Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel
Man buys low-THC marijuana at Pure Green in Portland.
Kristen Hannum/Catholic Sentinel
Man buys low-THC marijuana at Pure Green in Portland.
A couple years ago, Dr. Ben Hoffman, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, was amazed at the number of microbreweries near his Northwest Portland home.

Times change.

“Now, within a 10-minute walk, there are seven pot dispensaries,” he says.

And along with those dispensaries, Dr. Hoffman knows there will be teens who will cajole adults into buying them pot, the same way teens cajole adults into buying cigarettes or alcohol for them.

Marijuana is implicated in causing psychosis when habitually used by teens.

The changed landscape is the result of Oregon voters approving Measure 91 in 2014, legalizing recreational marijuana.

Bishop Peter Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland sounds weary regarding the drug. “There is this blossoming of dispensaries everywhere,” he says, noting that some of them put hawkers out on the sidewalks with signs, urging people to come in and indulge.

“It makes it more difficult for families raising children,” Bishop Smith says. “Now we have to live in this reality.”

The bishop and Dr. Hoffman both worry that legalizing recreational marijuana use is going to bring unintended consequences — consequences that have come to fruition in Colorado, where marijuana went on sale beginning Jan. 1, 2015. Admissions to the Colorado Children’s Hospital were up 800 percent for marijuana toxicity. Dr. Hoffman, who is also medical director of the Tom Sargent Safety Center at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, also testified to the State Legislature that Colorado has also seen a 46 percent overall increase in marijuana-related hospitalizations, and a 138 percent increase in calls to Poison Control for exposures for children 0-5 years.

The problem is that kids get into the gummy bears, cookies, brownies and assorted candies that are laced with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the potent psychoactive chemical that provokes most of marijuana’s psychological effects.

Dr. Hoffman sees parallels with firearms. He tells parents that children are safest from guns in homes without guns. But, he says, if you’re going to have guns, they should be locked away.

In the same way, edible marijuana should be kept locked away. “Parental supervision is inadequate,” he says. “Every pediatrician has heard the stories, ‘I turned my back for a second… 2- or 3-year-olds are impulsive people.”

Dr. Hoffman also urges parents to always have the number for the poison center, just in case.

Bishop Smith says that Catholic families don’t need to be faced with that quandary.

“We shouldn’t be making use of that kind of drug,” he says. “The reason the Church provides its guidelines is so people can know what to do.”

Bishop Smith points to the many times Pope Francis has spoken to what the pontiff calls the scourge of drug use. “I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: No to every type of drug use,” Pope Francis said May 7, 2014, in a general audience. “It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.”

Recreational vs. medical marijuana

Bishop Peter Smith, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Portland thinks it’s too early to really know what the fallout of legalized marijuana will be in Oregon. The state’s new law has made possession of 8 ounces or less legal since July 2015 and authorized dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana beginning January 2016.

“It’s very early days,” Bishop Smith says. “But clearly there are many concerns. What will be the impact on drivers? What about all those edibles and children? What about increased addictions?”

Regarding addiction, Pope Francis says that even as Catholics must say no to drug use, they are called by mercy to not abandon those who have fallen into the trap of drug addiction, but to help “them to rediscover their dignity and to revive those inner strengths, those personal talents, which drug use had buried but can never obliterate, since every man and woman is created in the image and likeness of God.”

Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, the director of education at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, writes that “the decision to use a drug recreationally for the purposes of dissociating ourselves from reality through induced euphoria raises significant moral concerns, and, like all unethical human choices, can be expected to correlate with significant adverse ramifications.”

Dr. Pacholczyk, like many researchers, writes specifically about recreational marijuana. Medical marijuana — which Oregon legalized in 1998 — has supporters in science and even the church. Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines recently urged the Iowa Legislature to approve a bill that would legalize medical marijuana. Peer-reviewed experiments have suggested elements of the marijuana plant is therapeutic as an anti-nausea drug, a painkiller and for seizures.

There have been reports that the Drug Enforcement Agency plans to change marijuana’s classification from being a Schedule 1 drug, like heroin, with "no medical use and a high potential for abuse," to a Schedule 2 drug, like morphine, a drug with “a high potential for abuse… (with) currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions.”