Efforts in several states to legalize recreational marijuana use poses serious harm to individuals as well as to communities that are already broken, said members of a recent panel. “For the state to say something that’s really manifestly harmful — though it might have some benefits, manifestly harmful — is legal, is just short-sighted and irresponsible,” Dr. E. Christian Brugger stated at a July 1 panel discussion at Denver’s Holy Ghost Catholic Church. Brugger is the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford professor of Moral Theology at Denver’s St. John Vianney Theological Seminary. He was one of several panel members discussing moral, legal, pastoral and personal concerns with recreational marijuana use. Brugger argued that recreational marijuana use carries many long-term negative side-effects and is morally wrong because users intend to impair their cognition. Legalization of the drug teaches that its use is permissible, he cautioned. “The law is a moral teacher. And when the law says something is legal, what it does is it removes a stigma from that thing and over time we start to look at it not only as neutral, but even as something that can be good for us,” he stated. “So for the law to remove the legal stigma against pot smoking,” he said, “when we can hardly call ourselves a community of unity and charity and selflessness and love, when we know it’s going to have bad effects upon our youth who are affected most by this, when our families are weak and certainly not flourishing….is very short-sighted. I think it was stupid for the country to do it.” Assistant U.S. Attorney M.J. Menendez said that conflicts between state and federal law on the matter undermines general respect for the law. Both Colorado and Washington state have recently implemented laws allowing for the recreational use of marijuana; however, the drug remains illegal under federal law. “I am told regularly how can anybody say that the rules are legitimate and ought to be obeyed when the federal government tells me one thing and the state government tells me another?” she asked, adding that enforcement of the myriad complicated marijuana regulations has proven extremely difficult. Legalization of marijuana is especially “unjust” to the youth, Brugger added, because they are largely ignorant of the long-term consequences of pot use. Side-effects can include long-term deterioration of memory and learning ability, respiratory problems, increase in anxiety and depression, and loss of motivation, he said, and about 10 percent of regular pot smokers develop an addiction. “Young people are most likely to be influenced by recreational marijuana use,” Brugger stated. “Children who see their peers or who see their neighbors or worse, see their parents using pot hear about all the merits of getting high, are very likely to be put into a situation of temptation where it’s too strong for them, and start to experiment with it and then become users.” Just about all recreational pot smokers intend to get “high,” he added, which as an end is immoral. “Intentionally altering our consciousness is wrong. Recreational users smoke pot to get high. So they intend to alter their perceptions and faculties of cognition. Since human cognition is a precondition to make choices, and choices are the foundation by which we cooperate with God and with grace, or deny God’s grace, by which we become good or we become wicked, to diminish our capacity to make good choices is not a good thing for us to do.” Although the Bible never specifically mentions marijuana, it repeatedly condemns drunkenness, Brugger stated, and getting “high” is an equivalent state to being “drunk.” “I think that getting high is an offense against communion,” stated Fr. Peter Mussett of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, Colo. Addressing pastoral concerns with recreational pot use, he referenced studies showing that “it isolates you. And it draws you back into yourself. And it fills you with those things that we’re working against, which is alienation, distrust, loneliness, despair, and boredom.” When asked if it is possible to smoke marijuana without getting “high,” Dr. Brugger did not dismiss the possibility of such a scenario, but maintained that just about all marijuana users intend to get “high.” “I think if a person was able to know that all it would do is relax them, not alter their consciousness — if that’s possible; it’s a hypothetical — but if that’s the case, then I don’t think that the doing of it would be intrinsically wrong,” he stated. However, he quickly added other factors that could make the hypothetical action morally impermissible, such as scandal and cooperation with evil. “If they had children and the children saw them, it could be a bad example, it could be wrong on that account. If they go out and buy it in dispensaries and they have to become the kind of person who purchases it and sees themselves as purchasing it, involve themselves in a culture, all those things could make it for them something they should not do. In other words, be wrong.” And such a hypothetical scenario is highly unusual, Brugger added. “[I]t seems that a very, very small minority of people are interested in smoking marijuana in order not to get high. It’s almost seems to me counter-factual. The reason you smoke marijuana is to get high.”
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