Papa non fumigant [The Pope does not smoke] (I assume).
Me neither, but I tend to disagree with his recent comments on marijuana legalization. He said that
“even limited attempts to legalize recreational drugs ‘are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.'”
We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”
If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.
Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.
Papa don’t preach!
In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.
Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.
These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.
But I think it makes sense to put marijuana in another category. If you look at the statistics on deaths caused by substance abuse, alcohol is the obvious outlier. There are no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption. You can read an article on the matter from American Scientist here.
The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed
As a practical matter, prohibition has failed.
In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.
Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.
What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.
Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.
This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”
Legalize, tax, educate
My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.
A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.