In 2012, when I voted against Amendment 64, meant to legalize marijuana in Colorado, I laughed off the ballot measure, thinking it would not have a chance of passing. Oops. Ever since, I have been disturbed by what’s been happening in Colorado. I initially wrote a few pieces criticizing the legalization from a philosophical, theological, and cultural point of view (piece 1, piece 2, piece 3). In fact, the legalization of marijuana is one link in a chain of cultural changes, all centered on a withdraw from reality—a breaking down of boundaries and natural limits and a retreat from personal and cultural responsibility.

Defenders of legalized marijuana claim that it is safe and healthy and benefits our country by taking pressure off of law enforcement. This argument fits with our general understanding of freedom: why not let individuals make their own choices, especially if they are not harming anyone else. As we embrace this radicalized understanding of freedom more and more, we see, however, that reckless freedom comes with a cost, both to the individual and society. We can see that legalized pot seriously damages health and presents a moral and physical danger to society.

Although evidence existed prior, much more medical evidence has accumulated in the last few years which documents the harmfulness of marijuana. Although advocates claim that marijuana is natural and therefore safe, its consumption actually harms the body and mind in many ways. Overall, I would echo the plea of one doctor, written in an editorial to the Boston Globe: “Can we please stop pretending marijuana is harmless?

One of the most frightening discoveries shows that consuming marijuana alters DNA, creating harmful mutations that will be passed down to children and future generations. One doctor, studying this phenomenon, Dr. Stuart Reece said: ‘Through our research we found that cancers and illnesses were likely caused by cell mutations resulting from cannabis properties having a chemical interaction with a person’s DNA.” Smoking pot can have permanent health effects and not just for the individual user.


Negative health effects are even more pronounced upon children. One thing that is clear since legalization is Colorado is that three times as many children have been exposed to marijuana. In a study just released in July of 2016, Dr. Genie Roosevelt related that “Marijuana exposures in young children have resulted in respiratory compromise requiring the use of a ventilator and intensive care unit admission in a handful of cases.” There has been a rise in emergency room visits and even for those children taken to the hospital for bronchitis, 1 in 6 had been exposed to marijuana.

Following the legalization of marijuana, Colorado formed a Retail Marijuana Public Health Advisory Committee, which released a report on January 30, 2015. In relation to teenagers and young adults, the Committee reported as follows: 

We found substantial evidence for associations between adolescent and young adult marijuana use and future addiction to illicit drugs in adulthood. We found an increased risk for developing psychotic symptoms or psychotic disorders in adulthood among regular adolescent and young adult users…. We also found moderate evidence indicating that adolescent marijuana users were less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to be addicted to marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco in adulthood.

The Committee also found a general increase in health problems: “In general, there were large increases in poison center calls, hospitalizations, and emergency department visits observed after medical marijuana was commercialized in 2010 and additional increases after retail (recreational) marijuana was legalized in 2014.”

One particular risk, made worse by the huge influx of people moving to Colorado for marijuana access, is the impairment of people driving under the influence. The same Committee found “substantial evidence that risk of motor vehicle crash doubles among drivers with recent marijuana use. Additionally, we found substantial evidence for a positive relationship between THC blood level and motor vehicle crash risk –that is, substantial evidence that the higher the level of THC in blood, the higher the crash risk.” In 2015 over 100,000 people moved to Colorado, most to the front range cities, and according to one survey 80% of people moving here are coming for pot. The roads are quickly become very congested (with potheads)! It’s not just Colorado either, as fatal crashes related to marijuana doubled in Washington State after legalization there.

Newsweek weighed in on the changes happening to Colorado, with an article entitled “The Unexpected Side Effects of Legalizing Weed.”

The wave of enthusiasm following the passage of Amendment 64 has given way to a drip, drip, drip of unintended consequences. Law-enforcement issues, such as marijuana-intoxicated driving and the illegal movement of vast amounts of cannabis product into other states, are the tip of the iceberg . . .

Other symptoms of Colorado’s pot culture include increased use among teens, resulting in educational problems in middle schools and high schools, a spike in “edibles”-related emergency room visits, consumption by children and pets resulting in illness and death and regulatory confusion surrounding public consumption and enforcement.

I fear, however, that government will turn a blind eye to the problems related to marijuana. The drug is still illegal in Colorado and every state according to Federal Law. President Obama, however, refuses to enforce our country’s drug laws when it comes to marijuana. For the State of Colorado, some have spoken of an “addiction to revenue” from the drug. For the 2014-15 fiscal year, ending last summer, Colorado collected 70 million dollars in taxes. As we can see from the evidence above, this revenue comes at a serious cost to Colorado citizens.

Seven states have marijuana on the ballot this fall. After two and half years of state legalized marijuana, we can say with confidence that the experiment has failed. As Catholic men, we must stand up for the truth and defend our families and country from the harm of legalized drugs.

  • While relegalizing marijuana is certain to have costs, so too has criminalization. A fair article would balance them.

    Prohibition is a fairly good analogy to marijuana criminalization. Within months of Prohibition, there were organized gangs of criminals involved in smuggling, illegal production, and illegal distribution. These gangs battled in the streets for control of the trade, menaced the innocent, and corrupted the police. The amount of users who abused alcohol and were poisoned by both overdoses and adulterated product shot up. And after Prohibition ended, patterns of overconsumption remained in place for over fifty years.

