Expanding CA State Legalization Of Marijuana Poses New Questions For Catholic Church

Medical Marijuana

CALIFORNIA: Somewhere among the skateboarders, weight lifters, street artisans and moms pushing strollers at California’s Venice Beach may be a high concentration of seriously ill Californians seeking alternative pain relief. That’s the impression given by an omnipresent odor and abundance of Oceanfront medical marijuana dispensaries and one-stop “medical consultation” shops on the boardwalk–some outfitted with mini-ATM machines, leaf-shaped signage, and playful sidewalk barkers dressed in green and welcoming passersby.

It has been more than a decade since California became the first state to allow legal medical marijuana sales in the U.S. and, although in conflict with an unmoving federal ban on marijuana sales, the state-by-state trend to legalize it has been on a fast track ever since. On a grass-roots level, the movement has supporters virtually everywhere, and nearly 20 states and the District of Columbia already allow legal medical marijuana consumption. In two of those states–Colorado and Washington–small amounts of “recreational” marijuana is now legal. Residents there will begin to see dispensaries selling pot and pot-infused products, edibles, sweets, and beverages to people over 21.

The Catholic Church has largely stayed neutral in the debate, with church leaders focused on other battles related to the religious liberty and efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, according to several Catholic theologians, policy advisers, and academics, some of whom favor of marijuana’s potential health benefits in suitable cases and with controls. “It would be pure speculation why there has been very little reaction, but usage is already so widespread that it came and went here with little attention,” said Greg Magnoni, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle. Last November, 56 percent of Washington voters helped pass Initiative 502 for recreational pot use.

There are wide financial, medical, public policy, and public welfare issues around legalizing what the federal government classifies as a controlled substance with no medical merits, including safeguards and regulations (or lack of) to limit abuses and unintended consequences such as enabling under-aged use. The Washington law permits small-quantity sales of marijuana but prohibits public consumption (a frequently disregarded rule in many public places).

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