Guam's Archbishop Says Cannabis Legalization Would Ruin 'The Very Identity of Our Island'

As cannabis legalization begins its way through the Guam legislature, the island territory's Catholic leaders are speaking out.

In late January, Democratic Senator Clynton Ridgell introduced a bill that would see cannabis recreation legalized for adults 21 and older in Guam. And while it is unclear yet how exactly lawmakers in the territory will chose to vote on Ridgell's bill, one thing is for certain: The archdiocese of Guam is taking a strong stance against cannabis legalization, saying that it would only add to the region's growing drug problems.

"As a community already riddled with a drug problem of epidemic magnitude, we need to focus on reducing the presence of illegal drugs and substances that intoxicate our people, not aid their proliferation," Archbishop Michael Byrnes wrote in a March 25 pastoral letter obtained by Crux.

Archbishop Byrnes' remarks were made in objection to recent moves made by states like New Jersey to use medical marijuana as means to fight addiction and misuse of other drugs. Despite the wide swath of evidence that marijuana can be an effective medication for a number of conditions, Byrnes called cannabis a "false solution that only creates more problems."

With some 75 percent of Guam's population being Catholic, the opinion of the Church could have a big effect on public perceptions of cannabis use.

Byrnes also expressed concerns that legalizing cannabis would be bad not only for public health, but Guam's larger community values as well.

"Certainly it will adversely affect the common good of our families, marriages, youth, government organizations, businesses and the very identity of our island as a family-oriented community."

Medical marijuana has been legal in Guam since 2014, though it remains difficult for patients to actually get. Ridgell has previously stated that creating a recreational market on the island could help improve access to medical marijuana.

This isn't the first time Church leaders have moved to oppose the local legalization of cannabis either. In early February, a group of Illinois bishops released a statement saying they believed legalizing cannabis in the Prairie State would lead to an orphan epidemic. So the Church has already proven they don't really understand the cannabis issue.

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