ASK FATHER: Can I smoke marijuana?

From a reader…


I enjoy smoking marijuana from time to time (about once a week). I’m trying to be a better Catholic and was wondering if I absolutely have to give this up? To put it into context, when I get high I don’t act like an idiot. I generally read Aristotle or Aquinas, or listen to Mozart. Marijuana activates my religious side, it doesn’t dull it. [Uh huh… riiiiight.]

Also, most Catholics enjoy a beer. I don’t see why they can have a drink but I can’t have a joint. I think marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and more enjoyable.

Smoking marijuana has been condemned on two principles: 1) the fact that it is illegal and 2) that it dulls the senses.

The fact that, in a few states and municipalities in the United States and elsewhere around the world, the legality of marijuana is an open question, causes us to turn with more concentration to the second principle.

Now – please concentrate. Don’t get distracted by that thing on the wall that may or may not be a fly. Put down the bag of chips and drop that fudge brownie. We’re going to do some detailed moral reasoning here.

Smoking marijuana dulls the senses. Even the most devoted fan will admit that. In fact, that’s why many people smoke it. It can seem to heighten some senses, but for the most part it leads to impaired motor skills, decreased memory, impaired concentration, and the inhibition of moral constraints.

“But Father! But Father!”, some are gurgling, “So does alcohol!  But we don’t say it’s wrong to drink alcohol.  Jesus used alcohol!  He turned water into wine!  You must hate Vatican II.”

Sure, we don’t condemn the use of alcohol except in excess and at the wrong moments and places.  And, for many people, the effects of alcohol are far more adverse than those of marijuana.

Taking any substance that leads to the loss of control of the will is problematic. One should never freely surrender one’s will. When one’s will is impeded, one often makes poor moral choices. One’s culpability for one’s choices can be lessened when one’s will is impaired.  For example, the man who, in a blind rage, kills the one who is injuring his child is less culpable for his actions than the man who hatches a murderous plot in cold blood. But when one purposely impairs one’s own will by getting intoxicated or high or stoned, one’s culpability is increased. If, for example, I know that I get violent when I am drunk, but I nevertheless choose to get drunk, I have no excuse.

Is smoking marijuana, but not to excess, in places where it is legal morally wrong? It’s high time we get a definitive answer.

Those who have argued that marijuana is always immoral, no matter how strong the dosage or what the circumstances, have had their say. The moralists who are in favor of a limited use of marijuana should be weighing in any moment now. Right after that next Twinkie.

UPDATE 21 Feb:

A priest-reader sent me the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care’s Handbook on Drugs and Drug Addiction:  HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. I would note that this is an entirely separate question from whether MJ ought to be legal. I am interested in seeing the pro-moderate-use argument on the moral question.

  2. Neihan says:

    These are good points, Father.

    It is entirely possible to use marijuana and not have one’s reason impaired anymore than one drinks. One problem is that getting to that point, however, requires building up tolerance and learning (through frequent usage) how much or little and in what way one takes it. And until one acquires that experience and builds one’s tolerance the effects are essentially the same as drunkenness.

    If I chose to (and I don’t) take up smoking it again I would have no more problem avoiding becoming “stoned” then I do becoming drunk when I drink. However, I can only do that because of experience – which was bought by frequently having impaired reason. I will note, however, that between drunkenness and being stoned, drunkenness is far more of an impairment. At least it was in my case.

    That being said: try giving it up for six months. It will be difficult, and for a long time (perhaps always) you will miss it, but time dulls that. Even if you don’t think it’s necessary, try. If you cannot give it up, or even face the prospect of giving it up, for such a period of time then it probably has more of a hold on you then you realize, and it may for that reason (if no others) be morally dangerous to you.

  3. Peregrinator says:

    Since morpine, opium, chloroform and similar drugs can also deprive one of the use of his reason temporarily, that which was said of intoxicating drinks holds true also for narcotics (Cf. 165, 4).

    a) To use narcotics in small quantities and only occasionally, is a venial sin if done without a sufficient reason. Any proportionately good reason justifies their use, e.g., to calm the nerves, dispel insomnia, etc.

    Such use becomes gravely sinful if it creates an habitual craving for “dope” which is more difficult to overcome than dipsomania and more injurious to health.

    Jone/Adelman, “Moral Theology,” p. 110.

    I would think that which applies to narcotics would also apply to marijuana, since narcotics in general are more dangerous, addictive, etc.

  4. CradleRevert says:

    Once the legality question is removed, it seems that the moral question of using marijuana boils down to whether or not the effects of marijuana are gradualized (like alcohol) or whether they are immediate. I’ve never used the stuff, so I don’t know the answer to that question.

  5. Rellis says:

    Here’s the relevant paragraphs from the CCC:

    2290 The virtue of temperance disposes us to avoid every kind of excess: the abuse of food, alcohol, tobacco, or medicine. Those incur grave guilt who, by drunkenness or a love of speed, endanger their own and others’ safety on the road, at sea, or in the air.

    2291 The use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense. Clandestine production of and trafficking in drugs are scandalous practices. They constitute direct co-operation in evil, since they encourage people to practices gravely contrary to the moral law.


