Arizona Catholic Leaders Oppose Marijuana Legalization, Citing Need to Protect Kids

The public policy arm of the Catholic Church in Arizona has weighed in on Proposition 207, the November ballot initiative that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

They don’t like it.

Legalized weed “sends a message to children that drug use is socially and morally acceptable,” the Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference wrote in a joint letter, published September 25. “As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on children and families.”

The statement was signed by Rev. Edward J. Weisenburger, Bishop of Tucson; Rev. Thomas J. Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix; Rev. James S. Wall, Bishop of Gallup; Rev. Eduardo A. Nevares, Auxiliary Bishop of Phoenix; and Rev. John S. Pazak, Holy Protection of Mary Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Phoenix.

As rationale, the bishops cite rising child fatality rates in Arizona attributed to marijuana and state that “problematic” marijuana use is 25 percent higher among teens in states that legalized recreational marijuana.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment might beg to differ. The state agency recently published a survey that found youth marijuana use has not significantly changed since the drug was legalized in Colorado in 2014. There, 20.6 percent of high school students and 5.2 percent of middle school students reported cannabis consumption in 2019. Both those numbers are lower than they were pre-legalization, in 2011, when those rates were 22 percent and 6.3 percent, respectively.

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A 2019 study from Washington, which also legalized recreational marijuana, explained declining youth pot use in the state by suggesting a “loss of novelty appeal” — in other words, the normalization and regulation of cannabis had the effect of making marijuana a less attractive vehicle for youth rebellion.

The bishops also opposed Proposition 205, Arizona’s failed 2016 legalization measure. They cited different reasons back then, though, such as the drug’s impact on the IQ of adolescents (a correlation that has not conclusively been established) and the “gateway” theory that marijuana use leads to harder drugs, which is also not proven