How Should Christians Think about the Legalization of Cannabis?

On October 17, recreational cannabis use will become legal across Canada to those old enough to buy alcohol in a given province. In doing so, Canada will become only the second country in the world to legalize recreational weed nationwide. (Uruguay is the other.)

This legislative move has been applauded as “progressive” and “historic” by politicians,[1] and even a “good news announcement” by marijuana producers and distributors.[2] But what are followers of Jesus across the country to think of the legalization of marijuana? Recently, some have made the dubious claim that the ministries of Moses and Jesus were fuelled by THC-laced oil.[3] The High Times even published an article on a “Bible Study,” where instead of passing around Bundt cake participants pass around bongs as they open the Scriptures.[4] In light of the growing positive reception marijuana is receiving both in and outside the church, the question is worth asking, how should we think about this?

Distinguishing Medical from Recreational

First, it is both helpful and necessary for Christians to distinguish between the medicinal use of marijuana and its recreational usage. To help make this distinction we can look at the use of morphine (an opiate just like heroin) for pain. Few if any Christians would argue that heroin is a suitable alternative to marijuana, yet nearly identical drugs are widely accepted and used in our Canadian medical system. The effectiveness of prescription cannabinoids (the active chemical compound in marijuana) to reduce pain, nausea, and vomiting has been widely acknowledged by the medical community.[5] But using marijuana for medical purposes isn’t the same as using it simply to get high, and make no mistake about it, that is the point of recreational use.

Recreational Marijuana Use as Sin

For some Christians the argument to use marijuana recreationally is as simple as equating it with having a beer. This just isn’t the case. While a person can enjoy alcohol responsibly without necessarily feeling the effects of intoxication, the point of smoking marijuana recreationally is to feel the effects of intoxication. One study showed that intoxication occurs with the ingestion of about 7 mg of THC,[6] or about four puffs of a joint. No one lights a joint looking for a nuanced flavour profile, but rather for a nuanced and specific high. On the topic of the importance of sober-mindedness, both the Old and New Testament are overflowing with not-so-subtle commands.[7] Both Galatians 5:21 and 1 Corinthians 6:10 tell us that those who persist in seeking their comfort in some sort of intoxication will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Recreational Marijuana Use as Opposed to the Flourishing Life

Not only will marijuana most likely lead to a violation of the biblical commands for sobriety, but prolonged recreational marijuana use will ultimately render us unable to enjoy a flourishing life which is rightly ours in Christ. In other words, the commands to be “sober-minded” are for a reason:

  • In Ephesians 5 we learn that it is the sober-minded in Christ who will be filled with the Spirit.
  • Proverbs tells us that a lack of sober-mindedness can lead to poverty and a whole host of worldly anxiety.
  • Hosea 4 reminds us that much wine leads to a lack of understanding.
  • Isaiah 28 says it leads to a lack of judgment.

Recreational Marijuana Use as a Failure to Love Thy Neighbour

The Apostle Paul tells us that in Christ we have been given “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul is reminding Timothy of this in a passage centred around Timothy’s pastoral and evangelistic work, meaning not only is recreational marijuana and the inevitable intoxication opposed to a flourishing life, it is also a way in which we fail to love our neighbour. Self-control isn’t something the Spirit gives us for our own sake; he gives us self-control that we might be beacons of stability in a volatile world. Philip Towner writes about Paul’s use of self-control here:

When everything is coming unglued, this quality of “levelheadedness” will keep the Christian focused calmly on the power and love that the Spirit provides, and so it makes perseverance in life and ministry possible.[8]

To Towner’s description I would add: Spirit-granted “levelheadedness” not only makes persevering in life and ministry possible, it makes it powerful. In a medicated age where days are scheduled according to happy hours and dispensary hours, the “self-controlled” Christian tells their neighbour that there is a better and more excellent way. In this age, is there anything more strange (and thus question-inviting) than a person who is able to withstand the storms of life without the aid of substances?

The Gospel Opportunity

So then, how should we respond? Ultimately, the legalization of marijuana across our country provides us a tremendous opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. In years past, congregations and pastors could quickly dismiss marijuana as illegal, rightly citing Romans 13 and Paul’s command therein to “be subject to the governing authorities.” But those days are gone—and with their departure comes a new opportunity to speak to the heart: “What are you lacking that you’d turn to marijuana instead of Christ?”

 


[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cannabis-pot-legalization-bill-1.4713839

[2] Ibid. See embedded video in article

[3] https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/bn5z7v/did-jesus-perform-his-miracles-with-cannabis-oil

[4] https://hightimes.com/culture/onward-christian-stoners/

[5] https://cowardoncology.thrivex.io/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/NEJM-medicinal-use-of-marijuana.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2668079/pdf/bcp0067-0005.pdf

[7] Eph.5:18; Gal. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:8; 1 Cor. 6:10; Prov. 23:20-21, 23:39-35; Isa. 5:11; Hos. 4:11; 1 Cor. 5:11; Isa. 28:7; Matt. 24:48-49

[8] Towner, 1-2 Timothy and Titus, p. 161

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