    It seems to me that there is a principle here then being interpreted. The principle is that temperance is a virtue, and those who intentionally indulge in excess incur grave (that is, mortal sin) guilt. That’s the timeless doctrine of the Church, which of course must be applied culture by culture, and age by age.

    The CCC then applies this general teaching to a particular–narcotics. The whole basis of this particular application of the general temperance teaching is that a substance which falls into this category must “inflict very grave damage on human health and life.” Therefore, if a substance does not rise to that level of damage, it seems to me that the paragraph does not apply. It would seem to apply to many so-called “hard drugs,” where the question of grave damage is not in dispute.

    The temperance principle, of course, goes for anything under the sun–one can incur a mortal sin due to eating too many mashed potatoes, for example. The application is less important than one’s own guardrails in any situation.

    It also seems clear that trafficking in drugs is only morally wrong if it happens to be illegal, since that’s the only way it would be clandestine. That’s a separate point, but an important one.

  6. Uxixu says:

    Peregrinator’s post catches my thoughts on it.

    Drinking alcohol isn’t a sin though getting drunk is.

    I could imagine it should be theoretically possible to moderate your use so that you might not get “too high” but it would be seem extremely difficult and contrary to use Marijuana to the equivalent of only a drink or two. For palliative care for cancer patients (truly medicinal purposes IOW), though one would hope they would offer up their suffering instead of dulling it, it’s not so easy to rashly demand they do so.

  7. St. Rafael says:

    Alcohol and tobacco are considered by moralists to fall under the category of food. Marijuana is not food. It is an immoral narcotic just like cocaine. [I think not. They have their proper medical uses.]

    I believe there is a legitimate medicinal use for marijuana, and that would be for serious illness and disease. Medicinal for cancer or glaucoma. Some of the “illnesses” potheads are getting their medicinal marijuana for, such as migraines and back pain are all abuse of the drug. All types of recreational use of marijuana is immoral and mortal sin.

  8. Neihan says:

    Apologies for posting twice, but there is no way I can see to edit my previous post and something occurred to me.

    On the issue of the impairment of reason it seems to me that marijuana is in the same category as alcohol. However, there is also a separate issue of giving scandal. In this I think marijuana falls in the same category as eating meat offered to idols.

    So, even if one thinks it’s entirely possible to enjoy marijuana as one does alcohol without sinning (which is my own tentative position), I do not see how it is possible to avoid giving scandal. Which is reason enough, it seems to me, not to use it. Even if one does it in private only (from which it follows that one recognizes that it gives scandal on some level) one still has to acquire it.

    Also, the consequences of being caught by the law are (unjustly) harsh. Is it worth the consequences? Is it worth the effect those consequences will have on one’s future life (and so the life of one’s future or current spouse and children, or for priests one’s parish, etc). More than anything that gives me pause. “Is it worth the possible adverse effects that being caught could have on my future wife?”

  9. iamlucky13 says:

    “The fact that, in a few states and municipalities in the United States and elsewhere around the world, the legality of marijuana is an open question”

    This is incorrect.

    There is no state or city in the US where the legality of using marijuana is an open question.

    Federal law is quite clear that marijuana use is tightly regulated under the controlled substances act, and federal law pre-empts state and local law.

    Those that have passed laws decriminalizing marijuana use only eliminate a level of redundancy, and defer enforcement to federal authorities. However, you’re unlikely to get in trouble for it, because the federal enforcement focuses on high volume production and distribution. Morally, one might challenge the belief that the government’s regulation of marijuana is a legitimate exercise of authority, but I can’t think of a leg for such an argument to stand on, except perhaps for medical use, which has extremely limited provisions in federal law that in most cases amounts to “just don’t let me see you.”

    That highlights an absurdity of the current situation, with the prioritization among advocates of legalization for recreational use over medical or industrial use (hemp being a well-established useful pulp and fiber plant).

  10. brk says:

    We can tell which of our patients use marijuana. Even ‘light’ users over time develop certain characteristics. The stereotypes of the doofy, slow talking, spacey, “enlightened” guy are there for a reason. That clarity of mind? It’s a delusion. Another reason not to use pot: ‘moobs’. Seriously. These guys come in and wonder why they have gynecomastia.

  11. Scott W. says:

    Illicit drug use is to the mind what pornography is to the body. As the CCC section on pornography puts it: “It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world.” That is, it is built on a pack of lies.

  12. Imrahil says:

    Dear Neihan, I think it is entirely possible for a 16-year-old, who of course strictly to the rules never drank before (I personally don’t think the 21-year rule is sensible, but here’s of course patriotism speaking) … drink his first beer without damaging, to be silent of losing, his control of the will-power.


    it all seems to boils down to the factual question whether there is such a thing as tipsiness-as-opposed-to-intoxication for marijuana (as there clearly is for alcohol).

    The question of long-term effects in perpetuated abuse, though, has, of course, an importance that converges to 0 (said in hyperbole). Abusus non tollit usum.

  13. Mike says:

    “The principle is that temperance is a virtue, and those who intentionally indulge in excess incur grave (that is, mortal sin) guilt.”

    Hmmm. Rellis: does this mean there are no venial sins against temperance?

