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Let’s hope Americans make the right choice tomorrow – by legalising cannabis

Tomorrow voters in three US states have the chance to help end failed war on drugs

By on Monday, 5 November 2012

Cannabis sativa, marihuana, hemp, plant

Something very important happens on Tuesday when America comes to vote – but the epoch-making decision isn’t Obama versus Romney. Rather it is happening in three states where people will get a chance to vote in a referendum to legalise marijuana. The states are Washington, Oregon and Colorado.

The Observer yesterday reported: 

If the measures are passed, adults over 21 would be able to possess, distribute and use small amounts. Cannabis for authorised medical use is already permitted and regulated by each state, even though it is against federal law.

Support is particularly strong in Washington and Colorado, but a “yes” vote in any of the states would be interpreted by the Department of Justice as an act of defiance against the federal government’s war on drugs – the national law enforcement programme that spends $44bn a year struggling to stem the tide of illegal drugs in the US.

In June 2011, however, the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared that the war on drugs had failed.

As a British subject resident over here, I do not get a vote, but if I did live in any of these states, my vote would certainly be for liberalisation. I have written on this before now, so it should not come as a suprise to anyone. (See here and here  and here)

I note from the report that several retired cops are in favour of legalisation, and the pros and antis do not divide along expected party lines. Like all reasonable people, I want to see drug use decline; I think that in the long term there is a fair chance of this happening if drugs are legalised. I am sure that there is no chance of this happening if the present situation is allowed to continue. As things stand at present, the drug suppliers, who are criminals, have a vested interest in encouraging drug use, and no qualms about doing so. In addition, illegality gives drugs an added undeserved glamour. Legalisation means taking the production, distribution and sale of these dangerous substances away from criminals, and placing them in responsible hands.

But what is absolutely certain is that the war on drugs, that has cost millions of dollars and millions of lives, and which has led to several countries teetering on the brink of failed statedom, has been a resounding failure. We might once have wished to prevent people who wanted drugs being able to obtain them, but we have failed to do so, resoundingly so. All we have done is created a vast and powerful international drugs industry, an industry that would, with legalisation, be put out of business.

The measures up for the vote on Tuesday are modest ones, but they represent a small but impornat step towards sanity.

  • DavidMHart

     At the risk of going off-topic, what ‘assault’ exactly is being proposed against the Catholic Church in America?

    Also, for what it’s worth, some religious freedom is at stake. The Rastafarians are the most well-known religion for whom cannabis is a sacrament – I expect there are other ones I don’t know about – and they are currently prohibited under US law from practising that aspect of their religion. So if you are genuinely concerned about religious freedom you ought to be on their side on this one. Sure, they believe some daft things, but all religions look daft to people outside them – religious freedom has to apply to them all – and in the same way (i.e. you are free to believe anything you want to believe, but you are not free to cause harm to others or discriminate against them on the basis of your religion) or it is not worth anything.

  • Sour Alien

    The Daily Mail has been spreading misinformation and propaganda about cannabis for over 10 years, this is no secret. In fact recently they had to retract something they said and apologies for the inaccuracies. It is common knowledge that they lie and twist the truth when it comes to cannabis. The alcohol industry OPENLY is against cannabis legalisation, im Sure what Professor Nutt said about alcohol consumption dropping by 25% if cannabis was regulated, only confirmed their fears. The alcohol lobby relentlessly opposes legalization simply because they know what a financial threat it would be. Theresa May, and other corrupt cowardly politicians and leaders put vested interest in front of any harm reduction plan, and openly ignore scientific evidence and expert advice. Hear say, prejudice and anecdotes become prioritized. Please do not take offence when i say your naivety is obvious. I do not expect you to believe anything I say, but please note, i am not the only one saying this. Many have ‘woken up’ and opened their eyes to the situation. Many are understanding the science of cannabis, the dangers of prohibition and the corruption that is going on. It is totally up to you if you prefer to be left in the Dark, some find it more comforting to know the truth, it doesnt scare them. 

  • flux5000

    There is no ambiguity in Gen 1:29, tell me why my ‘interpretation’ is ‘blatan’t and or ‘partisan’. Could it be because it doesn’t serve your point of view?

