Pot panel: ‘just say no’

Local experts discuss moral, legal dilemmas

Nissa LaPoint

Pot smokers’ reasoning for lighting up may be the pursuit of a longing within all people—contemplation and communion, according to one priest.

Parish pastor Father Peter Musset of Boulder’s St. Thomas Aquinas Parish argued it’s one thing marijuana users may have right.

“I think one of the most important reasons we overlook for why people smoke pot is for contemplation,” he said during a July 1 marijuana panel discussion. “That’s what people are longing for. They are thirsty. They are utterly hungry for the ability to engage and experience reality.

“But the means with which pot smokers choose that contemplation is wrong,” he emphasized. “It’s destructive.”Father Peter Mussett speaks about marijuana at a panel discussion July 1 at Holy Ghost Church in Denver.

During the discussion held at Holy Ghost Church, Father Musset said Catholics are invited to engage and invite pot smokers into true communion, and awe and wonder of reality.

The legalization of marijuana in Colorado and its moral, legal, personal and theological dilemmas was discussed from all angles among panelists: Father Musset, Professor E. Christian Brugger of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Jo Menendez and Catholic Charities’ Shelter and Community Outreach Vice President Geoff Bennett.

The crowd gathered at the church heard the testimony of Bennett, who shared the story of one of his daughter’s addiction to drugs, starting with marijuana, at 16 years old.

“It started with marijuana because she wanted to be popular,” he said.

It soon took her on a path of bad choices—dropping out of school, stealing, running from home, living on the streets and losing custody of her children, he shared.

“You never know what the next phone call will bring,” Bennett said about his daughter’s past calls for money or aid.

Attorney Menendez said that as a recovering alcoholic, addiction is a “lousy road.” She said she took her last drink of alcohol more than 23 years ago.

Now in her work as an attorney, Menendez said she sees the impact and resulting confusion after the November 2012 passage of recreational marijuana.

Federal law prohibits marijuana possession while state law allows it.

“The law has been a bad teacher in this area,” she said.

Statistically, its passage has impacted health. Emergency room admissions of men ages 18-25 saw marijuana jump from the third to the second most-cited drug of use. Hospital discharges for marijuana cases increased by 47 percent in the Denver metro area and 57 percent in Denver County between 2007 to 2012, she stated.

“I’m going to keeping fighting,” she said about her work against drugs.

As an ethicist and professor, Brugger offered an analysis on pot’s use and legalization.

After discussing the cannabis plant’s deleterious effects on the body, Brugger pointed to the arguments in favor of legalization, including the overcrowded prisons with pot smokers and pot’s equivalence to alcohol, saying neither are strong arguments.

Meanwhile, ethical arguments against it bear more weight, principally the fact that marijuana alters consciousness, impairing a person’s ability to make good choices. Treating others with respect, dressing modestly, not eating excessively and faithfully praying are already a challenge when completely conscientious, he said.

“Getting high makes all these things more difficult,” Brugger argued.

And without a just cause for recreational smoking, its usage is wrong. Furthermore, legalization can harm vulnerable children and increase the burden on parents seeking to raise them with Christian values, he said.

Legalization also has a way of not only sanctioning or rewarding behavior, but teaching it, he explained.

“When the law says something is legal, what it does is it removes a stigma from that thing and over time we start to look at it not only as neutral but even something that could be good for us,” Brugger said.

In the case of legalized marijuana, it could change perception on a drug that has moral, spiritual, physical and social pitfalls, he said.

 

Pope Francis on recreational drugs

During the June 20th International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome, Pope Francis spoke about recreational drugs before leaders of anti-drug agencies worldwide. He denounced the legalization of drugs and the trend of offering addicts narcotics as a substitute for harder drugs.

“Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise,” the pope said.

“Here I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use. … But to say this no, ‘one has to say ‘yes’ to life, ‘yes’ to love, ‘yes’ to others, ‘yes’ to education, ‘yes’ to greater job opportunities. If we say ‘yes’ to all these things, there will be no room for illicit drugs, for alcohol abuse, for other forms of addiction.”

 

 

 

COMING UP: Helping others: the ride of your life

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Near the beginning of a 464-mile bike tour, my right knee gave out. I pulled over to a Ride the Rockies aid station in a tiny town in Colorado and lay down in the grass, in pain, my knee swollen. I felt alone and helpless. When I received help, my sense of relief and security was overwhelming. When you can’t help yourself, it’s a cold and lonely feeling. It really takes your breath away.

Now, imagine the helplessness of someone experiencing homelessness: foraging for food in trash bins, hunkered down under a bridge or not sleeping for fear of harm. It’s not something you would ever want to experience. But thousands of our brothers and sisters across the country do experience homelessness. One-fifth of them are children.

There is good news. The estimated number of homeless people has trended down in the past decade. The sad news, in Colorado, is that we’re counter to the trend. Between 2015 and 2016, when overall homelessness (including people in families) dropped 2.6 percent nationally, Colorado experienced the single-largest percentage increase of homeless individuals (12.6 percent) of any state, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The causes are many and varied. What’s important is what we do about it. At the Samaritan House homeless shelter in downtown Denver, of those individuals and families who complete the first 30 days of the Levels Program that includes life skills, more than 60 percent leave the shelter with housing in place. More than 90 percent have income in place.

This year, we will open the Samaritan House Women’s Shelter in northeast Denver to accommodate 150 women a night. We’re also moving our administrative offices to that location to be in closer community with those we serve. With your help, Catholic Charities is providing hope in the face of helplessness.

That’s also why, for the seventh consecutive year, Team Samaritan House is part of Ride the Rockies. I was on the ride in 2015 when my knee gave out. This year, I’ll be part of the support team as 40 members of Team Samaritan House pedal a 447-mile loop from Alamosa to Salida from June 10 to June 17. Why do they ride? For the love of the homeless and to raise $150,000 to support the shelters of Catholic Charities. Those riders are spending many hours in the saddle. I encourage you to support one or more of them at samhousedenver.org/rtr.

And after you do that, make plans to come down to Samaritan House and help serve dinner to the poor. You’ll be much richer for it. On a training run, one of our riders met a group of three men from Australia, riding their bikes. Just because they wanted to be a part of it, the men ended up helping Team Samaritan House serve a special pig roast dinner to residents of the shelter.

I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith,” proclaims St. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7.

Join us. Let’s race together to serve others.

 

Larry Smith is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Denver. Visit online at ccdenver.org or call 303-742-0828 to learn more, volunteer or make a donation.