When God confronted Cain after callously killing his own brother, Abel, Cain responds to God with the now famous question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)  This phrase from the Sacred Scripture has been used throughout the ages to help ponder our responsibility toward one another in the community of the human family.
Civilized society has always tried to balance individual rights with the greater responsibility for the common good. While respecting individual liberty and wishing as much freedom for the human person as is reasonable, society has to balance those rights and liberties with what is best and good for the whole of the community.

Oregonians will face a ballot measure in the upcoming election on Nov. 4 that will call upon all of us to weigh carefully and thoughtfully what is truly best for the common good of our society. I am speaking of Ballot Measure 91, which seeks to legalize recreational marijuana use in Oregon. I am pleading with all readers to think clearly and dispassionately before voting on this measure, which will surely change the culture of our state.

I have only been an Oregonian for a year and a half, but I have already picked up on a rugged individualism and even a libertarian spirit among many Oregonians with regard to government and other institutions of society.  Many do not want anyone telling us what is right or wrong and what we can or cannot do.  I sense a certain manifestation of this in the debate over legalized recreational marijuana use. Many want to allow this freedom for those citizens who choose to use marijuana.

But are there other factors that should be considered in this debate? Are there deeper and more far reaching ramifications if marijuana use is expanded and legalized?  Will it end up doing greater harm to individuals and the common life we share in society? Should we be concerned about the harm done to people by use of this drug, harm done to our youth, harm to families, harm to law enforcement officials, as well as others?  In other words, am I my brother’s keeper?

Many will argue that marijuana use is no different than alcohol use, which is legal. Prohibition of alcohol did not work in our history. So what’s the big deal? Why not allow people to choose marijuana just as they can choose to consume alcohol?

Well, there is plenty of evidence that marijuana use cannot simply be equated to the consumption of alcohol. It is a drug that works on the brain and central nervous system in very different ways than alcohol. I have spoken with persons who, with just casual marijuana use, have experienced terrifying reactions. The marijuana being produced and distributed today is much more potent and harmful than it was back in the 1960s and ‘70s.  

Another factor to consider is that most people do not abuse alcohol or develop alcoholism. So-called “social drinkers” do not drink alcohol in order to get drunk or alter their state of mind. People who recreationally use marijuana, on the other hand, do so to “get high” and alter their state of mind and consciousness. Not only is this morally wrong from the standpoint of Catholic moral teaching, it does harm to the individual in serious ways.  There is plenty of evidence that marijuana use is addictive and is, for many, a gateway drug to more serious drug abuse. Think of how much more marijuana will be available to minors who will obtain access to the drug more easily.

But even if a person does not accept the argument that marijuana use is no different than alcohol use, consider this. When alcohol is abused and when alcoholism sets in, untold damage is done to individuals’ health, marriages, families, jobs and the social life of individuals. Talk to the spouses, children and family members of persons with alcoholism. It is heart wrenching.  Why would we want to legalize and make more readily available a drug that has as much and probably more potential to do harm?   Do we care? Am I my brother’s keeper?

Law enforcement officials are gravely concerned about what legalized recreational marijuana use will likely do to increase the crime rate, not the least of which is driving under the influence. How do they measure so called “safe limits” for driving under the influence of marijuana? How many more lives will be lost in accidents involving people who are high on marijuana?  Remember, people use marijuana to get high, and their judgment goes out the window.  Law enforcement officials are also concerned for their own safety as they go about their duties in a new environment of legal drug use.

Many see great tax revenues coming into the State treasury if the production, distribution and sale of marijuana can be legally regulated. Are we going to let the economic argument prevail and cloud our better judgment about what is ultimately best for our people and society as a whole? Will greed win out again?

Finally, two other states have recently legalized recreational marijuana use. They are Colorado and our neighbor to the north, Washington.  What is the rush for Oregon?  Let’s wait and see how this plays out in those states before we go rushing in to what is sure to cause untold problems for the common good of our community.

For all of these reasons and more, the Oregon Catholic Conference has come out in opposition to Ballot Measure 91.  I urge all to please vote NO, and by doing so preserve what is best for all of us in Oregon.

Archbishop Sample's Schedule:

Monday, Oct. 6-Thursday, Oct. 9 —  Clergy Convocation, Newport

Tuesday, Oct. 7 — Farewell Dinner for Bishop Michael Driscoll, Boise

Saturday, Oct. 11 — Ordinations to the Diaconate, Mount Angel Abbey, 10 a.m.

Sunday, Oct. 12 — Celebration of the Eucharist, St. Pius X Church, Bless Newly Renovated Church

Tuesday, Oct. 14 — Champions of Faith Dinner for CYO, Oregon Convention Center, Portland, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 15 — Meeting of the Clergy Personnel Board, Pastoral Center, Portland, 10 a.m.

Friday, Oct. 17 — Celebration of the Eucharist, Jesuit High School, Portland, 8:30 a.m.

Saturday, Oct. 18 — Celebration of the White Mass for physicians and health care professionals, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland, 5:30 p.m.