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: Relativism: An obstacle to the pursuit of truth

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When I was a kid, my favorite television show was The Partridge Family. Mostly because I was completely enamored of the late David Cassidy, whom I was convinced I would marry some day. But also because the show featured just the kind of mildly corny humor a seven year old is inclined to enjoy.

I remember one joke in particular. Keith (David Cassidy) is trying to give big brotherly advice to Danny (Danny Bonaduce). He says “If you just believe, you can be anything you want to be.”

Danny responds, “Great! I want to be a black woman.” Laugh track ensues. Because everybody knows that a pale white, red-headed, freckle-faced kid cannot grow up to be a black woman.

I was thinking about that scene as I was listening to Bishop Robert Barron Feb. 6, giving a riveting talk on relativism to a packed house here in Denver. As he spoke about the philosophical underpinnings of relativistic thinking, I realized that joke couldn’t be told today. Because, as a society, we don’t seem to agree that race, gender, or just about anything else, are based in any kind of objective truth.

Bishop Barron spoke of a video you may have seen. A rather short male interviewer asks college students what they would think if he told them he identifies as a woman. Then an Asian woman. Then a 6’4” Asian woman. They hesitate at times, but all ultimately agree that if that is his “truth,” then he is indeed entitled to be a tall Asian woman.

That is the ultimate expression of relativism.

Relativism, boiled down, is essentially the belief that there is no “objective” truth that is true for all. Rather, we as individuals, each establish our own subjective “truths,” and we live “authentically” to the extent that we honor these individual “truths.”

The speed with which we have descended down this path is breathtaking. When I was in my 20’s (which was not long ago at all — right???), I used to debate abortion at Berkeley. Not exactly a friendly audience — I remember mentally noting exits, including windows, that I could utilize if things got out of hand. But they showed up, and they listened, because there was still some understanding in society that there was such a thing as truth, and hence an openness to listen to others to see if together we could arrive at that truth. Or, at the very least, that I could employ the truth as I see it to convince you that your understanding of the truth is flawed.

Not so today. Open discussion of controversial issues is almost nonexistent on most college campuses. Of course. If I have my truth and you have your truth, what would be the point? We are just supposed to respect each others’ truths and move on.

But the problem is that we all have to play together in the same sandbox. Somebody’s truth has to rule our social interaction. If we can’t come to an agreement about whose truth is truer, then the only option left is force. And so, instead of listening to what you have to say, I attempt to forcibly shut you down. I smash windows. I disrupt your talk. Or, alternatively, I call on the authority of the university to do that dirty work for me while I hide in a safe space with my crayons and puppy videos.

Pope Benedict XVI called relativism a “dictatorship.” And, ironically, it is. The philosophy that purports to allow everyone to believe as he wishes, actually allows no one to believe in anything but relativism. And because there need be no rhyme nor reason behind any individual belief, enforcement through persuasion becomes impossible. Hence, the inevitable clash of ideologies. And it will be the stronger, not the most persuasive, who will prevail.

Parents, please — teach your children that there is such a thing as truth. That yes, we may disagree with others about what that truth is. That we respect people — all people — regardless of their beliefs. (Another objective truth.) But beneath the disagreement, there is a truth. There is a God or there isn’t. Jesus Christ is divine or He isn’t. Sexual expression has an inherent meaning or it doesn’t. Gender is fixed or it isn’t.

[And parents, if you want help with this, get your hands on Chris Stefanik’s book Absolute Relativism, and check out his YouTube videos on the same subject.]

In any disagreement about objective truths, someone is right and someone is wrong. Or perhaps both are partially wrong and neither grasps the full truth. But the truth is there.

In the old days, our goal was to find it.