaths following marijuana legalization, they joined a growing number of community advocates and authorities opposing the drug’s legalization, including Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana-Minnesota.
Despite the data nationwide, proponents continue to push for legalization — allowing a desire for temporary enjoyment to supersede the well-being of their friends, family and neighbors. They argue that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol — and while that may be true from the vantage point of addictive properties — it is proved false by many other vantage points. Why would we legalize yet another drug that has a multitude of harmful effects?
A willingness to pursue the object of one’s desires, and fallen ones at that, at the expense of the common good is characteristic of a society fallen victim to individualism, and a result of sin’s influence on the principles of solidarity, causing us to forget one another in the pursuit of material goods (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1849).
To forsake oneself for another
In his encyclical “Laudato si’,” Pope Francis reminds us that a forgetfulness of self is essential to living out our call to charity and solidarity. The pontiff says: “We are always capable of going out of ourselves towards the other.… Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment” (208).
By realizing this truth, we remove selfish vices, such as drug use, that harm ourselves and those around us and replace them with acts of self-sacrificial love. Embracing this perspective is necessary when making decisions that further the common good.
Legalizing recreational marijuana is fundamentally a deliberation between individual desires and serving the common good. Attachment to a vice should never triumph over the wellbeing of the poor and vulnerable.
If Minnesota chooses to legalize recreational marijuana despite the overwhelming evidence and advocacy to the contrary, will we regret the decision in years to come? Very likely, yes.
As Catholics, we’re called to correct injustices as they persist in the social order, and to use our position as faithful citizens to protect the poor and vulnerable. The political process is a vehicle for that missionary discipleship, and as the legislative session continues, we must avoid the errors of other states by ensuring that harmful policy is not enacted as a result of selfish interests.
Jack Lawlis is policy and outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Ask your legislators to oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana.
Visit MNCatholic.org/actioncenter to learn who represents you, or call the House of Representative (651-296-2146) or the Senate (651-296-0504) to tell them that you oppose recreational marijuana legalization in Minnesota.
— Minnesota Catholic Conference