The Bible is life’s skeleton key: a document that, in the right (or wrong) hands, can be useful for justifying (or condemning) just about anything. That latest interpretation of divine will is why the Catholic Church opposes marijuana legalization in Minnesota.
Last year, with support from Gov. Tim Walz, A legalization bill passed the Democratic Party-controlled state House. Getting through the Republican majority state Senate will require support from reluctant Republicans—and will have to survive opposition from a coalition called Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, which consists of the state police officers’ union, truckers and the Minnesota Catholic Conference (MCC), the Church’s policy shop.
Special Coalition Echoes Republican Cannabis Fears
The MCC’s stance against cannabis legalization follows other Catholic organizations in other states standing against legalization. In 2018, Michigan’s Catholic Church urged voters to reject that state’s Proposal 1. (Voters didn’t listen.) In Canada, where the national government legalized cannabis in 2018, the Church at least signaled tepid support for medical cannabis “when properly dispensed for therapeutic purposes,” but spoke out against using cannabis for “deliberate intoxication.” (The Church has yet to receive the “cannabis as a wellness product” memo.)
The Church has a losing record, but fortune may be kinder in Minnesota, where the Catholic Church appears to be taking the lead against cannabis legalization. At a January press conference announcing the launch of Minnesotans Against Marijuana Legalization, it was the Catholic Conference’s Ryan Hamilton who condemned the legalization bill as not “a justice bill, [but] a marijuana commercialization bill,” according to the Associated Press.
As for why legalization is bad, opponents brought up all the usual bugaboos—more people driving stoned, more people failing drug tests and thus unable to work—but, in a departure from the usual anti-legalization script, with the additional flavor of the holy word. “Our direction on this issue comes from the pope himself,” Hamilton said in an interview published with The Catholic Spirit.
Does God Really Condemn Weed?
Why does God think weed is bad? In lieu of a statement, Katherine Szepieniec, a spokesperson for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, directed Cannabis Now to a 2014 TIME magazine article, in which Pope Francis condemned legalization of any drug—a position the Church has consistently held since 2001.
“Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ aren’t only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects,” the Pope said then. Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: The problem of drug use isn’t solved with drugs! Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise.”
According to TIME, Pope Francis’s main problem with drugs is that they create dependencies that “both hurt relationships and trap people in poverty.” That may be true in certain cases—cannabis addiction is a real thing and a real problem for the people who experience it—but it’s also true that cannabis prohibition creates problems, including impoverishment and incarceration, and for no other reason than a man-made law.
What does God—or the Pope, or the Minnesota Catholic Conference—think about people using weed to throw other people in jail or reduce their economic vitality? The wrongs of the War on Drugs, racially biased drug arrests and impoverishment of communities wasn’t something either Pope Francis, the Canadian bishops or the Michigan Catholic Conference addressed. And to those questions, Szepieniec didn’t respond.
The Church has come out against drug use before—only to change its mind when convenient. According to Sanho Tree, the director of the Drug Policy Project at the think-tank Institute for Policy Studies, the Catholic Church banned the practice of coca-leaf chewing in what is now modern-day Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and other countries high in the Andes Mountains—or at least it did until silver mines were discovered at elevations of 13,000 feet and above. The Spanish settlers (and the Church) soon found out that indigenous coerced labor couldn’t function at such high altitudes without chewing coca leaves—and all of a sudden, coca use was OK again.
Will the Church adopt a softer stance on cannabis legalization, or perhaps endorse decriminalization as an alternative to the status quo that’s undeniably caused so many earthly problems? Unlikely. In his interview with the Catholic Spirit, MCC’s Hamilton said that the Minnesota Church will continue “standing up against an industry that has proven to do more harm than good to the poor and vulnerable and the common good.”