Father William Byron, S.J.

Several events took place within days of one another recently that have turned my attention to marijuana. The city council in my hometown of Philadelphia voted to decriminalize possession of it in small amounts. A physician friend gave me an article from the June 5 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use.” And Pope Francis spoke out in mid-June against the legalization of recreational drugs.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible,” said the pope. “The problem of drug use is not solved with drugs.” And he added, “Drug addiction is an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise.”

He therefore opposes the legalization of even small amounts of pot.

The New England Journal of Medicine, always sound in analysis and solid in judgment, identified marijuana as “the most commonly used ‘illicit’ drug in the United States with about 12 percent of people 12 years of age or older reporting use in the past year and particularly high rates of use among young people.”


The regular use of marijuana in adolescence is of particular concern to the medical community. “Adolescents’ increased vulnerability to adverse long-term outcomes from marijuana use is probably related to the fact that the brain, including the endocannabinoid system, undergoes active development during adolescence,” said the medical journal.

Early and regular use leads to addiction, which, in turn, leads to the use of other illicit drugs: hence application of the term “gateway drug” to marijuana. Deleterious results show up in higher levels of anxiety and depression, impaired cognitive functions and in some cases lower IQs. All of us should be concerned. Young people are at great risk.

Over the years there has been an inverse correlation between the use of marijuana by adolescents and their perception of its risks. That’s why I was happy to see the pope speaking out against it and why I think Philadelphia’s city council members have made an unwise choice. The mayor would be well advised to veto the bill.

The pope is reminding us that drug addiction is an evil. The medical community is reminding us of the adverse health effects of using illicit drugs. And the Philadelphia city council seems to be forgetting that it is an illusion to think that the good of society will be served by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

They should keep looking for better ways to reduce the costs of law enforcement and incarceration without in any way endangering the common good.


Jesuit Father William J. Byron is a professor of business and society at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia. Email: wbyron@sju.edu.