Arizonans joined voters in three other states in approving the legalization of recreational marijuana Nov. 3. Additionally, one state voted to legalize medical marijuana and another elected to decriminalize harder drugs in an effort to promote addiction treatment programs over criminal sentences.
The Catholic bishops in many of the states had spoken out against the drug legalization measures, pointing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that drug use “inflicts very grave damage on human health and life.”
In Arizona, citizens approved Proposition 207, which will both allow persons 21 and older to possess one ounce of marijuana and provide for the legal sale of the drug.
Also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, the measure passed 60 percent to 40 percent, with 85 percent of results reported.
The Arizona Catholic Conference had criticized the proposal, saying it would send the message to children that “drug use is socially and morally acceptable.”
“It is anticipated that legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in Arizona will lead to more abuse by teens, increase child fatalities, and result in more societal costs,” the Arizona bishops warned in a Sept. 23 statement.
They noted that self-reported marijuana use of Arizona middle- and high-schoolers has already increased because fewer youth believe it is risky. They also pointed to a report out of Colorado showing significant increases in traffic deaths, crime, emergency room visits and youth usage of marijuana after the drug was legalized for recreational use.
In New Jersey, citizens approved Public Question 1, which will legalize recreational marijuana, with a state-run program to oversee it. The measure drew 67 percent of voter approval, with 63 percent of votes recorded.
Oregon passed Ballot Measure 110, making it the first state to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of controlled substances including heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines. It will reduce penalties for possession of large amounts of such controlled substances.
Fifty-nine percent of voters approved the measure, while 41 percent opposed it, with 82 percent of results reported. Recreational marijuana was legalized in the state in 2014.
Voters in South Dakota approved Amendment A, which will legalize recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years and older. It will legalize possession or distribution of up to one ounce of the drug. It will also require the state legislature to pass laws providing for a medical marijuana program and the sale of hemp.
The measure, which passed 53 percent to 47 percent, was opposed by the South Dakota bishops.
“Human beings are endowed by God with the gift of reason. Reason aids us in differentiating between right and wrong and is foundational for human freedom and personal responsibility,” they said. “Thus, we can understand that to directly intend to suppress our God-given rational faculties is gravely wrong.”
In Montana, voters approved two measures that will legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Constitutional Initiative 118 will change the state’s constitution to allow adults age 21 and older to purchase recreational marijuana, and Initiative 190 creates a framework to legalize and regulate marijuana use, creating a 20 percent tax on non-medical marijuana and allowing counties to ban dispensaries.
Both measures passed by roughly 57 percent to 43 percent of the vote.
The bishops of Montana opposed the measure as “a threat to the flourishing of individual persons — particularly, the young, the poor and those who struggle with either substance abuse or mental health challenges.”
They stressed that since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012, the state has seen a higher prevalence of marijuana use in suicides.
“Publications link marijuana use with cognitive impairment, lung damage and an increased risk of psychotic disorders (among other concerns),” the bishops said. “Legalization of recreational marijuana will only exacerbate the already serious mental health crisis gripping our state.”
Voters in Mississippi overwhelmingly approved Initiative 65 to license and regulate marijuana dispensaries and allow a patient to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana to treat any of 22 conditions. The measure won 74 percent of voter approval. Over 228,000 Mississippi voters signed a petition to place the initiative on the ballot.