  • Matthew Hazell

    Why is your interpretation partisan? Perhaps because, in its context, Gen. 1:29 has nothing to do with the (ab)use of recreational drugs? Perhaps because you’ve ripped it out of its context and used it as a proof-text, like many a fundamentalist is wont to?

  • flux5000

    There you go, we don’t need modern ‘context’ to understand a basic principle, in that things are there for persons to use. Just because a person abuses something does not mean that person ought to be criminalised.
    People abuse all kinds of things, but to drag all ‘drugs’ into one basket is ridiculous. not all ‘drugs’ are equal. Here we are talking about Cannabis.

    I am no ‘fundamentalist’. It was an observation, maybe you are a higher authority and know better though …

  • Matthew Hazell

    “You don’t have legalization at one end of a scale and prohibition at the other – you have prohibition at one end, and legalization is everything else on that scale right up until you hit ‘totally unregulated libertarian free market’ at the other.”

    Why, on this scale, does there have to be only one variant of prohibition, but many variants of legalisation? 

    For example, it would be perfectly possible to keep drugs prohibited, but carry out the “war on drugs” (or whatever you wish to call it) in a different manner. Such a position would still be on this scale, but could not be described as legalisation. 

    And that’s what I’ve been saying all throughout this discussion. Any legalisation of drugs would not be consistent with Catholic teaching – cf. CCC 2291, which I notice no-one else on either side of the argument has bothered to cite. So, rather than the political utilitarianism Fr Lucie-Smith espouses above, the authentically Catholic way forward is to change the way we deal with the problem of drugs through, for example, better application and use of existing laws, and more effective treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts. None of this should involve the attempt to abolish the problem with a stroke of the legislator’s pen, or to legalise that which is not moral. 

    (As a secondary point, I would also point out that there is no contradiction here between the law of God and the law of man, so Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 would apply here.) 

  • DavidMHart

    “Why, on this scale, does there have to be only one variant of prohibition, but many variants of legalisation?”

    You’re quite right; there doesn’t. There is a world of difference between a prohibition system which prescribes fines or other slight punishments for drug possession and a prohibition system which prescribes the death penalty. But all variants that include the default position that no recreational use of a drug is permitted by law are bunched up at the one extreme of the spectrum whereas legal regulation runs the full gamut of widening numbers of circumstances in which recreational use of the drug is permitted by law.

    I am not religious, so I am not going to get into theology with you here, but if you genuinely think a Catholic should never wish to “legalise that which is not moral”, are you prepared to go all the way and say that we should never legalise that which is immoral even if it could be proved that legalising it would massively reduce the overall levels of harm that that allegedly immoral thing caused? In which case, you would have to admit that you are happier with a system that causes more harm but allows you to maintain your ideological purity than you would be with a system that causes less harm?

    (Needless to say, in this specific case, we would still need to prove that drug use in and of itself is immoral before we could use that as a reason for not legalising it, and I am a) unpersuaded by any of the arguments I’ve heard so far, and b) quite sure on present evidence that even if drug use is immoral, criminally penalising people for drug use is even more immoral)

  • Matthew Hazell

    “[T]hings are there for persons to use.”

    And in that brief statement lies the root problem with your interpretation of Gen. 1:29 (and also with what seems to be your general philosophy).

    Utilitarianism is not Catholic or Christian.

  • Matthew Hazell

    “[A]re you prepared to go all the way and say that we should never legalise that which is immoral even if it could be proved that legalising it would massively reduce the overall levels of harm that that allegedly immoral thing caused.”

    Yes. One of the basic axioms of Catholic moral thought is that it is never permissible to do evil so that good may result. CCC 2291 states pretty clearly what the Catholic position on the use of drugs is, and that has necessary implications in terms of what sort of political policy Catholics can or should support. 

    “In which case, you would have to admit that you are happier with a system that causes more harm but allows you to maintain your ideological purity than you would be with a system that causes less harm?”

    I would only have to admit that if it is the system that causes the harm, rather than the individuals within the system. In any given system, there is always a choice for the individual to do good or evil – the system can make choices easier or harder, and thus can be describe as moral or immoral in a certain sense, but the system itself does not make the choice; unlike a person, a system is not a moral being. 

