The culture in America is changing quickly, and not necessarily for the good. Christians generally agree that issues such as abortion, pornography, or same-sex marriages are immoral, unbiblical, and harmful to society at large. Not all agree about substance abuse in areas such as alcohol, tobacco, and drugs like marijuana. Churches have long had to develop convictions as well as policies concerning these substances in defining their membership and spiritual leadership roles. The rapid legalization of marijuana is quickly forcing the church to include it on its list of substances for qualification.
In 1969 only 12% of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana. Today it is 58%. 50% of Catholics favor legalizing the drug as do 58% of Protestants in America. 21 states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana with similar bills pending in 16 other states. 2 States, Colorado and Washington, have legalized recreational use of marijuana with 13 other states pushing for the same and these numbers change almost daily. This has caused the Department of Justice to announce it will not enforce federal laws (because possession of marijuana is still a federal crime) and create conflict in those states. It does not look like this will be abated soon.
The Marijuana Plant
Marijuana is one of the varieties of the Hemp plant or Cannabis Sativa L. The Hemp plant has been around for thousands of years because it is the best source for many products including rope, textiles, foods, paper, body care products, detergents, plastics, and various building materials. The industrial Hemp is grown for its stalk which can grow to 15 feet tall. It contains only about .01% of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinoids), the addictive ingredient that makes a person high.
The Hemp plant, or Cannabis, can also produce the marijuana variety grown specifically for its flower, not its stalk. This variety grows only about 5 feet tall but produces 10-15% THC (although the marijuana of the ‘60s had only about 1 to 2%). The marijuana plant has 60+ cannabinoids, the active ingredients (of which THC is one) that make the plant marijuana. These ingredients can be made into liquids called tinctures which can be taken internally, mixed with foods, and used medicinally. There are also synthetic liquids that are legal in Canada and the UK. These liquid forms have been available for a number of years in prescription form to be used for pain relief though users usually prefer the smoking variety.
The legalization of marijuana has growing momentum and probably will not stop until it is available in all 50 states. An internet search will show a great diversity of opinion as to the positive and negative effects of marijuana on the human mind and body. Whereas pro-drug websites boldly state that marijuana is not harmful and in fact may be good for you, medical opinion is beginning to come in that shows the opposite, or at least is not nearly so optimistic.
“We don’t have as good data as we have for alcohol, but the evidence is already clear,” said Susan Weiss, policy chief for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Marijuana is not good for you.” Frequent, prolonged marijuana use has been linked to depression, psychosis, anxiety, and other mental disorders, especially among teenagers. A decades-long study in New Zealand found that adolescents who used pot at least four times a week lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. Studies suggest that about 9 percent of all users become dependent on marijuana, and that pot smokers have far higher rates of workplace injuries and school absences than non-users. One study of 46,000 Swedish soldiers found that even infrequent pot smokers were more than twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers; regular users were six times as likely.1
Just this month (April, 2014) Northwestern University released a study on the negative effects of marijuana. This study was a collaboration between Northwestern Medicine® and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School. On their website, Northwestern reported, “This is the first study to show casual use of marijuana is related to major brain changes. It showed the degree of brain abnormalities in these regions is directly related to the number of joints a person smoked per week. The more joints a person smoked, the more abnormal the shape, volume and density of the brain regions.”2
In addition to the medical issues related to marijuana, there are legal issues where federal and state laws conflict. There are issues related to prison terms such as a man in Missouri who has already served 20 years of a life sentence for possession of marijuana, an action that wouldn’t even get him arrested today. There is the issue of whether prohibition actually works or is just fueling the fire of possession. There is the issue of pain relief for some who claim they have found no other way of relief. And then there is the issue of whether marijuana should be any more illegal than alcohol or cigarettes. These issues and more are also causing differences of opinion among Christians as to the proper attitude to take toward marijuana.
Common Reasons Given in Favor
In reading various websites, even some Christians give arguments in support of marijuana use. “It is no worse than alcohol.” Of course, no one knows yet what the effects of marijuana will be on society. This answer is a wish, not a conclusion. The fact is, if marijuana is only half as bad as alcohol it is far too bad. Alcohol has been one of the most harmful substances that sinful man has used and abused. God warned of its use (Prov. 20:1) and so have many medical and law enforcement officials. To say that something is no worse than alcohol is like saying that your upcoming surgery is no worse than a root canal, so don’t worry about it.
“God gave us all herbs to enjoy.” God did give us His creation to use but not abuse. This is usually spoken in regard to the Hemp plant which has varieties that can be used in good or bad ways. Most things that mankind makes are this way because this is a broken, or fallen, world. God may have given us the raw materials but the artwork is ours (Mic. 5:13; Acts 17:29). Because God gave us sound doesn’t mean that all music is good; because God gave us color doesn’t mean that all pictures are good; because God gave us trees doesn’t mean that all boats made from them are good boats. God gave us the ingredients for various poisons too, but I don’t think a wise person will take them in their final form as gifts from God. Almost all of the earth’s raw materials can be used in a positive or negative way.
“Almost everything is bad for you. Because car exhaust is bad, am I going to stop driving?” No, you are not going to stop driving, but you won’t put your mouth over the exhaust pipe while the car is running either. We live in a sinful world with many harmful things and it is our stewardship to navigate this world to the glory of God with the best of our ability. We can succeed or fail at that (1 Cor. 9:27).
“The jails are full and yet the drugs are still available. The ban on some drugs like marijuana is too costly and doesn’t work.” Again, this is a wish not a fact. No one knows what the legalization of marijuana is going to do to our neighborhoods, schools, gang problems, and a host of other issues. Solving the problem by abandoning all restraints is kind of like jumping over a cliff and then deciding half way down that it wasn’t such a good idea. America is about to jump over this cliff and we have no idea what it will be like. When men take their own path with little regard to God’s direction, it ends in harm and regret (James 4:15-17).
