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Ethical Commentary in the Use of Medical Marijuana: A Theological Ethical Analysis
Internet Journal of Catholic Bioethics, 3, (1), Spring 2009
Author: Shawnee Daniels-Sykes, SSND, Ph.D.
Date: Spring 2009
Category: Case Study

Marijuana has existed for thousands of years, where it has been used to treat a variety of ailments. In the article, Medical Marijuana: Time to Stop the Hypocrisy author Simi Lipson notes that marijuana had been legal up until 1937 for all purposes and at least 27 medicines containing marijuana were legally available as well.[1]

Pharmaceutical companies such as Squibb (now Bristol-Meyers Squibb) and Eli Lilly distributed medicines that contained marijuana.


In the 1970s, the baby boomers came of age and their popular choice of drug was marijuana. During the same time, the federal government passed The Controlled Substances Act, which placed all illicit and prescription drugs into five “schedules” or categories. Marijuana was classified as a Schedule 1 drug because “it was thought to have a high potential for abuse, currently no accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”[2] Research scientists championing the use of medical marijuana insist that its Schedule 1classification is false and misleading.[3] These scientists maintain that marijuana is one of the safest therapeutically and actively known substances today, even though it is a commonly known and used illicit drug. For many physicians, lawyers, public policy-makers, and general publics, the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is gaining slow incremental support. According the case Mother and Son vs. The State of California In the Case of Medical Marijuana, Proposition 215 under the state of California allows for the compassionate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.


In the case Mother and Son vs. The State of California, a 7-year boy from California who had struggled with an emotional, neurological, and psychological disorder, the therapeutic or medical use of marijuana was the last resort to treating his dire mental health problems. With the mother’s best interest at heart for him, JJ is prescribed marijuana in a muffin—1/2 muffin n the A.M. and ˝ muffin in the P.M. The muffins have one cup of dry leaves pulverized down to a cup which makes 23 muffins. JJ and his mother report the positive results from using the medical marijuana.


No doubt bioethical issues are inherent to any decision that prescribes marijuana for medicinal purposes. Marijuana, on the one hand, is popularly viewed as an addictive- forming illegal drug. More than 94 million Americans (40%) age 12 and older have tried marijuana at least once, according to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.[4] On the other hand, California allows for the compassionate use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Caught between its enduring illegal use, which overshadows its medicinal use, it is very challenging for the public to sort out and validate the authentic intent for marijuana’s use.


Regardless of the physician’s order to use medical marijuana in order to treat JJ’s emotional, psychological, and neurological problems, it still creates a bioethical dilemma that needs to be resolved mainly because marijuana remains stereotypically known as an illegal drug. Arguably, the bioethical concerns in this case are also social justice concerns that extend beyond JJ’s situation, the consent and support of his mother, the prescribing physician, and marijuana’s positive medicinal effects. Based on this case, I contend that parents have the right to allow their children to use medical marijuana and physicians have a responsibility to prescribe it in such situations. Key principles of Catholic social teaching can be infused into this bioethical case as I promote a Roman Catholic Social Bioethics (RCSB) as one method to ethically analyze and respond affirmatively to the important questions raised concerning this case. Five key principles employed include: human dignity, respect for life, an option for the vulnerable, social solidarity, and the common good.


  1. Human Dignity

Because human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, they are of incomparable worth and to be guaranteed dignity. With the necessary safeguards, close monitors, and the right intentions in place for prescribing and administering medical marijuana for JJ’s condition, one can make the case that his human dignity will be maintained while he enjoys the positive effects from treatment by this medicinal drug. He flourishes as a human being created by God.


  1. Respect for Life

Respecting all human life is mandated from conception to natural death. One main way to illustrate the principle of respect for life in this case is to assist JJ in resolving his mental health concerns by using medical marijuana as a last resort. Although it is too early in the case to know the long term effects of the drug, JJ is proud of the positive strides he is making in his positive relationships with friends, classmates, and family members. In paying attention to JJ’s case through the administration of medical marijuana is one concrete way for his life to be cared for and deeply respected.


  1. Option for the Vulnerable

An option for the vulnerable acknowledges that those who are marginalized in any society are given a fair equality of opportunity to flourish as human beings with dignity. Although the use of medical marijuana provokes debates and uncertainty, it is important to risk in faith to assist JJ with alleviating his mental health situation. We have to be mindful that Jesus’ words and actions transcended the Mosaic Law for the sake of healing, justice, and love. In reaching out to the vulnerable of his day, Jesus healed and cured on the Sabbath.


  1. Social Solidarity

 Social Solidarity implies interdependence and interrelatedness. It also calls human beings to be attentive too and understanding of the needs, thoughts, and feelings of others as if they were their own and to be ready to provide assistance to those in dire needs of help. In the case of JJ, there is a need for both his mother, members of society, and his attending physician to be in solidarity with him as they monitor closely the positive and negative effects that result from treating his condition with medical marijuana.


  1. Common Good

The common good refers to interconnectedness between human beings and the goods of society. RCSB maintains that the goods of society must allow all human beings to flourish as they access society’s institutions of health care. Given that marijuana is popularly known as an illegal drug, it is very important, especially, for the common good of society that medical researchers and health care providers continue to monitor the benefits and risks of prescribing medical marijuana in light of the positive effects that patients like JJ receive.


[1] Simi Lipsan, Medical Marijuana: Time to Stop the Hypocrisy (June 25, 2005) downloaded February 9, 2009.

[2] Ibid. 1 of 8.

[3] Ibid. 1 of 8.

[4] Anonymous. Marijuana: Facts and Information (November 25, 2005) downloaded February 9, 2009

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