Illinois bishops say their commitment "to the common good" means they must "advise against legalization" of marijuana, which they say will result in an orphan epidemic.
The leaders of the six Catholic dioceses in Illinois have come together to urge lawmakers not to legalize recreational cannabis in the Prairie State. In a statement released yesterday, the bishops said cannabis legalization would leave many children without parents.
"Just a few years ago, we heard too many stories of children turned into orphans after their parents overdosed on heroin," the bishops said in the statement. "Today, we hear of the opioid crisis and the lives it claims. If marijuana is legalized, it will only add to the problem."
The bishops are presumably referring to the old and repeatedly debunked 'gateway drug theory,' which erroneously claims that consuming cannabis will lead people to abuse hard drugs like heroin. But in actuality, cannabis can help wean people off heroin and other opioids. That's why Illinois lawmakers made history last year by becoming the first state to launch a program that uses medical marijuana to help treat opioid addictions.
But the bishops' message could trump science in the state. Catholics comprise the largest religious group in Illinois, where 28 percent of the population follow the faith. On top of facing potential opposition from nearly one third of the population, marijuana reformers are also facing the challenge of motivating their base, according to Bob Gilligan. The executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois claims that support for cannabis legalization is winding down.
"I think there was a lot of energy, and there’s still a lot of energy behind the efforts to legalize it, but that was in a campaign mode prior to November. This was on some ballots where you saw a fairly large number of people supporting it. But now that it’s time for those people to figure out how to implement this in such a way that it does not harm the public, the momentum that you’re seeing is slowing down considerably."
But the state's top lawmaker hasn't slowed down a bit in his push to legalize recreational cannabis in Illinois. Governor JB Pritzker (D) has been a very vocal advocate for introducing a regulated cannabis market and has made legalization a central part of his platform in the 2018 election. And according to Prtizker's press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh the governor isn't too concerned about the the bishops' letter.
"Governor Pritzker supports legalizing and taxing the recreational use of marijuana and is confident we are ready to do this in a safe and economically beneficial way in Illinois," Abudayyeh told Chicago Sun-Times. "He is committed to working with leaders in the General Assembly, listening to experts and community leaders, and drawing lessons and best practices from other states to move this forward."
Similar calls for a move away from loosening cannabis regulations have been unsuccessful in stopping legalization in Canada.