By Joyce Coronel, for The Catholic Sun

As the countdown to Election Day continues, the Catholic bishops of Arizona have spoken clearly about one measure on the ballot they hope will go down in defeat: the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Proposition 205 “sends a message to children and young people that drug use is socially and morally acceptable. As people of faith, we must speak out against this effort and the damaging effects its passage would have on the children and families of Arizona,” the bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference said in their statement.

Ron Johnson, executive director of the ACC, was similarly critical of Prop. 205. “If it passes into law, this will endanger public safety and put kids in harm’s way,” he said. “We’ve seen what’s happened in other states.”

Dr. Ed Gogek, an Arizona addiction psychiatrist who has treated more than 10,000 addicts and author of “Marijuana Debunked,” told The Catholic Sun that children are being targeted by the marijuana industry.

“Ninety percent of marijuana users start before age 21 — they start as teenagers,” Gogek said. “If you go to the Colorado marijuana stores, most of what they sell are what’s called edibles. Candy, cookies, soda infused with marijuana. And that stuff is just hugely attractive to teenagers.”

Built on ‘lies’

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona took to local Catholic radio to voice his opposition to Prop. 205. In a segment on “The Bishop’s Hour,” Ducey, a Catholic, said he was “thrilled” that the state’s bishops were encouraging people to vote “No” on the measure.

“This has been a disaster in Colorado. People are seeing the unintended consequences of what has happened with legalization, how marijuana has infected and infested middle schools and high schools,” Ducey said.

“One lie is that it’s going to provide money for public education and that’s just not the case,” Ducey said in the segment. “Once you get past the enforcement and the bureaucracy and the social costs, this is a financial loser. We’ll have less money available in the general fund versus more.”

“The tobacco industry always said, ‘We’re just doing this for adults’ and they were lying,” Gogek said, who recently wrote a column discussing the subject for the Arizona Republic. “They were targeting kids and the marijuana industry is targeting kids, too, because if they don’t get kids started, there is no marijuana industry.”

Johnson and Ducey both warned that if Prop. 205 passes, neither the legislature nor the governor will be able to do anything about it.

“The people who are pushing this stand to make a lot of money and if we do make this change, it’s going to be virtually impossible to undo,” Johnson said.

Struggling to overcome

A.J. Creswell, senior counselor from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish’s Full Circle program, is well-acquainted with the negative effects experienced by teens who use marijuana. He sees kids every day who are battling substance abuse and said he hopes Prop. 205 will be defeated by the voters.

“The walls in our society are crumbling down as far as drug and alcohol abuse – just crumbling,” Creswell said. Prop. 205 is “telling the world that it’s OK to be under the influence, that it’s OK to smoke a little pot to feel better or to have a good time.”

Tasha Suhr, who also opposes Prop. 205, has custody of a teenage niece struggling with an addiction to marijuana. The girl’s mother was battling a drug problem and Suhr said she warned her niece to stay away from drugs and alcohol because “she could become addicted very easily.” Although Suhr’s niece graduated from high school early and once dreamed of becoming an orthopedic surgeon, those dreams have been sidelined as she struggles to overcome her addiction.

“It’s definitely not harmless,” Suhr said of marijuana. “When she does stop using it, it takes a good month before she becomes a normal person again.”