When it comes to legalizing marijuana in California, the risks to children, teens and the poor are just too great, said four Bay Area bishops ahead of the November ballot.
Discussing the state’s ballot initiative Proposition 64, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco warned that legalization suggests to children that drug use is acceptable.
“If you don’t think teens will take up marijuana, look at the history of tobacco. It was ‘cool’ to smoke until the dangers became all too apparent,” he said. “It then took decades for the smoking rate to reach today’s low levels. Will legalized marijuana follow that same pattern?”
Cordileone noted that unlike alcohol, there is no reliable standard to measure the effect of marijuana on a driver. He noted his own arrest for driving under the influence in 2012, saying that drivers will wrongly deem themselves safe to drive and take chances.
“The cost in lives is unacceptable. The parallels with other substances like tobacco are too striking. And the impact on our young people too uncertain,” he said.
California’s Proposition 64, on the ballot this November, would decriminalize marijuana for adults in the state age 21 and older. It would license and regulate sellers, and tax sale and cultivation.
Cardinal William Levada, Archbishop emeritus of San Francisco, also criticized the proposal.
“Experimenting with the health and welfare of our children, the potential impact on road safety, not to mention the medical and legal implications that are far from resolved, seem to me to take us in a dangerous and unwise direction,” he said.
“Even a cursory examination of data on marijuana legalization reveals that too little is known about the impact on the health and education of our children, the increased danger on our highways, the impact on economically challenged neighborhoods and black market expansion of cannabis-related commerce.”
Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland and San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice each joined Archbishop Cordileone and Cardinal Levada in writing separate statements opposing Prop. 64.
The bishops cited the results of legalization in other states.
In Colorado, there have been increased emergency room visits and poison control hotline calls due to children ingesting cannabis products that are made to appear like candy. The state has also seen increased marijuana-related traffic deaths and its drug products have appeared in other states. The homeless population has increased sharply, with a 40 percent increase in homeless shelter population in one region. People migrate to the state to use the drug cheaply and legally, even though they have no job or housing plans.
Washington state has shown growing marijuana use among high school seniors, with the percentage of users now at 27 percent, say studies from the American Psychological Association. A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that traffic deaths doubled in the state after legalization.
“Abuses and excess of any kind, be it with food, alcohol, tobacco or medicine diminish and rob us of our capacity to live a dignified life,” Cardinal Levada said. Given the advances in public health that have reduced tobacco use, raised awareness about the dangers of driving, and promoted exercise and nutrition, he asked why California would want “to encourage a practice that could lead to addiction and unhealthy side effects?”
Auxiliary Bishop Justice said the measure is likely to worsen poverty, especially for people in poorer neighborhoods, “where residents have less power to protect their own interests.” He said legalized marijuana would increase challenges on communities with high unemployment and reduced educational opportunities.
In Colorado, he noted, marijuana operations buy cheap real estate and lock out other buyers in low-income neighborhoods.
“As usage increases, poor communities – as well as other economic groups – will also experience more failed drug tests, missed days at work or school, and even loss of employment,” Bishop Justice said. “Those with the financial strength to weather what is hopefully a temporary setback, will do so. Those with fewer resources have a much tougher time overcoming the financial ramification of even a temporary loss of income.”
For his part, Bishop Barber warned that children would be exposed to “positive, alluring marijuana advertising” under the ballot proposal. The proposition’s language bars the direct marketing and advertising of marijuana directly to minors. But it offers broad allowances for mixed adult and child audiences – for example, it would be legal to advertise marijuana even when a quarter of a television show’s audience consists of children.
“How many children will fail to achieve their potential because of this law?” Bishop Barber asked.