    Though, indeed, the CCC does seem to say, without reasonable motive, drug–illegal drugs–are always “gravely” wrong.

  14. jarthurcrank says:

    “If, when you say whiskey, you mean…”

  15. Agathon says:

    Marijuana has similar effects to alcohol with as few or fewer health risks, and it certainly is easier on the body than tobacco products. In general it seems best classified with these rather than the group of drugs typically referred to as narcotics, the “hard” drugs that seem to be the concern of the catechism. Or so I’d argue, anyway.

    If we proceed, then, it’s clear that the primary concerns for Catholics that remain are its illegality, scandal, and the dulling of the mind issue that Father discusses. Likely in the near future, questions concerning legality and scandal will lose most of their relevance given that marijuana is likely to be legal in most places and widely available. (We will have fewer nonviolent persons unjustly languishing in prison too, God willing. A separate issue but perhaps worth mentioning.)

    As for the “dulls the senses” question . . . despite years of studying the issue I have yet to see any principled distinction that allows us, given the effects of the drugs, to accept alcohol but reject marijuana. I have also known users and cannot say that their use was any more a barrier to their own functioning and flourishing than alcohol is for me or others. And, yes — putting stereotypes aside for a minute — I have known people for whom recreational use was conducive to social connections, art, writing, reading, etc. It has its place and uses.

    I personally would recommend to the young man asking the question that he redouble his efforts to ensure that he avoids scandal, but I don’t think he needs to fret his weekly habit. His private enjoyment of the drug and activities surrounding it sound like reasonable recreation to me.

    And, whatever else he might do, he should definitely stick with reading Aristotle and Aquinas as often as possible. You can’t go wrong there.

    (Written by a traditionalist Catholic who does not use, and never has used, marijuana.)

  16. JBS says:

    Catholics should stick to wine and beer. Whatever happened to Absinthe?

  17. Bos Mutissimus says:

    “…*high* time?” Really, Father?

    I thought you should have been more blunt in your answer…

  18. Polycarpio says:

    Marihuana can make the user feel weird and out of sorts with what’s going around them, and even within them. This sensation is easily mistaken for a transcendental or spiritual experience. For the added reason that it can lead to the development of an ersatz religiosity, I think this stuff is dangerous. In this respect, I’d advise against it, the way we used to advise against Yoga or other practices that can lead the user to confusion. The late Joseph Campbell (the mythologist) made the point that many religions dabble in “states of altered mind” that can be induced by meditation or drugs. The problem there is both a very gray area and a slippery slope between a shah-man and a junkie. Don’t go there. There’s no need. We can point you to sure-fire paths that will lead you to God.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I have never been drunk in my life, and I’ve been drinking (under parental supervision) since I was 12 or so. The closest I’ve ever gotten to drunkenness was a memorable occasion when I underestimated the length of time that antihistamines can continue to affect one marginally after they have allegedly worn off.

    Every woman knows that her original capacity for drinks is one or two, depending on weight. I believe guys have a little more leeway.

    If one drinks heavily a few times, the body shifts over into a higher threshold for getting affected by alcohol, which is why a lot of men can drink a six pack over a few hours without getting drunk.
    There are also some people who have less metabolic tolerance for alcohol (some Asian and Native American people), and who may never be able to shift over. Finally, there are some people who have a tendency towards alcoholism, and who shouldn’t be drinking anything because it’s so hard for them to stop.

    But overall, the rules of alcohol are simple and well-known, and most people can understand their own tolerance levels by seeing what works for close family. I haven’t got a clue about my tolerance for marijuana, nor do I want to know.

    I do know that the stuff smells truly nasty and horrible, and that users act stupid, and that they all think they’re not out of it when they are. (College friends.) Basically, the IQ seems to drop about thirty to fifty points. So if you start more intelligent, you might have farther to fall before other people notice.

  20. mrjaype says:

    I approach it from a biomolecular view. The human body is equipped with an enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) specifically for the metabolism of alcohol. No such enzymes exist for other drug or drug-like compounds such as the active ingredients in cannabis. As such, the body as God made for us was not designed to utilize these other chemicals. Therefore greater caution and very limited use must be applied to psycoactive drugs. Anything else is an abuse on the body.

  21. Sonshine135 says:

    Interesting debate. I think the ultimate answer to the use of pot or alcohol or any controlled/ uncontrolled substance for that matter has to be looked at in three pieces: 1. Does it inhibit the person’s control over their own faculties? 2. Is the user dependent on said substance? 3. Is it illegal. Number one is tricky, because I may feel fine, but anytime you ingest a drug or alcohol, you are putting yourself at risk. You may simply not know at what point you have lost control. Father Michael J. McGivney of Knights of Columbus fame was a strong supporter of the temperance movement- simply because he was tired of seeing his parishioners laying in the gutter. How many of them wanted to be in the gutter? Likely none of them. Number two is also tricky. People give lip service to the idea that they can quit at any time. How many truly could though. Three is the only easy one to answer.

    My only opinion on the matter is that an occasional nip is okay, rare is better, and not at all is best. I have had quite a few relatives who died due to complications from excessive abuses to their tabernacle.