    And in any case, with regard to drugs, I think it is possible to have a “less harmful” system in which drugs are still illegal. Even if I wasn’t religious, I would still see far too many risks and possible unintended consequences involved in any sort of legalisation of drugs to be able to support it.

  • Howitworks

    America arrests 750,000 people every year for possession of cannabis. Most of these people will spend some hours in a cell at the very least. They will subsequently be convicted of a felony which will prevent them working in many fields, prevent them obtaining student loans, prevent them from living in public housing or obtaining benefits, prevent them immigrating and result in deportation if they are not citizens. These consequences for the individual in this “convenient fiction” are very real and will follow them for life…. no rehabilitation of offenders act in the US. It can also lead to children being removed from their parents and life-long disenfranchisement in many states. So tell me, NBooks, how is this not a war on drug-users?

  • DavidMHart

     “One of the basic axioms of Catholic moral thought is that it is never permissible to do evil so that good may result.”

    That may be true, but doing evil is not the same as not criminalizing evil, which is what we’re discussing here. Are you prepared to concede at least that?

    “I would only have to admit that if it is the system that causes the harm, rather than the individuals within the system. In any given system, there is always a choice for the individual to do good or evil ”

    Well, the system is the result of some of the individuals within the system as well – namely those who make the laws … and if someone makes a law, knowing that it will be widely flouted and that it will cause harms greater than those it is meant to address, surely that lawmaker bears some responsibility for those harms? That is to say – when prohibition was first proposed, it was possible for intelligent people to believe that it would reduce drug use to negligible levels, and thus reduce harm overall, but the evidence of the last several decades has been so strongly against that hypothesis that anyone proposing to continue prohibition really is accepting a share of responsibility for the consequences of prohibition. Are you willing to accept that?

    And again, note that we still do not have a good reason to believe that personal drug use is evil in and of itself.

    “I think it is possible to have a “less harmful” system in which drugs
    are still illegal. Even if I wasn’t religious, I would still see far too
    many risks and possible unintended consequences involved in any sort of
    legalisation of drugs to be able to support it.”

    You are quite right, it would be possible to have a less harmful system in which drugs were still illegal. But note what this system would look like. We would have to devote the lion’s share of drug policy budget towards harm reduction measures, and away from law enforcement measures that exacerbate gang violence and make the drugs less safe by making the supply chain sporadic. We would have to move to the ‘prohibition-lite’ end of the spectrum … and in that situation, there’d be no reason to dismiss out of hand a further move in the same direction, into the ‘legalization but with heavy restrictions’ zone, and see if that doesn’t reduce harms still further.

    But the risks and possible unintended consequences will become better known the more evidence we have … and if one of these ballot initiatives passes, we’re about to start getting a lot of evidence, which will reduce our uncertainty about what the risks and benefits are. Note also that we have centuries of experience of legally regulating two of the most popular recreational drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and while these are both undoubtedly harmful in at least some circumstances, there is neither any significant weight of opinion behind adding them to the list of currently-prohibited drugs as a means of reducing harm, nor very many people who would say that the use of these drugs is immoral. So would you at least be prepared to say that, in the event that certain harms do not materialise within a given timeframe in Washington or Colorado (or, indeed, if certain harms measurably lessen), then you would be willing to support legalization here as well? Or is there no conceivable evidence that could change your position on this question?

  • polycarped

    Fr Lucie-Smith has obviously never had the misfortune to live with or close to someone addicted to Cannabis.

  • Araujo Ferreira

    Father, I disagree. It might be because I live in Brazil, which is a quite differente place. But I think the problem is when one believes that “then it goes to responsible hands”. If the cultivation is in ilegal places, like South America, if these dealers earn millions by making it ilegal and not paying salaries and taxes, it doesnt make sense for me that this industry will suddenly become legal. It seems more reasonable that these dealers will become “partially leagal” and still earn millions though violence and so on…the governmet control will not enlarge by legalisation. And also, the kids exposure to drugs will increase. We can not say the war on drugs failled, some education programs here in Brazil are quite succesfull, but they depend on low levels of exposure to work and a honest comparision would be between a country with and without legalisation, even if the consume rose, we can not count “how many people didnt become addicts”, and there is certainly a point on that…


  • Charles Martel

    Exactly. I know quite a few. Their brains are permanently damaged. They can’t think straight, tend to be paranoid, and have made an utter mess of their lives.

