A few weeks ago, Pope Francis expressed disdain for the recent shift in favor toward marijuana legalization, denouncing the drug trade and those who “[sow] the seeds of suffering and death.” Yes, you can continue to not care because, surprise!, popes are not very drug-tolerant. However, Pope Francis did make one of his points very clear. “A reduction in the spread and influence of drug addiction will not be achieved by a liberalization of drug use,” he said to a cheering crowd in Brazil last month.
But honestly, it doesn’t matter what the pope says about drugs. It matters when and how he says it. Addressing drug legality at a time of such momentous policy reform serves only as a desperate arm flail from the Catholic Church. Nations like Argentina, the pope’s home country, have already chosen to tolerate personal drug use simply on the basis that it’s a basic human right.
Heck, even Brazil, the very nation who hosted the pope during his rallying cry against drugs, has already decriminalized personal possession. Uruguay and Ecuador have followed suit. Here in the U.S., Colorado and Washington carry the torch and more states are likely to follow. The domino effect will continue despite Pope Francis' protest.
Nevertheless, he maintains his stance against drugs. And while it’s disappointing to hear Pope "who am I to judge?" Francis sponsoring failed policies which continue to burden law enforcement and the community alike, not all hope for drug law reform is lost.
Portugal, a vastly Catholic nation, has demonstrated tremendous success with their increasingly liberal drug laws, primarily for recognizing drug addiction as a health concern rather than an enforcement issue. That tells us there can be a compromise between religion and drug use.
So who really is Pope Francis to judge? Certainly not a historian, since increased law enforcement hasn’t decreased drug use since the official baptism of the Drug War during the Nixon years. He’s the top representative of a religion not famously known for its ability to contextualize. Let’s face it; those who already condemn drug use will continue to do so, regardless of relevant context. Not everyone can pull a Sanjay Gupta and just, you know, change their minds after outweighing contrasting data. It’s tough.
So those of us who understand the shades of gray associated with drugs are best off ignoring this papal cautionary. Let the pope be the pope. The struggle for marijuana law reform doesn't require the pope's approval and has been carrying on splendidly without him. Let's not allow his words to have a negative impact on what can potentially become constructive and comprehensive drug policy.