  22. Uxixu says:

    iamlucky13 makes a good point, even if I would vehemently disagree with it. I have & would continue oppose legalization efforts at the state and local level, but barring specific enumeration this should clearly be a 10th Amendment issue. The overreach of the Federal leviathan should not be allowed to continue just because it has ignored the Constitution for close to a hundred years on numerous issues.

  23. Imrahil says:

    does this mean there are no venial sins against temperance?

    Well, yes there are. Usually they are harder to define. However, normal drunkenness (i. e., more than tipsiness, but less than that loss-of-control-of-will which “(complete) drunkenness”, according to the moral theologians, means) would be a (rather exceptionally easily-definable) example. (According to some moral theologians, this is “among the venials one of the more grave”, and among them particularly abhorrible, but still venial.)

    Dear Polycarpio,

    The problem there is both a very gray area and a slippery slope between a shah-man and a junkie.

    Good point.

    I might note (indulging in my pleasure of not caring about general societal feelings, and not correcting you but underlining what I believe you meant) that of course, for Catholics, the danger of shahmanism is far more problematic than the one of junkie-dom (just as responsibilityless fornicating-around, which has always existed to some degree, is far less problematic than setting up a doctrine of free-love).

  24. Imrahil says:

    Dear Sonshine135,

    3. is it illegal?

    I’d venture to say that a Catholic was perfectly allowed in conscience to drink alcohol (applying the usual rules of moderation) in 1920s America. There’s limits to what a state can do.

    I don’t, for a change, have time to give a proof for that, though.

  25. Traductora says:

    Alcohol has always been an approved “drug,” and the fact that we use it in the very Mass should tell you what you need to know about it.

    Excess in anything is not good. But even average use of marijuana, other than the extract for pain-killing purposes, makes one stupid, dull, self-referential and actually does have a permanent effect on the body and brain that alcohol (unless used to serious excess) does not have. I literally saw a friend of my teenage son destroy himself by being what used to be called “perma-stoned.” He has never been able to hold a job or function in any way, and he sits and watches cartoon reruns all day (he’s on welfare, of course).

    Adolescent marijuana use has been determined to subtract an average of 8 points from the adult IQ. Modern pot is also nearly ten times stronger than the old doper baby version, and marijuana smoking is now responsible for about 25% of major psychotic episodes that result in hospitalization.

    So, no, it’s not the same as alcohol, either culturally or physically. Incidentally, it’s heavily used among Muslims, who do not drink alcohol, and is one of the things that enables them to do the awful things they do.

  26. Mariana2 says:

    While living in the US I met people (all of them post grad students) advocating smoking marijuana. All of them talked really slowly and stupidly. So don’t do it.

  27. Charles E Flynn says:

    There is always the possibility of becoming overly-attached to one’s marijuana stache.

  28. Gregorius says:

    It seems to me to be a trend among younger traditional-leaning Catholics to smoke and drink. I don’t know if they’re trying to match the aesthetics of the 50’s, if they’re trying to evangelize people who would be repulsed by the puritan tendencies of evangelicalism, or if it’s just a reaction to the D.A.R.E. style anti-drug programs many grew up with. I just hope it doesn’t give the impression that you HAVE to drink/smoke to be a traditional Catholic, for I think that would be an obstacle for some people.

    Now I think we’re missing an important point to the question. The reader wants to be a better Catholic, and from his/her reading choices it sounds like this person already believes and obeys the basic tenets of the Church. But what does Christ say to the rich young man who follows the law perfectly? “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” We can argue in circles whether or not pot is permissible to use and go for the bare minimum, but we should be looking at perfection and getting as close to it as possible. The ideal life is consecrated religious life, where one can be free from material things and draw closer to Christ. For those who are not/cannot live that life, they can still lead simpler and holier lives like those monastics (this is what Pope Francis means in his call to lead lives of apostolic simplicity, not some rejection of capitalism or whatever). Look to the monasteries. If you cannot join one, do what they do as far as possible.

    Let’s conclude in philosophical terms because the reader likes it; can one do pot? Perhaps it is permissible, but the more excellent life of contemplating the truth necessarily means giving up attachments to material things, and that includes giving up pot.

  29. Phil_NL says:

    The nice thing about moral discussions is that you can consider intent.

    Let’s first establish that loosing control over one’s faculties is sinful, if only for the reason that you foreswaer your responsibilities (which is also a reason to consider such activity an illegitimate action in the civic sense).
    Now using a substance with the intent of loosing control, to one degree or another, is therefore sinful regardless of whether that state is actually reached (it’s usually a bit grey there, though it seems the grey area for pot is smaller – especially the potent stuff they condone here in the Netherlands)
    In other words, drinking for effect is sinful; drinking for the taste, provided it isn’t taken to excess, isn’t. (personally, I hate the taste too, but de gustibus…)

    And now I want you to show me the marijuana users who smoke pot, but don’t smoke for effect… I daresay there are none. The effect is the very point of the stuff, not the aroma.

    Which means, in my book, you could discuss if it’s worth the state forbidding the use of pot, but it seems pretty obvious that from a moral perspective, it’s a no-go. The intent is clear, and wrong.

