Matt C. Abbott
November 3, 2010
Priest-author: regulate alcohol, keep pot (and 'hard' drugs) illegal
By Matt C. Abbott

In light of a new British study asserting that alcohol is more dangerous than "hard" drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine, I asked Father John Trigilio Jr., author and president of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, this question: How would you respond, morally speaking, to those who say that a) alcohol should be outlawed, and b) all drugs currently illegal should be decriminalized due to the apparent fact that alcohol use/abuse is more lethal than drug use/abuse?

Father Trigilio's response (slightly edited):

    As someone whose younger brother was tragically killed by underage drunk driver, I know too well the pain and suffering inflicted upon innocent victims due to the abuse of alcohol consumption. My family was devastated by the horrible death of my brother Joseph — just a few blocks from my parents' home.

    An inept legal system brought no justice as impeccable evidence was suppressed and legal deals and shenanigans resulted in a plea bargain that added insult to injury. No fine, no prison time and not even a suspended drivers' license. The young man who ran into my brother's car so fast that it flipped the car 180 degrees and threw my brother out of the sunroof only to have his automobile land on top of him. Alcohol abuse did this and our court system made a mockery of justice. Drive off from a gas station without paying for the fuel and you are guaranteed to get a more severe and swift fine, imprisonment and suspended license. Kill someone and you can get off scot-free.

    Despite this heinous experience, I am not of the opinion that alcohol should be outlawed. Prohibition did nothing but produce gangsters like Al Capone. The moral virtue of moderation (temperance) is what needs to be taught to youths and adults alike. Prudence, justice, and fortitude are also invaluable, but vis--vis alcohol usage, moderation is the key. I myself am a moderate social drinker and know my personal limit.

    Being of Sicilian background, I enjoy a glass of red wine with my pasta. I also have some relatives and acquaintances who abuse their consumption and show no prudence, either. They overindulge and drink to excess. This is immoral and sinful to be sure. Driving under the influence while intoxicated is a mortal sin since the risk of killing an innocent pedestrian or other driver as well as inflicting serious if not lethal harm to yourself is extremely high.

    Narcotic drugs like cannabis (marijuana) inevitably lead to more addictive and more powerful drugs like cocaine, heroin and ecstasy. And abuse of prescription narcotics such as codeine and morphine are more devastating to the body and mind than alcohol — and the effects are more lasting and harmful. Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, however, is grave matter in my book. Colleagues of mine who are chaplains in prisons and hospitals testify that drug abuse is more responsible for ruining marriages, families, careers, health and spiritual welfare than alcohol. Nevertheless, prudence, temperance and vigilance must always be employed to prevent underage drinking.

    Regulation of alcohol is as necessary as regulation of prescription medicine. Some people can easily abuse either or both; therefore, we need legal parameters for proper usage. Illegal drugs and abuse of prescription meds are a more immanent and more severe threat overall. Yet, again, as someone who lost a loved one due to underage drunk driving, I also support more stringent and aggressive prevention and punishment for someone who drinks and drives.

    Decriminalizing narcotic drugs will not prevent abuse, nor will it save lives. It will promote more addicts and create more vehicular deaths. Once legal, how do the police determine the legal limit for being under the influence? We have alcohol limits now on car, bus and truck drivers. Enforce the current laws fairly, thoroughly and swiftly.

    A recent test was done by a journalist and some physicians; it showed that marijuana impaired automobile drivers more than alcohol, but it was less noticeable to the ones using the substance. In other words, the drivers who smoked or ingested pot were not as cognizant of their impaired judgment and impaired physical reaction ability as were others who were affected by too much alcohol. At least with alcohol, in some people, there is a modicum or level at which they can consume (called their limit) and, if observed, will not create or cause serious impairment or prevent proper judgment.

    Narcotic drugs react more quickly and have more addictive and long-term effect than does most alcohol consumption. What is overlooked is the binge drinking by college (and now senior high) students. Here is a clear example of abuse. Some is under age, the rest is pure over-consumption. When caught, the penalty is often an obscene joke. I don't want another brother or sister, mother or father, son or daughter to lose a beloved family member due to a driver under the influence of alcohol or narcotic drugs, legal or illegal.

    An intelligent, sophisticated, fair and appropriate regulation of alcohol consumption will serve the common good as will the prevention of giving access to addictive narcotic drugs. It may not be comparing apples and oranges, but oranges and grapefruits. Nonetheless, historically and culturally, proper use of alcohol has been and continues to be done as long as society also promotes prudence and moderation in consumption.

    Drug use, on the other hand, is a more dangerous proposition since the effects are more radical, pronounced and pervasive. If marijuana is legalized, how is it determined what the 'safe' level is for someone to drive a car, a bus, a truck, a train or fly a plane? What measuring stick is employed? You cannot interchangeably use the exact same criteria for alcohol as you can for narcotics. Bottom line is that we should enforce the current laws and better educate our young people on responsible recreation without the need to resort to sex and drugs as their 'outlet.'

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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