By Nelson Acquilano
Why would the government ever legalize another addictive drug? Maybe someone should ask – or rather challenge – this governor on that very issue. After all, it was not in his political platform when he ran for governor. So, why now? More importantly, how can we stop him?
The truth is that in the addictions profession we had joined with our allies across the country to reduce marijuana use to a record low by 2006. We did not eliminate the problem by any means, but we had made such great progress that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration actually removed marijuana abuse as one of their primary targeted health goals.
But in 2013, President Barack Obama instructed Attorney General Eric H. Holder and the Justice Department “not to interfere with states wishing to legalize marijuana.” This policy reversal for greater tolerance was a betrayal of law enforcement, and one could also make a case that it was an obstruction of justice. Nonetheless, it was a green light to marijuana activists and advocates as well as the marijuana industry to proceed full speed with legalization, production, marketing and distribution. Unfortunately, no one said, “Wait, maybe we should stop and think this through…. this is a drug that destroys individuals and families.”
Update to 2018. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democrats now want full legalization. Gov. Cuomo charged the NYS Department of Health (DOH) with preparing a report regarding the impact of marijuana legalization in New York. The result? DOH produced a spurious and one-sided report and now calls for the legalization of marijuana.
Basis of Profit
What was very interesting is that the DOH recommended the legalization of marijuana based upon an economic perspective. They claim that legalization would bring in potential tax revenues of $300 million to $677 million. They also claim that there are other “potential positive effects of regulating an adult marijuana market in NYS that outweigh the potential negative impacts.” The report even predicts, and counts on, an increase in New Yorkers and tourists to buy and use marijuana for a basis of profit. And the average family will suffer yet even more pain, trauma and dysfunction.
The DOH report clearly denies the evidence and stance against legalization presented by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. It also minimizes or denies the findings of the American Psychiatric Association. It denies that today there are currently more than 12,000 New Yorkers in treatment for a primary diagnosis of marijuana dependence (and tens of thousands more with a secondary diagnosis), and that with increased accessibility and availability those numbers will grow. It denies marijuana use is a primary cause of child neglect, child abuse and family dysfunction. It denies a strong association between marijuana use and crime.
It minimizes the association of marijuana use and birth defects. It ignores the association of marijuana use and low educational aspirations, job performance problems, increase in accidents and overall lower quality of life. It minimizes the fact of increased diversion to youth and young adults. It minimizes the social impact of increased D.U.I. It denies the increase in marijuana-related mental illness including depression and suicide.
And it denies the negative effects and recommendations against legalization by National Families in Action, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the World Health Organization, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. Surgeon General and dozens of peer reviewed and quality studies.
As Catholics, we also need to be invested in this. It is said that in the end-times good will become evil, and evil will become good. This is an excellent example. There are people applauding legalization, despite the horrendous damage it does to families. In many ways, evil has not just been allowed to spread, it has even become institutionalized.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on health and life (2291). Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.”
In other words, drug use (intoxication) is a sin. It separates us from God. It puts another barrier between us and holiness. It takes away from the spiritual relationship. Furthermore, the catechism stipulates that the political community has “a duty to honor the family, to ensure its protection and stability, and to protect its health – especially in relation to dangers such as drugs or alcoholism (2211).”
Second, drugs take people away from faith, away from spiritual and religious practices. Most addicts have little or no practice of faith. Where they once did, drugs sedated or narcotized their need for spiritual connectedness and inhibited their ability to strengthen their relationship with God. Drug use is a self-centered disorder that interrupts awareness of, understanding of and conscious practice of religion, faith and worship of God. The end result is that people lose faith and drop out of religious practices.
Third, marijuana use is a form of idolatry. Millions of drug users place their trust and dependence – their faith and hopes, their money and their goods in a drug. The drug becomes an object of worship, and for many drugs have become functional gods.
In fact, many marijuana users will testify that they use marijuana in part to seek a higher consciousness.
When trials and troubles come, when people experience emotional or physical pain or are lonely or bored, where do they turn for comfort and solace, for understanding, for satisfaction and joy? Marijuana users, more so, do not turn to God but to the drug. That is idolatry.
In 40 years of working in the field of addictions, I have reviewed, literally hundreds of articles and studies on marijuana.
I have never seen one study that even hints that marijuana is a protective factor for positive youth development. I have never seen one study that states that marijuana use supports healthy families. I have never seen one study that concludes that marijuana use builds strong communities.
Serious Adverse Consequences
In fact, overwhelmingly, the findings are exactly the opposite for all three cases. Scores of scientific studies have demonstrated that marijuana is not a harmless and benign drug, rather, it has harmful effects and serious adverse consequences to both youth, young adults, and adults.
Research on the health and safety effects of marijuana strongly correlates with many mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual problems. In addition, many crimes, accidents, job and school performance problems have been associated with the use of marijuana.
While not everyone that uses marijuana becomes drug dependent, the reality is that marijuana use, as with alcohol and other drugs, certainly can lead to profound, chronic and progressive chemical dependency. The National Institute of Drug Abuse estimates that nine to 16 percent of users will become cannabis dependent.
Its use can be serious, dangerous and have a profound impact upon the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families. Society disregards the inherent dangers, but before they know it at least 10 to 25 percent of users experience problems, many with grave and even catastrophic consequences.
Now with marijuana products having THC as high as 90 percent (an increase from the ratio of one to three percent in the 1960s), it makes the drug even more dangerous and addictive.
Marijuana has destroyed the dreams and quality of life for countless youth and families. And one of the greatest dangers of marijuana is that it is underestimated as a powerful pharmacologic, psychoactive, mind-altering substance. In this regard marijuana is not fully appreciated for what it really is – a strong drug of addiction that will have devastating effects on families.
Drug use affects everyone: family, friends, neighbors and all of society. It is not a personal, singular event. The use of drugs does not happen in a vacuum. Tens of thousands of individuals and families have been left emotionally bankrupt, even for life.
Marijuana legalization is not simply another public policy issue like taxes. Once enacted, legalization will have far reaching and permanent repercussions for our families – and on our children, forever.