  30. marytoo says:

    Maybe you have to be a member of the first generation to experience marijuana as commonplace to appreciate its danger and the unique hold it gains over its users under the guise of being a gentle relaxant, social aid, harmless fun, etc. Maybe you had to attend my high school in the seventies and witness the school principle run into the woods behind the school at lunch time to flush out all the pot smokers (some of whom were my friends) like a bird dog after grouse. Maybe you had to see all the dull red eyes early every morning, every day at lunch, during free periods and after school because that’s when these poor kids smoked – not drank, but smoked – all day long, morning, noon and night, every day of their high school and for years afterwards during jobs they acquired that would allow the addiction to continue, married to wives that would put up with it (young men seem particularly susceptible to its charms). It is insidiously dangerous and is often the gateway to experimentation with harder drugs, not to mention that there is a whole ritualistic culture built around marijuana that rivals religious devotion. I’m surprised to hear it spoken of here in such a moderate tone (of course my comments don’t apply to controlled medical use).

    Marijuana is mind-altering in a way that alcohol could never be. If you have never smoked it you may not be able to fathom this (not that you can’t have an opinion). While fermented drinks have been around for millennia marijuana was never commonplace, in this country anyway, until maybe 50 years ago. For goodness sake, I’m reading David Copperfield and he was offered ale at 8 years old and drank it happily and wholesomely. There is simply no comparison between the two: alcohol, like many good things, can certainly be abused but is not bad in and of itself. Marijuana alters the mind from the first toke to the last, whether the user is aware of it or not.

  31. Kerry says:

    If every person who drank did so for the effects of the alcohol, and were those effects the same as the current strength of marijuana produces, the comparison might be valid. As they do not, it is not.

  32. Polycarpio says:

    Dear Imrahil: The point I was making was slightly different. In making the distinction between shah-man and junkie, I was not actually referring to the difference between someone with esoteric practices (which I’ll stipulate are problematic, as you say) and someone who becomes addicted to drugs. Rather, my distinction was between someone who has mastered spiritual exercises and someone who is just fooling himself and begins to tamper with something he has not mastered, but which can master him. The danger in fact is twofold: he can either become a junkie (meaning an addict), or a practitioner of junk religion, which is, for the same reasons you underline, far worse. Or it could be a sloppy, frothy combination of the two: he thinks “the Spirit’s calling,” but it’s only the sick metabolic craving of an addict. You can see that this is unhealthy and unsound.

  33. frjim4321 says:

    I have some VERY strong opinions about this.

    I don’t think ANYBODY should smoke grass, nobody at all.

    Unless they are over the age of 54.

    Then it’s okay in my book.

  34. frjim4321 says:

    It will come as no surprise to anyone here that my opinions regarding grass are fairly on the liberal side.

  35. MrsMacD says:

    Who is it that said recreational drugs are a gateway for possession?

    It took someone close to me eight years to get his brain back after stopping pot, quit and let your brain heal.

  36. WmHesch says:

    Temperance is key- whether it’s weed or beer or whatnot.

    Our Catholic grandparents for the most part found it licit (“sensus fidelium”) to sip alcohol in temperance under Prohibition. So what’s the difference??

    I, for one, look forward to the day when Catholics bring their “herb” to the Assumption Day herb blessing…

    [and for the record I’m Trad to the bone… errr, bong]

  37. Mary Jane says:

    So frjim4321, how old are you, exactly?

  38. frjim4321 says:

    Well, Mary Jane, I am clearly over 54.

    And what a LOVELY name!

  39. frjim4321 says:

    I find it’s great for creativity, but it takes a bite out of the short-term memory so I limit it to a handful of times per year.

  40. Michael_Thoma says:

    I find no practical, theological, moral or physical reason why marijuana should be treated any differently than alcohol by us Catholics. Sure some people can potentially get “addicted” – although, unlike alcohol not physically, only psychologically. People get addicted to all sorts of things moral, immoral and in between.

    The arguments against marijuana are the same as the arguments used by evangelicals and fundamentalists against “those drunk Catholics”. Should everyone use it, try it, smoke? Of course not. Neither should everyone drink alcohol. There are also all kinds of ways to consume marijuana without smoking by eating, tincture, vaporizing and more – for those who are leary of smoking, these possibly safer alternatives are available.

  41. Supertradmum says:

    Christ made water into wine…the monks created most of the beer, wine, brandies, liquors we drink today. The West has a long tradition of responsible drinking.

    Smoking mj comes from a different culture, one which does not mind the dulling of the senses. Hashish and other types of cannabis come from the Eastern non-Christian countries such as China, Taiwan, India and Arabia countries. These drugs were used in religious ceremonies, as well as private use.

    I see a difference in the history of these items.

  42. dominic1955 says:

    I hate internet discussions about things like booze because all the scrupulous seem to come out and try to best each other in how rigid fridged they can be. By all means, if drinking scandalizes you, don’t engage and don’t hang out around others who are. You do both parties a favor, you because you aren’t troubled and us because we don’t have to put up with you.