  • Charles Martel

     “Denier of science”. LOL! What is this ‘science’, Mr Reynolds? Scientists can’t agree among themselves, but laymen are ordered to believe in ‘Science’. You will have to try harder than that.

  • Charles Martel

     Yes, clearly a lobbyist for the drugs trade

  • Matthew Hazell

    1) We’re discussing legalising evil, not “not criminalising” it. The latter would only be true if we had no laws about drugs and were discussing the possibility of making them. I would consider it evil to legalise evil. 

    2) The Catholic rationale for drug use being morally wrong is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2288-2291 in particular. It is to do with the fifth commandment and the virtue of temperance.

    3) The moral law against lying is widely flouted. Does that therefore make God responsible for people’s lies? No, individuals are responsible for that – they make free choices and decisions, just as they do with regards to current drug laws. 

  • Peter Reynolds

    Colorado and Washington state have legalised cannabis today.


  • flux5000

    I was quoting from Gen:1:29, shame you didn’t spot that, it is there for people to use.
    The fact is that you are against Cannabis being legal, so you will twist anything to support your view.
    You start to try to smudge the issue by generalising about ‘drugs’, when in fact we are here talking about Cannabis, for instance….

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I am pleased. This, I hope, will mark the beginning of the end of the war on drugs. Other states will follow, and other drugs will be similarly legalised, regulated, and taxed. It amy take time, but this is, I hope, the light at the end of the tunnel. People in Mexico and the rest of Latin America will be able to breathe a sigh of relief when their countries are no longer supplying the US and no longer suffering as a result of the war fought on their territory.

  • Diffal

    My position is based on the real evidence of the harmful effects of cannabis as presented in the literature(a small and realitavly old sample but this is what is directly to hand: British Journal of Psychiatry, i.e. “Psychiatric effects of cannabis” 2001. Johns. A., And World Psychiatry i.e. “Cannabis use and the risk of developing a psychotic disorder” 2008. Hall., and Degenhardt. And the British Medical Journal i.e. “Cannabis use in adolescence and risk for adult psychosis: longitudinal prospective study” 2002. Arseneault et al) and on my own experiences as a primary and secondary care health professional of dealing with drug addicts who are at various stages of addiction and treatment. Please don’t make uninformed judgments me and about where I’m coming from on this, it may lead to prejudice and bias on your part.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Rather more recent, August 2012 in fact:

    “Cannabis is safe for over-18 brains”

    Professor Terrie Moffitt, Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London

  • Petertheroman

    Well i cannot believe what you have said and in Christ i pray you really meet him, because you know nothing about drugs. Where as i do. Most of my life i took drugs including my friends and family and all it ever does is destroy the human spirit. It is a stumbling block to Christ. It clouds the mind and stop you hearing the Holy Spirit. How do i know. BECAUSE I WAS ADDICTED TO DRUGS AND I KNOW. You do not and i suggest you repent before God for such liberal views stuck in false reasoning and such puffed up pride. The west is falling apart because people are to afraid to stand up and speak the truth. Liberalism and modernist views, what ever they really are as its all folly, are destroying young peoples minds. Pope Gregory said the goverment of souls is the art of arts! You need to learn from those who suffer. Try livng with the Grey friars for a few weeks and you might understand why drugs are so destructive to the human soul!

  • Petertheroman

    Thank you Cora, im in surrey and I used to be one of those skunked up youths until Jesus changed my heart. I used to take drugs (canabis) and it nearly destroyed me. People can never see from the outside unless you lived that life. Drugs destroy the human spirit and your communication with God. It clouds your judgement. I suggest you smoke a fat one next time you try and say the rosary. In fact why dont you smoke it everyday, since its ok and should be legalized. Im sure after a year of smoking it and getting a psycological addiction, you wouldnt even be able to remember your prayers. Please stick to writing about subjects you understand as it is highly offensive and irresponsable towards people who have suffered at its destructive influence.

  • Petertheroman

    How i wish you were either cold or hot!

  • Sour Alien

    Im 100% sure Jesus would be proud to see we have freedom on the horizon, while a policy based on racism, prejudice and lies is slowly dying. 

