Pope Francis to Meet Man Jailed for Marijuana During U.S. Prison Visit


While Pope Francis has been progressive on many issues, from caring for the poor to protecting our environment, he hasn’t exactly extended his progressiveness to cannabis law reform. In fact, Pope Francis spoke out against legalizing marijuana and ending the Drug War as the Washington Times reported back in June of 2014:

Francis said during a drug enforcement conference in Rome that even the most limited of tries to give legal status to the drug is “not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint,” but such would “fail to produce the desired results,” AP reported.

The pope’s comments — which aren’t that shocking, given his history of publicly ranting against the “evil” of drugs — comes just as Uruguay approved the selling of marijuana cigarettes in pharmacies. They also come on the heels of legalized recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington.

As CNN reported, Francis seems to be confused about the benefits of ending prohibition and the addictive nature of marijuana:

But Francis said such policies are “not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.”

“To think that harm can be reduced by permitting drug addicts to use narcotics in no way resolves the problem,” he said.

Ending prohibition takes substances out of the criminal element and places it into a regulated system that creates jobs, generates revenue and better prioritizes law enforcement resources. Alcohol prohibition was a disaster for the United States, enriching gangsters like Al Capone; ending alcohol prohibition achieved the goal of eliminating the criminal element from the trade.

Despite Pope Francis’ fallibility on marijuana legalization, he has proven himself to be a compassionate man that truly cares for all people from all walks of life, included those behind bars. During his United States tour, Francis will be visiting the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia and meeting Ed Gilchrist, who was sentenced to prison after trying to sell 7 pounds of cannabis to undercover police officers. From the Huffington Post:

Gilchrist says it’s a bit frustrating that he’s behind bars for selling a drug that others are able to sell legally and that President Barack Obama has said is no more harmful than alcohol.

“It kind of ticks you off. But I knew it was illegal before I started. I knew the game,” he said.

“They’re going to be looking back at it in 20 years and say, ‘That guy actually did time for selling marijuana?’ and feel how stupid it is,” Gilchrist said. “It’s like going to jail for getting caught with some liquor. People used to go to jail for that.”

As the Huffington Post notes, in his speech before Congress, Francis said that “just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.” It would be interesting to have Pope Francis answer whether going to prison for marijuana is “just and necessary” at all. Since Pope Francis is on record opposing legalization, what kind of sentence is appropriate for nonviolent marijuana offenders?

Hopefully Pope Francis doesn’t think that nonviolent cannabis offenders should be serving jail sentences that should be levied against violent offenders. What about the case of Jeff Mizanskey? Surely the pope wouldn’t support a nonviolent man sentenced to life in prison for marijuana and being robbed of more than two decades of his life, but when you support prohibition, these type of sentences are tragically inevitable as politicians will take advantage of being “tough on crime.” Maybe Pope Francis will “evolve” on legalization, or at least decriminalization, after meeting some nonviolent drug offenders in an American prison.

(Featured photo credit: Photo by Filippo Monteforte/Getty Images)