Q: I have a question regarding the use of marijuana and whether it is considered a sin to smoke it recreationally now that it is legal in Washington state. I have a Catholic friend who smokes it and doesn’t seem to think that there is anything wrong with doing so. What does the church teach about using marijuana recreationally — is it a sin?
A: During the period of continuing formation following my ordination, I was introduced to Stephen Covey’s well-known book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The second habit has always stuck with me: “Begin with the end in mind.” It means that before we start something, we need to think it out and make sure our present actions will help us toward our future goals.
Covey’s second habit can be applied to the spiritual life. The goal of our spiritual lives is ultimately to love God and others to the fullest possible extent, and ultimately to make it to heaven. What we do in the present should assist us in these spiritual goals.
So to your question, with the understanding that marijuana is a legally prescribed therapeutic drug for certain mental and physical conditions: Does recreational marijuana use help or hinder us in reaching this goal of our Christian life?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Vatican II, says the following: “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” (1730) God doesn’t force us to seek and love him; it is something that he has left us free to do.
Marijuana affects the limbic system of the brain, which deals with emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and sense of smell and time. Using this substance, as many studies show, causes both physical and psychological effects in the user, including heightened heart rates, short-term memory loss, delayed reaction, depression and even anxiety. When a person smokes marijuana, they are placing chemicals in their nervous system that alter their consciousness and have the potential to produce future emotional and physical damage.
Marijuana certainly is not beneficial to the spiritual life, and if it becomes a serious impediment to growth in the spiritual life and drawing closer to God and our ultimate goal, heaven, the church would consider its recreational use a sin. It’s important to remember that there is a big difference between recreational and therapeutic drug use and this understanding does not apply only to marijuana.
YouCat, the youth catechism of the Catholic Church, says: “Every time a person loses or forgets himself by becoming intoxicated, which can also include excessive eating and drinking, indulgence in sexual activity, or speeding with an automobile, he loses some of his human dignity and freedom and therefore sins against God. This should be distinguished from the reasonable, conscious, and moderate use of enjoyable things.” (389)
When we forget ourselves in this way through “intoxication” of any kind, we run the risk of forgetting what the purpose and goal of our lives are, and certainly are not considering this ultimate goal in the present.
St. Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) We were created to be good and responsible stewards of God’s creation, including our bodies, which are sacred. Recreational marijuana use can be an impediment to the fullness of life that God wants to share with us and so can become a hindrance to being a good steward of what God has created.
May God’s blessings be with you today and always!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - July/August 2017