In an unprecedented move, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston donated $850,000 to anti-marijuana legalization efforts last month. The move appears for naught since Massachusetts just voted in favor of legalizing marijuana. The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston outlined its reasons for funding the anti-marijuana efforts, citing the “detrimental impact on our parishes, our ministries,” as well as on their other social services.
The Catholic Church’s stance on marijuana prohibition is surprising considering their stance on the prohibition of alcohol in the United States less than a century ago. While the Catholic Church believes that alcohol dulls the senses and the church forbids intoxication, they do not currently hold any stance to ban alcohol, and in fact opposed prohibition in the 1920s, believing it not to be the government’s right to define morality. So how has it now become the government’s right to define morality with regards to marijuana? The church clearly feels as though marijuana diverts young adults away from the heavenly nature of their institution. This existential threat terrifies the Catholic Church, and while correlation does not equate to causation, the millennial generation smokes the most marijuana of any generation since the baby boomers, while simultaneously being the most irreligious generation in American history. With millennials disavowing Catholicism, it’s easy to see why the church would look outward to solve their issues.
The Catholic Church’s decision to donate $850,000 to anti-marijuana legalization is a slap in the face to Boston as a whole. While we cannot confirm that the money came from anywhere but the coffers of the Vatican, the money could have been better used elsewhere. If the Boston archdiocese were to think selfishly, then it could look at investing in expanding and reopening merged and closed parishes, reopening schools, reopening archbishops’ residences, or supplementing the 20.5 million dollars lost due to dwindling church attendance. With Pope Francis emphasizing a more robust effort to feed the hungry and clothe the poor around the world (much like Jesus advocated for), the decision to fund anti-marijuana efforts instead of helping impoverished communities turns from baffling to infuriating.
Even more confusing, however, is the archdioceses’ full reasoning as to why they were supporting this prohibition effort. Initially, Cardinal Sean O’Malley described marijuana as a “gateway drug” despite insufficient evidence to back up his claim and evidence that disproves that claim. Additionally, if taxed and regulated, marijuana dispensaries will be subjected to routine checks from the state authorities, much like Alcohol Beverage Control stores across the country. These stores will be unable to sell anything besides marijuana, unlike unregulated drug dealers, who often sell other types of illegal substances in addition to pot that are much more dangerous.
The great irony exists in O’Malley’s beliefs. He argues “that if you’re using money to buy marijuana to get high instead of using the money for other purposes, then that’s wrong,” failing to see how his archdiocese spending $850,000 on anti-marijuana efforts instead of towards more humanitarian purposes is wrong. But more importantly, who is Cardinal Sean O’Malley to tell the average citizen what they can and cannot do with their money? O’Malley further reminds us that “the big thing theologically for the [c]hurch is that no matter what gifts you have, they should be for the greater glory of God,” largely ignoring the fact that America is not a Christian nation and shall never be governed by theological laws.
Clergy member Father Richard McGowan reaffirms his belief that legal marijuana will hinder the church’s efforts to “alleviate poverty and improve family welfare.” This argument ignores the devastating effects of the abuse of legalized intoxicants like alcohol on the family structure, and the high rates in which Black fathers are incarcerated for minor possession of marijuana. This devastates the family unit more than legal marijuana ever could, and the idea that continuing to criminalize marijuana possession would help solve the problem of the “broken family unit” is baffling. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in Massachusetts, the $3.6 billion wasted annually on marijuana prohibition efforts can go towards education, community building, or towards alleviating poverty and improving family welfare, as the Catholic Church claims to be so interested in doing.
The Boston Archdiocese’s efforts to stifle the legalization of marijuana ultimately failed. But the effects of the $850,000 being donated to such a cause with no conceivable positive outcomes should infuriate the Catholic community of Boston, which has seen hundreds of instances of child rape, and the closings of churches, schools, and priests’ residences. Instead, the church diverted funds towards efforts to prevent people from use of a substance that has been shown to cause more negative outcome when it is banned, ultimately failing to understand that the American people value personal freedoms above theological authoritarianism.