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August 25, 2014

Pope Francis' brief June 20 statement (WCR, July 7) in opposition to the legalization of marijuana is a needed intervention on a topic on which the Church has had little to say. The Church has been outspoken on the international drug trade, but less so on whether it would be appropriate to legalize "recreational drugs."

After all, many church events are marked by the sale of alcohol, and are not alcohol use and marijuana use morally the same? Actually, no. Alcohol abuse and marijuana use may be similar morally, although that leaves aside the fact that marijuana is currently illegal almost everywhere.

Alcohol used in moderation can be morally acceptable; the purpose of using recreational drugs, however, is for the specific purpose of getting high. Abuse is an intrinsic aspect of the use of such drugs.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church lumps together the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco and medicine with those who drive recklessly, thus endangering their own and others' safety. "The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offence" (2291).

Although alcohol use is legal for adults in Canada, society nevertheless puts high fences around its abuse. Driving an automobile while impaired results in forms of punishment that carry on for years. As well, alcohol addiction is seen as something to be overcome, and societal resources are devoted to preventing and ending addictions.

Impairment of one's moral or intellectual judgment by the abuse of drugs is something to be avoided. It can be difficult to make morally good decisions when one is in full possession of one's faculties and much harder when judgment is impaired.

The law does not prohibit all immoral activities; to do so would create an overly regulated society. Yet, unless there are overriding reasons, the presumption should be on the side of using the civil law to uphold moral law.

Indeed, alcohol was prohibited in Canada for a period of time, and it was mainly in order to restore order to a society thrown into chaos by organized crime that it was legalized. Is the disorder caused by marijuana trafficking - as opposed to that caused by the trafficking in cocaine and other harder drugs - of such an order that legalization would restore societal peace? Few would answer "yes."

Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has spoken in favour of legalizing marijuana and a former British Columbia solicitor-general recently predicted the drug will be legal in Canada within five years. To follow this path would undermine the common good in Canada.

Far better to treat possession of small amounts of cannabis as a misdemeanour and to continue to treat trafficking and possession of larger amounts as a criminal offence.