Catholics and pot: Denver archbishop speaks out against marijuana use, U.S. drug culture

Secondly, Aquila said, “anything that diminishes man’s use of reason and will assails his dignity as a human person and is therefore harmful.”

“[D]rugs diminish our self-possession by harming the very faculties that make us human: Drugs inhibit our use of reason, weaken our will’s orientation toward the good, and train our emotions to expect quick relief from artificial pleasure,” he continued.

“These effects severely limit our ability to freely give ourselves to another — whether it be temporarily, as in the case of occasional drug use, or regularly, as in the case of drug addiction.”

On the contrary, “rather than reaching for chemicals when we are feeling weary and burdened, Jesus invites us to turn to him, who promises rest and abundance.”

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Made for greatness, not comfort

“The truth is that even ‘soft’ drugs assault the human person by negatively affecting him on physical, intellectual, psychological, social, and moral levels,” Aquila wrote. 

“[M]arijuana causes deficits in the brain’s executive functioning, temporarily impairing coordination, concentration, working memory, and inhibition. For those who might be tempted to sacrifice some of their dignity for the pleasure drugs bring, we are reminded of the paraphrase of Pope Benedict XVI’s words: ‘The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.’”

Archbishop Samuel Aquila. Credit: Denver Catholic

Christians are called to “fully embrace Christ’s invitation to leave behind unhealthy attachments and coping mechanisms, like drugs … honoring God with our bodies.”

“If we are Christians who use drugs, we must ask ourselves hard questions about what emptiness in our souls we are trying to fill or what pain in our lives we are seeking to numb,” Aquila continued.

“Yet this examen must take place within the mercy of Jesus who said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ No matter what we have done, his merciful love invites us out of sin and into abundant life. When we seek forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation, we are spiritually strengthened, receiving graces that help us address the causes of our sin and root them out.”

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What is the Catholic Church’s view on alcohol use?

In a later section of the letter, Aquila spoke about the reasons people and societies fall into the practice of drug use, in an attempt to “compassionately understand, without condoning, the typical flight toward drugs and why they constitute such a massive industry.” He noted that Americans spent an estimated $150 billion on illegal drugs in 2016, making the United States the largest market in the world.

Speaking about a “lack of intimacy with God coupled with the deprivation of authentic love from others,” such a scenario “sends people into either a despairing isolation or a cheap imitation of community that is as harmful as it is helpful.” Many people who struggle with drug addiction also struggle with mental health issues, and vice versa, he said. 

In the face of such relational pain, “‘drugs are an easy and immediate, but deceptive, answer to the human need for satisfaction and true love,’” Aquila said, quoting a 1992 Vatican document.

Addressing a possible objection, Aquila noted later in the letter that temperate use of alcohol is not the same as using drugs such as marijuana. Scripture, while describing alcohol as a gift from God, nevertheless strongly condemns drunkenness, he wrote.

Turning specifically to marijuana, Aquila laid out readily available scientific evidence showing marijuana’s adverse health effects. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, warns that “people who use marijuana are more likely to develop temporary psychosis (not knowing what is real, hallucinations, and paranoia) and long-lasting mental disorders, including schizophrenia (a type of mental illness where people might see or hear things that are not really there).”

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