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Bishop's Statement on Question 4

October 17, 2016

Dear Catholic educators, catechists and families,

As Americans we are called upon to actively participate in our democratic process through the exercising of our right to vote. With the November 8 Election Day now fast approaching there are indeed many candidates and issues competing for our attention. I am writing you today regarding one issue which will be placed before voters, a matter of great importance for our young people and families.

On Election Day Massachusetts citizens will be asked to vote on a proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana, listed a Question 4. If approved, this referendum could have an extremely devastating and dangerous impact on our society, particularly children and young adults.

As our society battles the devastating opioid crisis, which every day claims the lives of those who have been snared in the trap of addiction, it is beyond reason that we should legalize a gateway drug that, in addition to its own damaging effects, has led far too many users down the escalating path of drug abuse and the destruction of opioids.

On the reverse side of this letter, I am providing you with a statement the Massachusetts Catholic Conference has issued in response to Question 4, one which provides facts and citations from numerous research studies concerning the detrimental effects that follow from the legalization of marijuana. These concerns are shared by many law enforcement, public safety and community leaders including Governor Baker and Attorney General Healy.

I urge you to carefully read and share this statement.

Thank you for your consideration and thoughtful review of this issue and for your dedication, commitment and genuine care for our young people.

Prayerfully yours,

Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski

Bishop of Springfield



Marijuana represents a significant part of substance use in America and adversely affects the health of millions of Americans. According to a recent report1 issued by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.2 Its widespread use and abuse, particularly by young people under the age of eighteen, is steadily increasing while scientific evidence clearly links its long term damaging effects on brain development. “When marijuana users begin using as teenagers, the drug may reduce thinking, memory and learning functions and affect how the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions. Marijuana’s effects on these abilities may last a long time or even be permanent.”3

Legalizing a drug for recreational use that causes these effects on the human body, particularly our youth, is not a path civil society should choose to take. It has been well documented in Massachusetts and across the country that the nation is currently waging a losing battle against opioid abuse. Our attention must not be diverted from that health crisis, nor do we want to add fuel to it by contributing to the risks for the use of other illegal/illicit/proscribed substances through the legalization of marijuana. The availability of marijuana for adolescent users already constitutes an environmental factor for the later use of other illicit drugs.4 Its legalization will only serve to worsen this problem.

One only has to examine the devastating impact felt in Colorado since 2013, when recreational use of marijuana was legalized, to fully grasp what would be in store in Massachusetts. A comprehensive report5 issued last month by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area states that, since marijuana has been legalized, traffic deaths have increased by 48 percent. Recent statistics show that of all traffic deaths in Colorado, 21 percent of those individuals killed tested positive for marijuana. Marijuana related hospitalizations in Colorado have doubled from 2011 to 2014.

Marijuana use and abuse by the youth of Colorado has increased by 20 percent since legalization. Young people in Colorado rank first in the nation for marijuana use – an illegal activity for anyone under the age of 21. Strikingly, this has negatively affected their family life,

social life and school performance where expulsions and drop-out rates have spiked significantly. Do we really want to bring these issues to Massachusetts?

The Catholic Church teaches “the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense.”6

The Roman Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts join Governor Baker and many other elected officials along with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Pediatricians (ACP) in opposing the legalization of marijuana. We urge the voters of Massachusetts to vote NO on Question 4 on November 8, 2016.

His Eminence Seán P. O’Malley, OFM, Cap. Archbishop of Boston

Most Reverend Mitchell T. Rozanski Bishop of Springfield

Most Reverend Robert J. McManus Bishop of Worcester

Most Reverent Edgar M. da Cunha, SDV Bishop of Fall River

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