    Drink to the point of hilarity. I don’t know if St. Thomas Aquinas said that or not, but its fitting. Drink for the flavor AND the effect. The whole reason humans didn’t just dump out their first batches of booze was precisely for the effect. I couldn’t imagine that early Babylonian beers or liquors really tasted decent but I can guarantee the end result (however far they took them) was the same. Don’t get blasted, the moral theology manuals define the sin of drunkenness as COMPLETE loss of reason-and that is a pretty high bar. Don’t try to play the game of how drunk can I get before complete loss of reason but I don’t see any virtue in thinking its even near sinful (and then do it anyway) to drink two or three even if you could put down twelve and be OK. Its one of those love God and do what you will issues. Catholics are known for drinking for a reason-when a good chunk of the world was actually Catholic, they probably wouldn’t be having this sort of discussion.

    With weed, on the other hand since its fairly new, I think the same ideas apply that would apply for booze. The legal issue is, to some degree, irrelevant. Obviously we don’t gauge what is moral and immoral based on legality, especially today. If you are the type who would stop at a stop sign in the middle of nowhere with no one coming for miles, then fine, consider that a reasonable argument. I don’t, but YMMV. As to effect, it does have degrees as does alcohol. I don’t think it is as safe or as beneficial as alcohol can be, but it cannot be glibly dismissed as if it turns a normal person into a rage and lust filled lunatic like old newsreels tried to treat it like.

  43. Peregrinator says:

    It is an immoral narcotic just like cocaine.

    Cocaine is sometimes classified as a narcotic but the word is usually used to refer to opiates (e.g., heroin, morphine) and opioids (e.g., methadone). And cocaine has legitimate medical uses.

  44. O. Possum says:

    Lol frjim, you never disappoint. :D You are really Fr. Z’s troll account, aren’t you? “Grass” Lol!

    As for the question at hand, I have wondered about this often. It doesn’t seem logical to me to say alcohol and tobacco are OK in moderation, but the tiniest bit of marijuana is a mortal sin. Any time I have seen this question come up, the Catholic writer at hand always seems to take that position. They might be right, I’m just not sure. I’m interested to see some more opinions on this issue.

  45. stephen c says:

    If I were a Catholic police officer or judge or politician during prohibition, I would think I would have to either refuse to arrest citizens for alcohol violations, or quit my job, or refrain completely from alcohol (I would choose the third option, for obvious reasons). The medicinal marijuana issue (should the sick and dying suffer from an enforced, or even a voluntary, deprivation of marijuana because the healthy might gain access?) is different from the recreational marijuana issue (i.e., should someone who uses a little bit of marijuana be subject to the violent power of the state – a power that can be used to mercilessly deprive humans of the ability to use their limbs during an arrest by police officers, to dangerously deprive humans of the ability to retreat from the sinful violence of fellow inmates and guards during detention and imprisonment, and to completely deprive humans of the ability to physically associate with their God-given families and their God-given religious communities and their God-given friends and neighbors, often for lengthy periods of time?). Obviously, users of marijuana, like users of alcohol, like gluttons, and like those addicted to laziness, can cause a great deal of pain to themselves and others in the aggregate, but the self-righteousness of many abstainers – and that may even include the self-righteousness of those who suffer and who decline drugs without thinking of how painful it is to others to watch them suffer – can be sinfully unkind, too. There is a lot of sinning and a lot of being sinned against on both sides of this issue.

  46. MrTipsNZ says:

    There is a lot of incorrect triffle being stated here. It needs correcting before the debate on this issue can begin.
    1) We have receptors for THC, an active component of marijuana, in our brain. These receptors regulate pain, which is where the medicinal use comes in. The problem is that these pain receptors are next to memory ones and THC does not discriminate -it blasts them both. So you have neuronal habituation to both and memory fades as well as pain tolerance. There are active pharma research projects looking at isoform changes to reduce habituation to both receptors types.
    2) Marijuana IS a gateway drug. It puts users in contact with those who provide harder things and they don’t take VISA.
    3) Wilfully losing free will is as Fr Z says, morally dubious and increases culpability.
    The matter of degree with respect to alcohol is easily solved. Drink 4 whiskeys per night twice a week and you will probably still function. Smoke four joints a night twice a week and you’ll start eating dog food with cheezits, end up with brain of an Orc, subscribe to the fishwrap and vote Pelosi. One puff on a joint of marijuana stays in your body fat for 2 months. It is literally a no brainer.
    4) Marijuana users get cancer. Why wouldn’t they -they smoke it. Why would we be promoting it when we are trying to stop people smoking tobacco? Cookies and bong inhalation are just as bad for neuronal, gastric and nasal disease.
    5) As Bshp. Fulton Sheen wrote, people abusing drugs or alcohol are running FROM something, not to somewhere.

    If you have chronic pain and are over 54, then maybe you have a case. If not, you have an issue that should be dealt with by the sacraments.

  47. Imrahil says:

    As to “drinking for effect” (dear Phil_NL and others),

    1. taste is an effect too,
    2. when Solomon (who is after all quite admonishing as regards alcohol use) recommends wine for those heavy of heart (Prov 31,6ff.), he is recommending “drinking for effect”, as he is probably when he allows it for the joyful (Koh 9,7). Similarly, when Jesus Sirach praises wine as a water of life (Sir 31,27ff.), can we seriously understand him as advising to meticulous take a sip for the taste? I do not think so.

