Christians on Pot: Legality and Morality

50029Rasta-Marijuana-Leaf-PostersThe Pew Research Center did a poll in 2014 to get a feel for how the people of America feel about the legalization of pot.  You can scope out the whole study here, but I’ll break it down quickly.

  • Support for legalization is outpacing dissent:  52% of Americans think the drug should be legalize while 45% think it should stay illegal.
  • Not all ethnic groups support legalization:  While most non-Hispanic whites and blacks say marijuana should be made legal, only 39% of Hispanics share that view. Among generations, 63% of Millennials say marijuana should be legal while only 27% of the Silent Generation (those 69 to 86) share that view. Baby Boomers, who were the most supportive generation in the 1970’s before becoming opponents during the “Just Say No” 1980’s, are now about as likely to favor (51%) as oppose (46%) legalization.
  • 7 in 10 Americans believe Alcohol is more Harmful than Pot:  This is a HUGE change from the initial polling in 1969.
  • 63% of Americans would have a problem with ‘public smoking’:  More than half (54%) think that legalizing marijuana would lead to more underage people trying it. On the other hand, about six-in-ten (57%) said they would not be bothered if a store or business selling marijuana legally opened up in their neighborhood.
  • 47% of Americans Have Smoked Pot:  Of that, 11% have tried it within the past calendar year.  According to a government survey, 18.9 million Americans from age 12 to 99 have smoked pot withing the last 30 days.

So that’s the ‘American’ sample, but what about the ‘American Christian’ sample?  Another survey said this:   In 2010,  when asked whether marijuana should be made legal, 33 percent of Protestants and 39 percent of Catholics responded in the affirmative.

So we see that the church is a bit behind the curve in our willingness to embrace the legalization of marijuana, but we’re probably not as far behind as we’d like to think.

LEGALITY 

Remember in the last post where I said that since Scripture doesn’t directly address pot, we need to do a lot of study before arriving at a thoughtful, biblical view?  Here’s where we will attempt to do that.

There are two was, or issues, surrounding a Christian’s relationship to marijuana:  legality and morality. We have to be very careful not to jumble up the two.  Mark Driscoll puts it like this:

“The two issues should not be confused.  Just because marijuana is deemed legal by the government does not mean that Christians ought to smoke it.  Similarly, just because the government says that it is illegal does not automatically mean that marijuana use is necessarily immoral (thought it is immoral to disobey the government under many circumstances).”

Let’s look at the Legality part of the equation. Should pot be considered and treated as an illicit drug or a recreational controlled substance?  Here’s 3 general views on it:

1.  Pot should be legalized and regulated.

A lot of folks argue for this point based on the impact this would have on things like national debt, incarceration rates, and general socioeconomic implications.  That really doesn’t deal with the moral aspect of pot.

Even recently, leading Evangelicals like Pat Robertson have said pot should be legalized and federally regulated like alcohol.  Most people of this view have to do with dollar signs, as I mentioned above.

2.  Marijuana should be illegal.

Many on the converse view pot legalization in a negative way.  Proponents of this view usually argue that this will negatively affect health, social, and economic costs rather than helping them.

David Evans, an adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation says this:

Marijuana use, especially regular use, can impair problem solving, concentration, motivation, and memory, and can cause birth defects. Teen users are more likely to become delinquent, schizophrenic, depressed, and suicidal. Marijuana is the most prevalent drug found in drivers killed in crashes. Thirteen percent of high school seniors admit
to driving after using marijuana, while only 10 percent admit driving after having five or more alcoholic drinks. Employees who tested positive for marijuana use had 55 percent more accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and 75 percent higher absenteeism rates. . . . The potential benefits of legalizing and taxing this drug are far outweighed by the costs of expanded use. Alcohol and tobacco, while legal, are still deadly and still abused, and the tax revenue on them is far outweighed by the costly damage they cause. Legalization of marijuana will have a substantial and irreversible adverse impact on our social and economic well-being.”

3.  Allow medical use without full legalization.

This view stats that marijuana shoudl be available as a regulated prescription drug, but it should not be legalized for recreational use.

“Citing the same views as the anti-legalization position,
drug policy adviser Kevin A. Sabet writes, “Marijuana should not be sold on the open market. Legal alcohol, tobacco, and prescription drugs kill more than 500,000 people a year. Research tells us that access and availability lead to greater use, and big tobacco showed that legal industries can play down harmful health effects of their products. Neither is there any assurance, under legalization, that the underground market would disappear, because that market could very easily adapt to and undercut a legal, taxed product like marijuana.” At the same time, Sabet acknowledges that strict enforcement can also be harmful as well. “Few people are in prison or jail for mere possession of marijuana,”  he says, “but even an arrest record can hamper chances for employment, education loans, or other public assistance. Laws that provide for a sanction but do not penalize an offender’s future should be considered. Drug courts—which offer treatment with accountability—and probation programs that focus on intervention also make sense.”Sabet also believes that the chemical compounds in marijuana plants are medically useful. He advocates research that focuses on exploring the medical benefits of marijuana. For instance, “Nonsmoked formulations (like Sativex, a mouth spray under Food and Drug Administration review) offer a safe, scientific, tested way to properly medicalize cannabinoids. Such drugs may not mollify marijuana enthusiasts who want a ‘medical’ excuse to smoke marijuana. But they represent a common-sense marijuana policy that the US would do well to follow.”” 

So, Should marijuana be legal?

I am persuaded that the best Christian response to the legal question is Option C: that recreational use should be illegal but that medicinal use may be allowed.

Based upon Christian tradition and conviction, I do not and cannot support the legalization of recreational marijuana use.

Regarding medicinal use, I am not a medical doctor and  do not feel qualified debating the potential medicinal benefits of marijuana.

I’ll leave that aspect of the conversation to others more intelligent and skilled than I.

IN the next post, we’ll look at the morality of the issue.  

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