In its rush to legalize so-called “recreational” marijuana usage, we believe that our state’s elected officials are preparing to open a Pandora’s Box that will have multiple deleterious effects on individuals, families, and all of society.
While the Governor and some legislators see enhanced revenues for the state’s coffers through a new taxable marijuana industry, we are more concerned with consequences ranging from increased teenage and childhood usage, harmful effects on developing brains, addiction, natural progression to harder drug use, increased impairment-related transportation accidents and deaths, and other potential public health and safety issues.
Of particular concern regarding the movement toward legalization is the impact on children, and the normalization of usage that state approval encourages. Proponents argue that usage will be restricted to age 21 and older but, as we have seen in the alcohol and tobacco industries, producers of harmful products always find a way to market their products to children.
Studies appear to show racial and ethnic disparities in enforcement of marijuana possession, and we take this issue seriously. The state can and should take appropriate measures to ensure that skin color or zip code do not result in different outcomes for the same offense, including re-evaluating the justice of current criminal penalties for low-level possession. At the same time, we must not simply throw up our hands and legalize a harmful substance in order to declare the problem of discrimination solved.
The Catholic Church is not prohibitionist but at the same time we believe the government should not be encouraging destructive behavior, whether gambling or drug use, to raise revenue. Vice is not an appropriate economic development engine for a state that prides itself as a national progressive leader. Our state motto is Excelsior (ever upward), but policies that exploit addiction instead lead us ever downward.
We join with our state’s medical, education and law enforcement communities in urging New York State to reject marijuana legalization.
The Catholic Conference represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters.
Bishop DiMarzio’s recent column on marijuana :