    Dear MrTipsNZ,

    ad 4) we don’t. We Catholics, quite immune to the fashions of the age, look into the Catechism and see that it condemns immoderate tobacco consumption, thus implying there is such a thing as moderate tobacco consumption.

  48. Imrahil says:

    ad 3) I have no experience there, but from what I’ve heard one joint, at least, suffices to bring you at the very least to the verge of what no longer can be called tipsy – i. e. is the equivalent of at least four, if not more, whiskeys.

  49. Dave P. says:

    Adding to Peregrinator’s comment on cocaine:

    It is used as anesthesia for eye surgery, and for numbing sinuses. Also, in its natural form in the coca leaf, it is used by Andes Indians to maintain energy in high altitudes. I would consider that to be legitimate use.

    I would like to add that I have reservations about recreational marijuana, but I am all for its use for terminal cancer patients. The same goes for the Brompton Cocktail, which has heroin as an ingredient.

  50. Mike says:

    Thanks, frjim4321, for continuing to strengthen the case for tradition.

  51. Imrahil says:

    Dear Polycarpio,

    interesting, thank you. I quite agree, of course.

  52. HeatherPA says:

    Thank you. Brilliant post.

    Also, I really hope my long held suspicions of frjim being a troller and not really a priest are correct. Grass??

    I would try for a smidgen of credibility one of these times by trying at least once to appear to be in the majority opinion of your parish pew placeholders.

  53. Dave P. says:

    If you want tradition…

    My great-grandparents made a tisane from hemp leaves as a spring tonic.
    I am all for the legalization of hemp, as it has many legitimate uses.

  54. Dave P. says:

    Regarding tobacco: I don’t smoke myself, but if a pipe was good enough for St. John Kemble…

  55. tominrichmond says:

    In my 30 years in law enforcement/prosecution, I’d say the principal reason the vast majority of pot users light up is specifically to “get high.” That is, to diminish or lose the use of reason, to feel the good feelings of being intoxicated. There is really no other reason to use marijuana (except possible medical use, but even that is dubious, since the critical element of medicinal marijuana can be isolated and administered without the intoxicating effects). That’s *why* marijuana is popular, because it provides a quick “high.”

    Contrast alcohol, where even several servings of beer, wine, or liquor can be enjoyed without intoxication.

    While there may be some theoretical person who could theoretically smoke a joint without the intention to get high, I’d question that person’s sincerity and good faith.

  56. stevegallagher says:

    There is a good reason why this stuff is called “dope.” The last thing our country needs is anymore legalized bad habits so it might be a good to re-read what tominrichmond has to say. I, too, have 30 years in LE and he is right.

  57. Cafea Fruor says:

    Being an apartment-dweller, I’d like to throw another question out there, and this would apply to tobacco use as well: Does close proximity to other people who would prefer not to breathe in the smoke of your joint/cigar/cigarette/etc. affect what might constitute moderate use?

    Drinking alcohol doesn’t immediately affect other people, whereas smoking something does. For instance, I can never have my apartment window open in nice weather without breathing in cigar smoke because there’s a guy a couple floors down from me who smokes cigars on his balcony when it’s nice out. And I know of people who live in apartments where the walls are not sealed well, and if a neighbor smokes like a chimney, then everyone in an adjoining unit has to breathe in second-hand smoke. I also know of people who live in similarly poorly-constructed apartments and who have neighbors who smoke marijuana, so the second-hand smoke issue is the same.

    If one’s smoking is moderate and not immoral per se (assuming it’s legal), is there a moral problem when that moderate use forces second-hand smoke on other people who wish not to partake, particularly when the substance smoked is a narcotic?

  58. Intrepidus says:

    Dear friends… Well done. Somebody should sit down, summarize this column of arguments, and write a definitive treatise on the topic. I, for one, am too simple-minded to understand most of what I have read here, much less to write the treatise. Kudos to all the brilliant minds who have weighed in–but, may I suggest that the cart is ahead of the horse?

    What do I mean?

    It seems like comparing apples and orangutans to me. Or can anyone here imagine Shakespeare writing a speech for Sir John Falstaff about the glory of marijuana? Alcohol raises the mind to higher things, and when not in excess, it actually makes a person under its influence a better person. In vino veritas… as they say. Is it not somewhat ludicrous to say “in marijuana veritas?” Or might it not seem inane to ascribe to dope any of the brave, intellectual, and liberal qualities which Falstaff applies (with our hearty approval) to wine?

    I’m just trying to point out that maybe, before we go crazy trying to produce every argument on every plane about why the one is better than the other, can someone give me a good reason why there is a natural parallel for comparison between the two? Wine brings you up and out of yourself. Where does dope put you? The intoxication is so different that you would be silly to confuse someone who has had a little too much wine with a person who has had a little too much pot.

    I think it makes as much sense to use alcohol as an argument for the moral good of dope abuse, as to use hang-gliding as an argument for the moral good of sewer diving…

  59. Dave P. says:

    Offbeat question: I wonder what the Church’s position on melange would be? :-)

  60. Imrahil says:

    Dear Cafea Fruor,

    my understanding of common-sense ;-) would be that it’s generally okay in free air.

