Here’s what Pope Francis thinks about the War on Drugs.
Since he took his seat in the papacy as the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, Francis has enjoyed widespread support from not only his practicing Catholic worshippers in the church, but also from around the world — including praise from from secular denominations and even atheists. In only a couple of years, Pope Francis accomplished this feat by aggressively adopting some of the most progressive positions ever taken by the Church.
These progressive platforms include climate change activism, interfaith dialogue, support for Muslim communities, and support for gay rights and non-believers. He has also strongly criticized state capitalism and austerity measures that have allowed the 1% to consolidate so much wealth while leaving so many people poor and homeless. In fact, in his recent first visit to America, he turned down dinner with high-ranking members of Congress to feed homeless people. He has critiqued perpetual war and profiteering (though he has remained curiously quiet with regard to drone strikes) and, *gasp, even shook hands with Fidel Castro — acts that have drawn much criticism from conservatives.
This list of positions is surely remarkable, and perhaps necessary given the bloody history of the Roman Catholic Church. Critics can opine that Pope Francis is insincere and opportunistic; they can claim his progressive stances are nothing more than reputation management for a ‘corporate’ brand that has had its own share of problems in recent years, with countless cases of pontiffs sexually abusing children and then being moved around to different churches instead of being arrested and brought to trial. The Church’s history of oppressing women is well-documented and equally disturbing.
But at least he’s trying, right? I mean, you gotta start somewhere. This is the refrain we keep hearing from the Pope’s sycophantic cheerleaders. And perhaps they are right. However, there’s one issue that came to light recently that can’t be shrugged off in deference to historical obscurity: the Drug War.
While giving a speech in 2014, Pope Francis came out strongly against the legalization of marijuana. Despite voluminous evidence that the plant does no long-term harm and is actually beneficial for a wide array of medicinal functions — including cancer treatment — the pope told members of a drug enforcement conference that attempts to legalize recreational drugs “are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”
It is true that the Pope has come out against the international narcotics trade. Francis even went so far as to say the Drug War “threatens the credibility of our institutions.”
“[It is] a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption,” he continued.
So the Pope grasps the severity and global ramifications of the Drug War. While child exploitation is something that perhaps the Catholic Church lacks moral authority on, Francis certainly suggests a desire to at least acknowledge the true casualties of a war that he says is being “poorly fought.” But his remarks don’t sound like they’re coming from someone who wants to eradicate the problem, but rather reform it — this is confirmed by his belief that marijuana should not be legalized. This is a rare note of reactionary rhetoric on his part, which is unfortunate to many progressives, for whom the ravages of the War on Drugs and the prison-industrial complex is no small issue.
While the beloved Pope Francis may continue to span the globe with his messages of social equity and compassion for the poor, in one fell swoop he has lent his support to the continued incarceration of millions of people for the mere act of owning personal amounts of cannabis. The numbers simply can’t be ignored: in 2013 alone, 609,423 people were arrested for possession only. Those arrested are 4 times more likely to be black. Many of them will serve time in an overcrowded private prison that is making some politician’s primary campaign donor very rich.
Pope Francis seems to have no problem with this.
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