No Catholic should contradict the Pope, and it is certainly not the job of Catholic theologian to tell the Pope that he is wrong. Nevertheless, I am on record as saying that I want all drugs, with no exceptions, to be legalised, regulated and taxed, whereas the Holy Father in Brazil, has this to say, as reported in the Guardian:
“A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalisation of drug use, as is currently being proposed in various parts of Latin America. Rather it is necessary to confront the problems underlying the use of these drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
The Pope’s words certainly give pause for thought.
First of all, he is right: liberalisation alone will not bring about a reduction in drug use. Reducing drug use will depend on education, moral regeneration, and a change in the image of drugs, from means of pleasure, to means of squalid degradation. But if this is true, it works equally well the other way – prohibition will not be effective, and indeed has not been effective, because prohibition alone does not work. People who want to take drugs will rarely cease to do so because of coercion; they may do if they are persuaded not to take drugs.
For what it is worth, I do not see liberalisation as leading to a huge drop in consumption. What legalisation will do is end the huge wastage, both in human lives and resources, that are occasioned by the so called “War on Drugs”. These resources could then be directed into the work of education and persuasion, or as the Pope puts it, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future. Detox programmes are very expensivre, but they seem to me a better way of fighting drugs that using guns.
Legalisation, regulation and taxation will mean that drugs are freely available. But you know what? They already are. The single most astonishing thing about the War on Drugs is its abysmal failure to stop anyone who wants drugs accessing them.
Some persons, of the libertarian persuasion, may wish to legalise drugs on the grounds that if people want to kill themselves in this way, they should be free to do so. That is not what the Pope wants, clearly, and neither do I. All responsible people want a world in which dangerous drug use (I am not talking about tea and coffee here) becomes a thing of the past. The argument is about means. The War on Drugs, which the Pope has not mentioned, has failed. It is time to try something else.