By Michael Pauley, Executive Director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference
On November 8, 2022, voters in South Dakota will decide the fate of Initiated Measure 27, a proposal to legalize marijuana for so-called “recreational” purposes. The bishops of South Dakota issued a statement recently calling on Catholics to “oppose Measure 27 because of the numerous harms it threatens to bring to individuals, families, and our state.”
Recreational marijuana is now legal in 19 states, generating a new industry that is expected to reach $33 billion in total sales by the end of 2022. The marijuana industry is following in the footsteps of “Big Tobacco” by spending vast sums of money to convince the public that their product is harmless. Their strategy is working. A 2021 poll from the Gallup organization found that 68 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana, although a local news media poll showed only 44 percent of South Dakotans feel the same way.
But is marijuana really a harmless drug? The science doesn’t back up this popular belief. The public is largely unaware that marijuana has become far more toxic in recent years. The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is known as THC. Today’s marijuana has three times the concentration of THC compared to the marijuana commonly used 25 years ago.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states “Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss of as much as 8 points when people start using it at a young age. These IQ points do not come back, even after quitting marijuana.”
The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s largest non-profit provider of behavioral health care, states “Marijuana use can harm learning, thinking and memory development, and use of the drug has been linked to mental health issues, including psychosis…”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that “Marijuana may impair judgment, motor coordination, and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability. Marijuana is the illicit drug most frequently found in the blood of drivers who have been involved in vehicle crashes, including fatal ones.”
In Colorado, one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana have doubled following legalization. Today in Colorado, 1 in every 5 traffic deaths involves a driver who has tested positive for marijuana.
But carnage on the roadways is not the only bad fruit of legalization. A report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area states, “The percent of suicide incidents in which toxicology results were positive for marijuana has increased from 14% in 2013 to 29% in 2020.” That represents a doubling of marijuana-associated suicides in Colorado since legal retail sales of marijuana commenced in 2014.
Pope Benedict XVI said in 2012, “It is the responsibility of the Church… to unmask the false promises, the lies, the fraud that is behind drugs.” Catholics in South Dakota must take up this challenge, and educate our family members, friends, and co-workers, about the harms Measure 27 could bring to our state.