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O’Malley urges religious leaders to fight marijuana measure

Cardinal Sean O'Malley is urging religious leaders to work against legalizing marijuana. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 2016/Globe Staff

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley met with more than 40 interfaith leaders Tuesday to discuss strategies to defeat a state ballot measure that would legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston warned that making marijuana legal would exacerbate the opioid epidemic, entice more children to use drugs, hurt poor neighborhoods, and threaten public safety.

“To me, this is greed trumping common sense and also undermining the common good,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “It will change the culture of this state if this legislation is passed.”

The gathering, at the archdiocesan headquarters in Braintree, included priests representing Greek and Coptic Orthodox, Episcopal, and Armenian Catholic congregations. It also included the Black Ministerial Alliance, evangelical and Pentecostal pastors, local imams, and others. The archdiocese said that Jewish leaders were invited but could not attend because of Sukkot, a holiday celebrating the fall harvest.


O’Malley hosted the group, a spokesman for the cardinal said. A representative of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, a public relations firm that is working against the question — and that handles some of the church’s communications work — offered a snapshot of the current state of the campaign.

State Senator Viriato M. deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican and a leading opponent of the measure, laid out the case against what is known as Question 4.

O’Malley, along with the state’s other Roman Catholic bishops, said the archdiocese will ask parishes to display posters urging the faithful to “prevent marijuana companies from targeting our kids” and “join leaders in faith, government, health care, and public safety” in opposing the ballot question.

O’Malley has already sent letters to the parents of some 40,000 Catholic schoolchildren throughout the archdiocese.

The church played a pivotal role in the defeat of a 2012 ballot initiative that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide, joining forces with other faith communities and health care providers to sink the measure with a torrent of last-minute television ads. Rasky Baerlein handled communications for that initiative, as well.


But in that case, the archdiocese and its affiliated entities sank about $2.5 million into the campaign to help defeat the initiative and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from others outside Catholic and Christian groups, according to state campaign finance records.

O’Malley said the church would spend a relatively tiny amount on the “No on 4” campaign, and the money would help pay for some of the posters and other materials.

O’Malley said he hoped that individual Catholics would contribute on their own, however.

Jim Borghesani, a spokesman for the “Yes on 4” campaign, said none of the concerns O’Malley expressed have any basis in fact.

“No credible study” has shown marijuana to be a gateway drug, he said, and opioid overdose deaths have decreased in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

(Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012, but only a handful of dispensaries have opened thus far.)

“It’s unfortunate that this group of clergy are just repeating the talking points of our opponents without reaching out to us in any way whatsoever to help shape an accurate viewpoint on this,” he said.

But O’Malley said the issue seemed clear to him.

“We’re seeing this epidemic of deaths as a result of overdoses of opioids; we should be thinking how do we get people to back away from these addictive drugs, rather than making it more attractive and accessible,” the cardinal said.


“I don’t think anybody using cocaine or heroin hasn’t first used marijuana.”

The Rev. Demetrios Tonias, dean of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England, said that his pastoral experience has only solidified his position on the issue.

“You see the trajectory in your own community,” he said. “The progress of addiction, and how it goes from one drug to another.”

Tuesday’s meeting underscored the need for more congregational discussion of Question 4, said the Rev. Roberto Miranda of the Congregacion Leon de Juda, a largely Hispanic Pentacostal church in Boston.

“I was encouraged by the fact that leaders from so many different denominations and faith traditions could be unified in a very significant, passionate sort of way around a single issue,” he said.

“We all agree that it is a very serious threat to the health of our young people, and to the health of the community as a whole.”

Lisa Wangsness can be reached at lisa.wangsness@globe.com.