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Catholic Vancouver Nov. 30, 2018

How should Catholics approach legal marijuana? It depends: bishops

By Agnieszka Ruck

The Bishops of B.C. and the Yukon have released a statement on marijuana saying its use for valid health reasons is “no different than the use of any other medicine.” The statement says recreational use can be dangerous for a persons health and goes against Catholic teaching. (Unsplash photo)

The Catholic Bishops of B.C. and the Yukon have weighed in on the issue of legalized marijuana with a strikingly pastoral statement that delineates between cannabis used to get high versus for health purposes.

“With recreational use of cannabis now legal in Canada, Catholics are understandably asking themselves some questions,” begins the Nov. 30 letter, released just over a month after marijuana was legalized in Canada.

The statement by the seven bishops from Vancouver to Whitehorse says there are “different reasons for using cannabis,” and while “some of those uses are acceptable,” others are not. When dispensed to alleviate pain or control nausea, marijuana use is “no different than the use of any other medicine that helps promote health and well-being,” the statement says.

Calling smoking a “serious health hazard,” the bishops say using cannabis to become intoxicated can lead to impairment, loss of good judgment, and immoral choices, which are sinful and contrary to Catholic moral teaching.

The bishops add that some research points to ill effects on the brains of marijuana users under 25 years old. People using cannabis to experience a “high” that helps them escape psychological hardship are urged to instead seek out professional medical and therapeutic help.

“If someone you love is abusing drugs – cannabis, alcohol, or other substances – then that person should be assisted in getting help,” they write. “Our prayer is that God, who showed compassionate love in the person of Jesus Christ, may assist each of us in our healing journey.”

The letter is signed by Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, of Vancouver, as well as Bishops Gary Gordon of Victoria, Stephen Jensen of Prince George, Greg Bittman of Nelson, Joseph Nguyen of Kamloops, Hector Vila of Whitehorse, and Ken Nowakowski of the Ukrainian Eparchy in New Westminster.

Its tone contrasts with the statement released by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in June, which called Canada’s move to legalize recreational marijuana disappointing and disastrous.

“It is lamentable that the federal government has decided to facilitate the provision and use of an addictive substance that will have disastrous effects for so many people,” they wrote.

They added legal marijuana for recreational use “will not produce a more just and humane society,” as solutions for drug trafficking, dependency, and abuse are instead “found in educational and employment opportunities; community support for the vulnerable; treatment, prevention, and medical services; family support; the curtailment of drug supply; the discouragement of drug use; and the promotion of recovery programs.”

The Canadian bishops question the legalization of marijuana “at a time when so many resources are already being spent to discourage recreational tobacco use,” and while effects of legalization could be “arguably much more dangerous.”

The B.C. and Yukon statement comes on the heels of a new national survey that found Canadians have concerns about the law legalizing recreational cannabis. The Angus Reid Institute found three-quarters of Canadians believe the minimum age to purchase and use cannabis (currently 18) should be raised.

The study also found that while legalization created a big buzz in the news, 35 per cent of Canadians were not pleased or disappointed with the new law, rating it a low priority among other issues facing Canadians.

It also found one-in-four Canadians reported shopping for, purchasing, or using cannabis during the first two weeks of legalization, which took place Oct. 17. It has been legal for medicinal use since 2001.