Making Marijuana Legal

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture hosted a fishbowl-style discussion on the topic of recreational marijuana use in Massachusetts. Held at 4 p.m. in the Rehm Library, the event marked the first fishbowl discussion of the 2016-2017 academic year, and consisted of five participants and a moderator.

Massachusetts voters will decide whether to legalize, regulate, and tax the recreational use of marijuana on election day on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Medical marijuana is already legal with a prescription in Massachusetts, and possession of less than an ounce is considered a civil offense. Currently, the only states in which recreational marijuana use is legal are Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Along with Massachusetts, there are four other states – Maine, Arizona, California, and Nevada – that could legalize recreational use of marijuana this year.

Specific topics addressed during Tuesday’s discussion included the scientific and ethical outcomes of the law being passed, and the fishbowl participants conversed about the potential law’s possible effects on both the Holy Cross campus and on the nation itself. The discussion panel consisted of Michael Andre ’17, a psychology major; Pooja Patnaik ’17, a biology major and a member of the health professions advisory program; Daniel Bitran, professor of psychology; Gregory DiGirolamo, associate professor of psychology; Paul Irish, associate dean of students and director of student conduct & community standards; and Thomas Landy; moderator of the discussion and director of the McFarland Center.

As one of the “fish” in the discussion, Patnaik believes marijuana use should be illegal based on biological and neurological factors and the negative health implications it imposes. “I believe that protecting a person’s health should be the most important aspect considered as opposed to other economic, political, or social issues involved. Biologically speaking, smoking marijuana impairs lung, immune, and respiratory functions. Neurologically speaking, it damages the connectivity between neural areas impairing cognitive function.”

When asked whether Holy Cross’s policy on marijuana would change if recreational use were to become legal, Irish said, “Should the ballot question pass, our policies will not change. Holy Cross participates in federal funding programs, and we must comply with federal law and regulations, and marijuana is federally illegal. I would expect that increased availability and proliferation of marijuana in Massachusetts would impact our campus. I believe that it will be much easier to obtain, less expensive, and viewed as more socially acceptable.”

Andre expressed appreciation for the “fishbowl” format in that such a format allows people to become informed on the issue in an open, honest space. “I really enjoyed how it was a small discussion amongst colleagues, where we were able to dispute or elaborate on each other’s talking points,” said Andre. “ A fishbowl format fosters a discussion rather than a debate and reduces the level of competition on matter; no one is right or wrong. Topics such as legalizing marijuana should be discussed in an open space, which allows for creative and critical thoughts.”

Bitran hopes that the Holy Cross community can benefit from discussion points made during the fishbowl, suggesting that the magnitude of the issue will prompt students to reconsider their preconceived notions. “Legalizing a mind-altering substance is not a cut and dry affair,” said Bitran. “There are many different angles to consider, including the effects on the body and mind, which only involves the perspective of the user.”

While plans for future fishbowl discussions have not yet been announced, more information can be found at http://www.holycross.edu/mcfarland-center-religion-ethics-and-culture/fishbowl-discussions.

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