    But yes, the question certainly does affect moderate use (however not in the way that a mere “I prefer not to smoke passively, but I won’t forbid you” of another one would forbid it entirely).

    As for the smoke in question being a narcotic… presuming by hypothesis that it were morally okay to smoke it per se… I have yet to see, or hear of, a person getting high on passive smoking.

  61. Intrepidus says:

    As an additional thought regarding the difference between alcohol abuse and drug abuse of any sort… Alcohol abuse would fall under sin against the virtue of sobriety (a sub-virtue of temperance). I do not think the non-medical use of any drug constitutes a sin against sobriety or a temperance issue at all. The sin seems to be much more tightly connected to Justice, Prudence, and the sin of doing violence to ones’ person, a form of self-mutilation or masochism, if you see what I mean.

  62. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    The late baseball pitcher Tug McGraw was once asked if he preferred grass or astroturf.

    “I never smoke turf,” he replied.

  63. Imrahil says:

    Well you don’t smoke turf; you drink it.

    (Obviously I am not fasting from bad jokes.)

  64. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Here’s a variation of a nursery rhyme I learned if fifth grade Catholic school, substituting the names of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan respectively:

    Marijuana, marijuana
    Here I am
    Here I am

    Michael Sean Winters makes it
    Sr. Maureen Fiedler takes it

    Why can’t we?
    Why can’t we?

  65. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Related, I would watch out for Catholics who seek to create “new” sins such as smoking (even an occasional pipe or cigar), owning a firearm (as opposed to using it to do evil), eating meat, and opposing campaign finance reform.

  66. Imrahil says:

    Dimitri Cavalli, indeed.

    I’m happy to say, though, that this is rather more prevalent among the modern moralizers than among the Catholics, even the laxly-practicing ones.

    Or not happy, because the modern moralizers have so much more influence than the latter.

    (The day the 0.49 o/oo allowance for DUI and the 1.59 o/oo allowance for bicycle-riding UI falls will be a sad, sad day for the cause of moderate drinking. I hope we never see it, but looking around in the general moralizing tone, all does point in such a direction. Not that it would oblige in conscience per se, of course, but the prudent thing normally is not to risk harsh punishment.)

  67. Cafea Fruor says:

    @Imrahil: Perhaps one cannot get high from second-hand pot smoke, but there are plenty of people who have allergies and things of that sort, and plenty of people who just want fresh air in their own homes, rather than have smoke forced on them, and it’s these people I have in mind.

  68. Imrahil says:

    Yes, certainly. I was specifically referring to your “especially if the thing smoked is a narcotic” part. I do think that regarding the ones who do not smoke themselves, marijuana pretty much falls under the same treatment as, say, tobacco.

    But yes, I think taking care of neighbors works both ways, and your normal smoker (presuming he is not an excessively excessive one) who goes to smoke on the balcony is morally quite on the fine path. If it is done in fresh air, you’ll recognize by smell “aha, there’s someone smoking” if near enough, but that’s just about everything. The common-sensical solution is that it’s allowed…

    especially that if you should forbid it to him, and he go inside and smoke there, he’ll get the smell on his clothes, which can be unpleasant to the people he meets.

    [And by the way, in the “spiritually rural” area I grew up in we’d take a rather grim satisfaction in the fact that we’re not as hygienic as some sort of people less down to Earth (in the literal sense), and that our children get more dirt and less allergies, and that we still were among the ones who played in the grasses and even mud, etc. This is not a medicinal statement, but what is at least my deeply imbibed prejudice tells me that the way of allergy-prevention, wasps excepted, is exposure. Also I’ve often heard of people making an allergy test and henceforth having to avoid all sorts of things which never caused problems before.

    Though, once you’ve got the allergy, and it’s a real one and not just some test result, nor just the occasional sneeze in e. g. my case which I guess maybe could be termed hayfever, you have to stay away. I know.]

  69. You assumed that a defense of it’s morality would come from potheads. I’ve never touched the stuff and wrote a defense in my blog this week (written in January but published now):

    Note: If you want to respond to me, it’s better to do it there as this comment section already lost me.

  70. Ella says:

    I am an RN/BSN and for the sake of brevity I will say that marijuana has a myriad of adverse health effects, one of which is the early onset of dementia. There is no known “safe” amount unlike alcohol. And it just plain silly to say that deliberately inhaling any kind of smoke is a good idea. On the moral or theological side of things. I firmly believe we should all abstain from any mind altering substances unless absolutely needed (like schizophrenics). One of the most shocking things I’ve seen as a nurse has been the number of people I’ve taken care of who are taking large amounts of psychotropic drugs and/or narcotics (legally prescribed). I have found that many of the individuals I thought were nice people, even good people were neither- they were just high. Perhaps it would be best to seek the Lord with all our heart and soul and with minds unaltered by drugs.

  71. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Peter Hitchens, whom I often describe as “The Good Hitchens Brother,” points out some startling facts about marijuana use in his weekly column for the Mail on Sunday newspaper, see

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