    The original market for recreational marijuana is smaller than there was for alcohol. Nonetheless, prohibition of marijuana has resulted in organized gangs of criminals involved in smuggling, illegal production, and illegal distribution. These gangs battle in the streets for control of the trade, menace the innocent, and corrupt the police. And civil asset forfeiture has corrupted law enforcement even further.

    I do not use marijuana. I have been exposed to marijuana use perhaps two or three times in my life. If I should offer a ride home to a coworker who, unbeknownst to me happens to have a jay or two in his pocket, and we get stopped at a drunk driving checkpoint, for example, and the police find his personal use stash, they can take my car. They could file a lawsuit along the lines of “Generic Police Department v. 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier” and if I was allowed a trial to recover my car (which I’m not, in all jurisdictions), I’d have 30 days to put up a nonrefundable bond of 10% of the car’s value and hire an attorney to prove that the preponderance of the evidence did not show my car was or could be used in a crime. And the police dept. could re-file the suit or appeal as many times as they wanted, because “Generic Police Department v. 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier” is not a criminal proceeding, and double jeopardy does not apply. While I’m fighting this never-ending battle to get my car back, the police dept. sells it at auction and keeps the proceeds.

    Actually, that’s one of the stronger cases for forfeiture. It could happen this way: that coworker is busted elsewhere with one or two joints in his possession. He’s on parole, and the weed is a violation, so he’s up for a lot of hard time. The cops offer to drop the charges if he’ll turn somebody else in. He has a grudge against me, and alleges that he gave me a joint once and I took it with me in my car. Not only do the cops seize my car on the strength of this allegation, but they don’t even have to tell me why or even IF they did so. Even if my jurisdiction allows me to fight it by posting the nonrefundable 10% value bond, I STILL only have 30 days to do so.

    Police in many urban communities routinely seize small amounts of cash on the strength of an allegation that the guy carrying it could use it to buy pot. There is no defense, no recourse, and no due process.

    And beyond a mention, I’m going to completely pass over the sorts of double-digit sentences that possession and use offenders are routinely required to serve, and the for-profit prisons that routinely receive the government contract to carry out the sentence, and routinely enslave them.

    Like ethanol and tobacco, marijuana is largely a voluntary health risk. Like ethanol and tobacco, the best way to get people to stop is education, much as with the campaign against cigarettes. And with relegalization, people who are hurt by marijuana at least have recourse to the courts to gain compensation for the harm they suffer.

  • PatH

    Well, I think the reactions are predictable, but coming from the prospective of somebody who basically favored legalization, until I saw the impact of it first hand, I think you are fully correct to be concerned.

    Indeed, I blogged on that myself, along with a lot of other rambling topics, here:

    I’m generally not in the “everything is going the wrong direction camp), but as noted in my self confessed rant, there’s a lot of really distressing poor thinking going on right now.

  • Seth Murray

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many straw man arguments packed into a single article. It would honestly take a small book to unravel them all. I will attempt to briefly address one: “Defenders of legalized marijuana claim that it is safe and healthy and benefits our country by taking pressure off of law enforcement.”

    That is simply false and word-spin beyond compare.

    First many people do find marijuana safe, healthy and beneficial. The fact that you don’t, or that you can find obscure cases where it was abused or had adverse effects is irrelevant. For example, water is safe, healthy, beneficial, and even necessary for life, but thousands of people drown in it every year. We can find cases where people actually died from over-consumption of water, or who were poisoned due to things added to water. But only a fool would take these situations and then argue for regulation or criminalization of water, yet this is precisely what is done with marijuana.

    The criminalization of marijuana doesn’t put pressure on law enforcement, so legalizing it obviously doesn’t take pressure off. “Law enforcement” profits by millions of dollars every year as a result of the criminalization of things like marijuana, and is almost uniformly for its continued criminalization. Law enforcement WANTS criminalization to continue, because it depends on it to buy goodies.

    The reality is that “defenders of legalized marijuana” recognize that it should never have been criminalized in the first place, that the process by which it was done was a parade of dishonesty and bad thinking, and that its criminalization has been used to justify the destruction of countless lives. It is utterly unjustifiable to assert that I can assault you, take your property, destroy your family, kidnap and place you in a box with violent criminals for months or years, or kill you if you resist, all because you chose to smoke or otherwise consume a plant or its derivatives which many people have found to be beneficial.

    The press to criminalize marijuana is rooted in misinformation, misunderstandings and a desire to impose your will on others under the threat of violence. It is utterly immoral.

    Even Thomas Aquinas rightly recognized that some acts, even if you disapprove of them should NOT be made illegal, because in doing so you will end up bringing about much more destruction than the act, itself.

    By the way, before someone goes off on a genetic fallacy, I’ve never consumed marijuana (or any illegal drug), and have no plans to do so.

  • Michael Contreras

    Than you also have to speak up about liquor. Liquor causes more damage to your body, your family and the Church. If anything, marijuana is a better alternative.

    • PatH

      That’s actually a fairly poor argument and lacks a logical strain.

      It isn’t that one drug is the alternative to the other. That isn’t how this happens. Rather, the point should be that alcohol, which has been with us so long that we can’t find an era in which it wasn’t with us, and which most human populations have some genetic adaptation to in order that it can even be consumed, still causes us boatloads of problems. That is, if we haven’t been able to figure out how to handle alcohol completely in the past 10,000 years, assuming that it isn’t the pat 250,000 years, what makes us think that we’re going to do better with any new “recreational” drugs we add to the mix? History wouldn’t seem to support that we would.