Lastly, “Smoking marijuana has given me the only relief I can find for my constant pain.” Actually, I have the most sympathy for this person. Pain is personal and we all deal with it differently. I have heard parents make this argument for children who went this route. First, I have a hard time thinking that with all of our medical technology there really isn’t better pain relief than marijuana. Second, there are other variations of the same drug available in prescription form that are more controllable. But third, I would hope that in such a circumstance I would still refuse, or at least greatly resist, the use of a substance that harms me in other ways as much as it helps me in one way (Col. 3:17, 23).
Biblical Reasons Against
Our Body. First and foremost is the Biblical reason that many Christians have grown tired of—our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and what is purposely used though it harms our body is not good, and, in fact is sinful. Paul says that the believer’s body is a “member of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15) and therefore he should not give it to a harlot and become one in body though he can never become one in spirit (vs. 17) with her. Then he applies that well known statement that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and we have been bought with a price, which is the very death of Christ (vss. 19-20). We are not to be drunk with wine wherein (“in which is”) is excess but be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). We are to be vessels “unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). Just as God raised up the body of Christ, He will raise our bodies to be in His presence because they are important to Him (1 Cor. 6:14).
To simply say that we cannot attain complete purity of our bodies in this life and therefore it is futile to try, is to give up proper spiritual effort. We know the difference between positional and progressive sanctification. To rest in one’s position in Christ with no concern for ongoing sanctification is to be disqualified for the race (1 Cor. 9:27). Even the apostle Paul, late in his life, said he would press toward the finish line of life’s race (Phil. 3:14) “but I press on, that I may also lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (vs. 12, NKJV).
Our Witness. It is disconcerting that we have largely abandoned the method of using our abstinence (of worldly things) as a means of witness for Christ. Whereas we used to believe that abstinence brought conviction to the lost person by explaining why we do not do the activity, now we seem to believe that participating with the lost person and somehow befriending him in that way better draws him to Christ. I think we have turned from relying on the Holy Spirit for conviction to relying on our own means of drawing them. And besides, we really don’t like the tension the first method creates.
This doesn’t mean, as some will surely try to point out, that we become unfriendly and caustic in our abstaining witness. In fact, this is where the witness is greatly enhanced, when we can speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). But we can’t have a powerful witness with just the love. There must be the truth also. Paul’s use of the great separation passage (“come out from among them and be ye separate” from Isa. 52:11) in 2 Cor. 6, follows a scolding of the Corinthian church for not understanding that trying to make righteousness have fellowship with unrighteousness, or light to have communion with darkness, is to be unequally yoked with unbelief (2 Cor. 6:14-18). That is not to be light in the world but darkness. Surely Paul understood the proper balance of love and truth.
Our Family. The family is God’s creation for nurturing children from infancy to adulthood. Parents are supposed to protect, educate, discipline, and train the children to become productive servants in God’s vineyard (Eph. 6:4). Also the children that are under a parent’s care are to obey them that “it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest life long on the earth” (Eph. 6:3). Pastors and their wives are to offer their children as examples to the whole church of good order and godliness (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6). Christian families ought to be the first in society to take the “high road” when it comes to issues of morality, service, friendliness, hospitality, godliness, and even safety. The reason we can’t imagine a parent wanting a child to smoke marijuana or use any other illicit substance is because we understand that a parent’s heart has a God-given sense of protection toward its children (Prov. 4:1-6).
Our Church. The local church has the right and the obligation to set boundaries for itself (meaning its members) concerning things which it believes is harmful, sinful, or disruptive to the Biblical function of its ministry. This may be in the form of a church covenant to which members agree upon joining the church or the constitution (By-Laws) which the church adopts by vote and agreement. No one is forced to join any local church and no one is forced to stay. It is a voluntary society which believing families join if they think it will be the best place to worship and raise their children.
Churches have always had to deal with issues such as alcohol, tobacco, pornography, and various drugs. This is becoming more important in our generation, not less. It is not good to see many churches have little concern about the use of addictive substances within their membership. Most conservative churches have valid concerns for how these things affect them. The coming ubiquity of legal marijuana will force churches to include it among their constitutional agreements.
The church in Jerusalem gave specific advice to the churches in Galatia regarding idols, fornication, and dietary rules about meat (Acts 15:20) and the Galatian churches gladly adopted those for their situation (Acts 16:4-5). Paul (as the apostle) directed the Corinthian church to settle upon matters of law courts, fornication, abuse of the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and even false teachers. The churches established and overseen by Timothy and Titus were given many directives for healthy and godly living (1 Tim. 2:8-9; 2 Tim. 2:14-26; Titus 1:10-16). The world they lived in dictated swift and specific action be taken regarding these harmful things.
And So . . . .
I doubt that the practices of Christians and substances will change much with the addition of legalized marijuana. Those that have already allowed moderate drinking will probably allow moderate use of marijuana. It is interesting that most church covenants don’t mention tobacco in any form but there is usually a conviction about it that is well known in the church. Families will probably allow marijuana or not according to how they presently deal with these other substances. This will, no doubt, be a growing concern for youth leaders as the pressure on Christian kids mounts over the next few years.
I would hope that conservative churches and families will become more convicted about abstinence toward these harmful substances and will seek fellowship with others of like mind. Issues like marijuana will create even broader differences in our culture but Christians, of all people, must be willing to stand for moral and decent principles. This stand will not hurt us but will help us and give us another platform from which to share our faith in Christ as we speak the truth about this in love.