Rhode Island bishop: Legal pot leads to 'land of oblivion'

In this Aug. 21, 2008 file photo, Bishop Thomas Tobin speaks during an interview in his office in Providence, R.I. In an essay published Tuesday, May 10, 2016, Tobin wrote his opposition to legalizing marijuana in the state. (AP Photo/Stew Milne, File)

Rhode Island's Roman Catholic bishop said he wants to smell holy incense, not cannabis, in Providence's cathedral and warned state lawmakers against transporting young people to "the land of oblivion" by legalizing marijuana.

Bishop Thomas Tobin shared his opinions in an essay titled "Nope to Dope." The essay was published on a diocesan website Tuesday, just hours before a hearing on a bill to legalize pot.

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Tobin said he's heard about "zombie-like" people who are "completely stoned" filling public places in Colorado, where marijuana is legal. He said young people already addicted to electronic devices and "attached to their virtual umbilical cords" would become more detached from society if the drug were legal. He said he was disturbed by a recent report of a woman smoking pot in the back of a cathedral during a morning service.

Tobin said his viewpoints are purely theoretical and objective because he's never smoked pot despite coming of age in the "moral wilderness" of the 1960s.

"In opening the door to drug use even a little bit, we have so much to lose and absolutely nothing to gain," he wrote.

Polls have found Rhode Island to be the nation's most Catholic state, leading some marijuana legalization advocates to worry about Tobin's entrance into the debate.

"I don't think it's a deal breaker," said Jared Moffat, director of legalization advocacy group Regulate Rhode Island. "We've seen the legislature go against Bishop Tobin's social views and his social conservatism before on issues like marriage equality. It's certainly not an insurmountable obstacle."

One of the bill's co-sponsors, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, said Tuesday "there's more questions than answers at this point" about the marijuana legislation but not because of Tobin's essay.

The Senate Judiciary Committee began hearing testimony on the bill Tuesday evening. Ruggerio said it's unlikely for the bill to pass before the Rhode Island General Assembly adjourns sometime next month. Other New England states also are considering bills to legalize marijuana, and Massachusetts and Maine could put ballot questions before voters in November.

"The bishop makes some very valid points," Ruggerio said. "We have to vet it very carefully, study the issue, and study how it's happened in other states."

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