  • Kasia

    Why am I not surprised, isn’t it usually the Catholics who have major substance abuse problems, a la the Irish with alcohol, and the Church sits back and watches gleefully as families are destroyed for generations.

  • Petertheroman

    Why dont you smoke it in church then? Or over a period of a year Peter Reynolds. You do not understand the affects on the brain. I urge you all who say its ok to take up using it now. Well are you and if not why?

  • Petertheroman



    Cannabis destroys your faith period, so stop pretending its ok. I have first hand experience and you are wrong. Can you say then same. I think not.

  • Petertheroman


  • JabbaPapa

    Abortionist dope-fiend adulterers everywhere — rejoice !!!

  • Petertheroman

    Pope Gregory the Great

    No one presumes to teach an art till he has first, with intent meditation, learned it. What rashness is it, then, for the unskilful to assume pastoral authority, since the government of souls is the art of arts! For who can be ignorant that the sores of the thoughts of men are more occult than the sores of the bowels? And yet how often do men who have no knowledge whatever of spiritual precepts fearlessly profess themselves physicians of the heart, though those who are ignorant of the effect of drugs blush to appear as physicians of the flesh! But because, through the ordering of God, all the highest in rank of this present age are inclined to reverence religion, there are some who, through the outward show of rule within the holy Church, affect the glory of distinction. They desire to appear as teachers, they covet superiority to others, and, as the Truth attests, they seek the first salutations in the market-place, the first rooms at feasts, the first seats in assemblies Matthew 23:6-7, being all the less able to administer worthily the office they have undertaken of pastoral care, as they have reached the magisterial position of humility out of elation only. For, indeed, in a magisterial position language itself is confounded when one thing is learned and another taught. Against such the Lord complains by the prophet, saying, They have reigned, and not by Me; they have been set up as princes, and I knew it not Hosea 8:4.

  • JabbaPapa

    “safer than aspirin” = propaganda and lies

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    What a load of b-word — you’re just inventing whichever c-word out of thin air.

  • JabbaPapa
  • Peter Reynolds

    It is as close to a fact as anything is in science that cannabis is safer than aspirin.

    If you deny this then we are back to witchcraft.  Face the facts.

  • Peter Reynolds

    Just as policemen and criminals are two sides of the same coin, so are saints and religious nutcases.

    I see now why so much hate and murder and denial of science and common sense has been perpetrated in the name of the Catholic church.You are brave man Father Alexander but even a saint would fail to educate lunatics.God bless you all and good bye!

  • Tom Drummond

    My comment was a bit tongue – in – cheek, but he seems to be a very strong supporter of liberalisation of psychoactive drugs. 

    I am in recovery from alcoholism and worked in  the treatment sector for many years.  I have a very strong preference for 12 Step recovery.  Twelve Step recovery  is not based on the latest research but on the actual experience of  those who have suffered from the disease.  

    The debate on drugs is often hijacked by “experts” who who quote the “literature” as if it were the last word. Many of them dispaly an arrogance that mirrors the secular attacks, a la Hitchens on the Church.  While experts have something to say and should be listened to thier effectiveness in the treatment of addictions and social problems is not great.  They can be very far removed from the coal face.  

    In my exprience the debate on liberalisation is enthusiastically supported  by middle class yuppies who do not give a hoot about anyone else.

    There are thousands of intergenerational welfare dependent people in my country whose whose efforts to get out of the welfare trap are frustrated by the use of cannabis as a source of income and chemical relief.  However if the experts think that these social problems will be helped  by making access to drugs easier ????.

    The War on Drugs is an unhelpful political slogan.  Slogans are an unfortunate fact of life in western politics.  Those who manufacture and distribute illegal drugs will stop at nothing to protect their activites.  They should be opposed at every turn.  

    There are many of us in our communities who will for whatever reason will be attracted to chemically induced euphoria and confuse it with happiness.  The alcohol industry recognised this centuries ago when they went from brewing to distilling in order to get a bigger hit in a smaller dose.  Drug users are no different. They have a ready market and will be rejoicing at having the support of catholic clerics.  

    Nice one Father.

