Archdiocese opposes legalization of recreational marijuana

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Editor’s note – This is a message by Archbishop Michael Byrnes issued Mar. 25, 2019 regarding the archdiocese’s position on recreational marijuana.

The Archdiocese of Agaña wishes to make clear to its faithful and the community in general that it strongly opposes the legalization of recreational marijuana in our island.

Whenever the Catholic Church examines issues that have a social, civic and moral bearing in the community, we are guided by the divine laws of God, the tenets of our faith and the call to work with all people for the common good.

Legalizing the use of cannabis will only harm the common good of our island, not enhance it. As a community already riddled with a drug problem of epidemic magnitude, we need to focus on reducing the presence of illegal drugs and substances that intoxicate our people, not aid their proliferation.

While the Catholic Church permits the use of some drugs for therapeutic purposes such as relieving pain and nausea, it is clear about the evils of drug abuse. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.

Other individuals and groups have shared compelling reasons why our island should not legalize recreational cannabis as proposed by Bill 32-35 which is now being considered by the 35th Guam Legislature.

Drawing input from numerous individuals including teachers and law enforcement professionals, the Archdiocese of Agaña believes that passage of the bill will be destructive on multiple levels. Certainly, it will adversely affect the common good of our families, marriages, youth, government organizations, businesses and the very identity of our island as a family-oriented community.

Marijuana, like many drugs, is an addictive substance. Users are attracted to the pleasure and relaxation that cannabis produces. Taking pot for recreational purposes is often a way for individuals to escape the burdens, worries and responsibilities that they may encounter in life. However, the sense of peace that drug abuse and reliance on illicit substances offer is illusory. It is a false solution that only creates more problems for individuals … and the people that surround them.

Rather than escape, we need engagement.

• We need our youth and our young adults – people of all ages – to be fully engaged in the various activities of their lives and our communities.

• We need students to be sharply focused, attentive and engaged in their academic studies in the classrooms and homes.

• We need employees to be good, productive and dependable workers who think clearly as they serve customers and help their company and our economy thrive.

• We need parents, guardians, big brothers and sisters, uncles, aunties, and grandparents to be fully present, engaged, and active in the lives of children who look to them for care, guidance and safety.

• For the common good and safety of all drivers and pedestrians who travel on our roads and pathways, we need all motorists to operate their vehicles responsibly and completely free of any substance in their bodies that may impair their judgement, reaction, and motor skills.

Authors of the proposed legislation state that the bill contains measures that would regulate and restrict the use of cannabis to persons 21-and-older. Regulations already exist however, and the damaging drugs are still finding their way to our youth.

According to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2015, the percent of high school students from Guam who report they have used marijuana one or more times in their lives was 49 percent. That’s 10 percent higher than their peers in the U.S. mainland who came in at 39 percent.

Numerous studies describe how long term marijuana use can be especially damaging on the brain development of individuals who began use of the drug as teenagers.

Finally, the Catholic Church on Guam is not alone in taking this stand against legalization of marijuana. Conferences of Catholic bishops in such places as Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Arizona and Canada to name a few, have expressed their opposition to such legislation or propositions in their areas. Unfortunately, they have often been unsuccessful in their attempts.

In the end, despite the many challenges that our archdiocese and universal church face both internally and externally, we shall continue to work steadfastly with all people for the common good.

Finally, I encourage all faithful of Guam to be well informed on church teachings on this and other vital issues that affect all of us. Be informed, active participants in the civil discussions of our community. Let your voices be known to our civic leaders as well, trusting always in our Creator to guide us in all things.

Sincerely in Christ,

/s/Coadjutor Archbishop Michael Byrnes

Archdiocese of Agaña