Marijuana Legality and Morality


Convivium, 17 October 2018

Father Raymond de Souza explains how marijuana use remains immoral even if governments across the country have made it legal today.

Marijuana becomes legal in Canada today. But it still remains, to use the proper word, a sin.

What advice should pastors and parents give now that cannabis is legal? Does legalization change the morality of it?

Yes and no.

Yes. Some things are morally neutral in themselves, but because a legitimate authority proscribes them, it becomes sinful – contrary to God’s will – to do it. Not because of the thing in itself, but because of the disobedience to legitimate authority (cf. Romans 13:1) The best example might be traffic laws. There is nothing inherently immoral in driving on the right or left side of the street, or yielding to or merging with flowing traffic. Yet the regulations, when passed by legitimate authority, mean it is wrong to disobey them – even if one does not get caught.

But there are also things that are immoral even if there is no law against them. For example, before there were “distracted driving” laws against using electronic devices when driving, was it immoral to do so? Not in terms of obedience to the law. But if such behaviour was reckless and led to endangering others, it was wrong to do so even if no laws were broken.

More relevant to marijuana, there is no law against drinking to great excess, just as there are not laws against adultery or being rude at work, or being ungrateful to your mother. But all remain sinful behaviours.

That marijuana is legal means that it is no longer immoral to use because it is against the law. Pastors and parents who said marijuana use was immoral because it was illegal can no longer use that argument. Prospective users who were put off by its illegality no longer have that barrier.

So why is marijuana use still immoral?

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) issued a statement when the Cannabis Act was passed last June, saying that “it is lamentable that the federal government has decided to facilitate the provision and use of an addictive substance that will have disastrous effects for so many people.”

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