  • Matthew Hazell

    You can paraphrase Gen. 1:29 as much as you like. The fact remains that you do not understand what it says because you are the one twisting texts to say what you wish them to mean – a result of ripping it out of its context in Genesis 1-3. 

    And your interpretative skills here don’t leave me with much confidence about your ability to interpret any other sort of data correctly. Just sayin’.

  • flux5000

    Say what you like, the people have spoken, and it’s legal in more states.

    As for your insults, carry on, it only serves to reduce your position and I will not go there… Just sayin’.

  • margaret threlfall

    Perhaps this priest should have a wander round a phsyciatric ward to see what this drug does to people. It can also lead to dementia. 
    You talk about a international drug industry. We already have one the pharmacutical companies who make billions out of mental health problems. Yet all these drugs do is give the patients more to worry about with all the side effects, and what about the carers who have to look after them.
    Legalise cannibis and it opens the door to more drug use. What you should be doing as part of the wider church is trying to get people to see they don’t need drugs only someone to care. Jesus wants us to open our hearts to these people to share our faith to help them to feel they have some worth and something to strive towards.
    Love given freely costs nothing and can change the way people think. Margaret threlfall    

  • Charles

     As an American, I believe the cause of our immense number of drug users
    is high levels of unhappiness with our materialistic and workaholic
    culture. In America we have two main life choices; to be an underemployed hippie type
    drop out, which no one respects, or to be over- employed, dedicating life, health, and
    freedom to an all time consuming career. Both our dominant options are
    out of balance; the human is body, mind, and soul and each must be taken
    care of. The dropout lives without dignity because he doesn’t develop
    his God given potential; the workaholic lives without dignity because he
    has no time for spirituality, family, or health. We need to restore
    balance in our society.

  • Edwardswyco

     Prohibition = black market & violence.  I married a woman from Latin America – it breaks our hearts to see everywhere turning into a killing field all so (mostly) Americans can continue to get high.  Legalizing is one good thing to suck the violence and power out of this “war”, but it must be coupled with fostering a people who have no desire to indulge in those narcotics.  Most of these drugs were legal up until Prohibition – it was just that there was a morality that prevented most Americans from consuming these things (not to mention a terrible stigma attached to their use, unlike today).

  • Ronk

    Yeah, we’ve heard it all before, about pornography, prostitution, abortion, sodomy, you name it, we were told that “it’s only a problem because it’s illegal, make it legal and the rates will go way down.” Well they did and the rates skyrocketed. We’re not falling for that again.

  • Tom Drummond

    It has been said it is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. He has lost all credibility with his last post.  

    The church gave us universities and hospitals.  The father of modern cosmology was a catholic priest. If his knowledge of science is as good as his knowledge of history he is ignorant and dangerous.  No doubt fueled by the hatred and bigotry of people of faith that he accuses everyone else of.The most violent period in history was the 20th century.  They were all political power struggles for absolute contral, Stalin, Mao and Hitler.

  • Araujo Ferreira

    Father I understand the necessity of improving the methods in the battle against drugs. But legalisation will increase the exposure to kids and make it more difficult for parents to  monitor, also, if US stops importing from Latin America, the prices will fall making it more accessible here and/or drug dealers will migrate to order ilegal activities, fighting for “new territories”, increasing violence. Legalisation will not enforce the law on criminals, they will only migrate. And there is no point in increasing access to canabis while fighting against tobacco. The legalisation is the flag of a small minority trying to impose their world view and that is all.

  • Stephen

    If catholic priests were as passionate about saving souls from the fires of hell as they are about progressive political reform, the Church wouldn’t be in such a sorry state.  STRIKE THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP SCATTER! 

  • Petertheroman

    So come on why dont you talk to me you learned men. So full of wisdom and knowledge. Are you afraid that I may show you what is wrong with the great folly you are preaching. I cannot vouch for an Alcaholic or a Pornography abuser, because my wisdom allows me to listen in humility as I cannot understand. But I know drugs and have grown up with them. I have lost friends physically and mentally. I can speak out becuase i have first hand knowledge. So speak to me and have some dialogue and we can see who is right and why especially since talking the way lots of you are here is just typical disobedience to the Holy Father. I pray you speak to me and I can then appeal to your God given reason. Blessings to you all……