ASK FATHER: Marijuana and validity of marriage

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

Recently marijuana was legalized in Canada. As such, the issue has come up that Marijuana can stay within the system for a very long time and a habitual user can be impaired by marijuana even if he/she hasn’t used it recently. My understanding is that Catholics cannot be impaired by drugs and alcohol at the time of the wedding for the sake of validity because of their inability to give free consent to the marriage. Would this mean that habitual pot heads wouldn’t be able to marry in the Catholic Church? If so, what would you recommend if, hypothetically speaking, a legal pot head were to be planning on getting married in the Church and is concerned about validity?

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

Whether or not marijuana is civil legal or not, the question is a good one. Habitual use of any intoxicant can impede a person from being able to use his discretionary faculty – that faculty which allows us to freely choose something, in this case, marriage.

To marry, the Church requires that a person have the ability to exercise his free will. Without internal and external freedom, matrimonial consent can fall under a shadow of possible invalidity. The Church would presume – before any investigation is done – that the consent is valid, but upon investigation, someone who was shown to be regularly under the influence of marijuana – and under that influence at the time of the wedding in particular – might be proven to have not posited a valid act of consent.

If someone accustomed to using marijuana – or alcohol, or any intoxicant that numbs the senses – with regularity were to come to me preparing for marriage, I would first take pains to remind him of the moral gravity of surrendering his free will through the use of intoxicants. Our free will is a precious gift from God, and should not be lightly surrendered.

Secondly, I would urge him, at the very least, to observe a period of sobriety of at least several days before and certainly during the wedding. If I were a priest preparing such a person, I would inform him that, unless I had confidence that he was sober and clear of mind the morning of the wedding, said wedding would not be taking place.

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6 Responses to ASK FATHER: Marijuana and validity of marriage

  1. William says:

    So this means a drunken Vegas-chapel wedding celebrated by an Elvis impersonator isn’t valid?

    Still a good thing to avoid even if sober.

  2. Would the priest be out of line to ask the pothead to submit to testing for substances? Shocking as it may seem, people are known to lie about whether they have been using or drinking. Also, sometimes it is not obvious, unless you spend some considerable time talking to the person, or you actually have him tested, that he is under the influence. Even in the case of booze, there is not always the telltale smell. I have sat at an arraignment at the defense table next to someone who, just a few hours earlier, had blown a .40. No smell, no obvious signs of impairment.

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    This also brings up various forms of medication.

  4. APX says:

    Anita,

    In Canada, it would be a violation of the person’s Charter Rights against unreasonable search. R. vs Oakley made it illegal to require people submit to drug testing. Even criminals on probation, who have a no consumption of illegal controlled substances (narcotics) can’t be required to give a drug test.

  5. The Cobbler says:

    Suburbanbanshee,

    Scarey, but true… Medication can be the very thing keeping someone in full use of their faculties. If it’s correctly diagnosed and used. But if not? Well, all bets are off. Maybe it does nothing (though I’d wager that’s seldom the case). Maybe it does something unintended but harmless. Maybe it actually makes things worse.

    It’d be a mistake to not trust the psychology profession, because a lot of us can’t really make it without ’em; but it would also be a mistake to blindly trust the psychology profession, because it’s full of humans just like everything else!

  6. Gabriel Syme says:

    The readers questions says:

    Marijuana can stay within the system for a very long time and a habitual user can be impaired by marijuana even if he/she hasn’t used it recently.

    The active effects of Marijuana last only 2-4 hours, although traces of the substance can remain in the body (stored in body fat) for days, weeks or even months depending on the frequency and extent of use.

    It is not true to state that the presence of these traces continue to impair the individual for as long as they are present – they do not, they are benign metabolites.

    Nevertheless, Fr Ferguson’s response regarding free will and its impairment is excellent and informative, especially regarding the need for a clear mindedness when participating in the sacraments.

    I am curious at what point we could say that ingestion of alcohol becomes sinful through causing a loss of free will. Would it be drinking to great excess – meaning gluttony is present too – such that the individual is “blind drunk” or would even a loss of inhibition (given it is not our “sober” state) be an indictment here. There is also the effect on our health to consider, especially over the longer term if someone drinks regularly.

    Obviously, the pleasurable intoxicating effects of alcohol are why the drug is so appealing to humans, and so it seems there is a very fine line to tread here.

    I will ponder this over my usual Friday beers this evening! :-P