In just over a week, voters will participate in the state’s Nov. 6 general election. In addition to the local, state and national candidates on ballots, Michiganders will see three statewide proposals, including a measure that seeks to legalize recreational marijuana for individuals 21 and older. Proposal 1 would allow individuals to have up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana on their person, 10 ounces at home, and 12 plants in a single residence. The measure allows for commercial production and distribution of marijuana, and it outlines where any new tax revenue from the proposal would be directed.
How we organize society, as voters and community members, “directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow” in relationship with one another (U.S. Bishops, Seven Themes of Catholic Social Teaching). As Michiganders consider their ballots, it is important to ask: will these choices respect the value of the human person and lead to a better Michigan? With regards to Proposal 1, the Michigan Catholic Conference Board of Directors — which includes the seven bishops of Michigan — unanimously believes the answer is no. The proposal would likely cause harm for Michigan families, health outcomes, communities, and workers.
Recreational marijuana does not protect youth. Many states with legalized recreational marijuana show the nation’s highest teen usage rates. Although the proposal prohibits use for anyone under 21, legalization signals that marijuana is safe. The opioid crisis has shown that the safer people think a drug is, the more likely they are to use it. Marijuana more negatively impacts children than adults, especially when used regularly.
Recreational marijuana will not improve health or community outcomes for Michiganders. Supporters highlight the potential revenue from legalization, while ignoring societal costs. No revenue would be earmarked for data collection on the proposal’s impact or for the implementation of prevention or treatment programs. A report from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan says Proposal 1 “leaves Michigan’s underfunded public health sector and mental health systems with a potentially growing problem but no new financial means to address it.”
Findings from 2016 in Colorado show that after legalization, the state saw increases in marijuana-related hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and poison control calls, including for young kids (Department of Public Safety). A study by the National Academy of Sciences in 2017 also has found connections between regular marijuana use and respiratory problems; mental health issues; and learning, memory and attention loss.
Recreational marijuana will not improve communities. Widely accepted standards do not exist for judging marijuana impairment like they do for alcohol, which creates a major challenge for law enforcement. Individual users may also have difficulty judging their own impairment, especially when using edibles (food items made/infused with marijuana) that take longer to digest. The proposal promises rigorous regulations, but these are difficult to achieve considering the drug is still illegal nationally.
Recreational marijuana will not make people better workers. In states with legalized recreational marijuana, it is difficult to find employees who can pass a drug test for direct or contract federal jobs (since the federal government still considers the drug illegal). This difficulty extends to jobs in industries that operate heavy machinery or require truck driving, where marijuana use creates specific safety concerns.
In short, legalizing recreational marijuana will not produce a better Michigan, and the Michigan Catholic Conference thus urges a "no" vote.
In 2016, Pope Francis encouraged Americans during an in-flight press address to “study the proposals well, pray, and choose in conscience.” The same advice applies to all voting in this year’s election as well. For more information on Proposal 1 and other election resources, visit www.micatholic.org/election2018.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets and is written by Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) President and CEO Paul A. Long. The Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.