Christian Conservatives Need Not Fear Marijuana Legalization

The groundbreaking marijuana legalization initiative that passed this month in Colorado won a majority of the vote even in El Paso county, home to Colorado Springs — the “Mecca” of Evangelical Christianity. There is a large military presence there as well; this county is reliably conservative. Romney won it by over 21 points.

After all the ballots cast in El Paso county were tabulated, marijuana legalization passed there by about 10 votes. 141,698 people said “yes.” 141,686 said “no.”

The outcome suggests that a fair share of Romney voters must have also voted for marijuana legalization, and a fair share of those voters must have been Evangelicals.

The data suggests a dramatic shift in public opinion on marijuana legalization; the failure of current drug policy is today affirmed by cross-ideological consensus. Conservatives are most likely to favor maintaining the current regime, though I have met very few conservatives under 30 who are overtly hostile to marijuana legalization. Those who are opposed tend to be religious conservatives.

The stuff of conservative Christians’ nightmares

At the same time, as younger Evangelical Christian voters are increasingly comfortable with legalizing marijuana and treating it like alcohol, a number of older firebrands are increasingly citing marijuana legalization as another sign of America’s moral decline, addressing the issue in terms comparable to how they they might frame same-sex marriage or abortion. The “law and order” impulse is overwhelmingly strong in certain strains of Evangelical Christianity, and legal marijuana is thought to undermine authority, however that is defined. Therefore, marijuana must not be tolerated. (It’s sure as heck not going to be tolerated on Colorado military bases.) To many God-fearing folks, it just doesn’t seem right that you can stroll right past a policeman with a harmful drug in your hand and he can’t do a darn thing about it. To think, children could unwittingly observe illicit behavior?

In reality, there’s little for Christians or anyone to fear about legal marijuana. It is de facto legal in vast parts of the country already, anyway, and the main difference now in Colorado and Washington will be that police may no longer arrest, hassle, reprimand, interrogate, cite, etc. people for violations allegedly pertaining to marijuana. This frees up Law Enforcement resources.

Christian conservatives often view the popularity of marijuana legalization as a marker of cultural decay, only hastening God’s eternal judgment upon a fallen nation. There have been numerous eschatological proclamations in the wake of Obama’s reelection — only a nation deceived by the devil, many reckon, would award a second term to a president hellbent on extirpating Christianity.

As Carl Scott inveighed in First Things, the ecumenical conservative journal:

So if you respect moderation, manners, and education, hear me! Do not quibble, do not latch onto to any one mistake or poorly-chosen phrase above. Understand that the likes of me do not say things like this unless I think the situation really is becoming grave.

Perhaps in another post I will labor to spell out why I judge that the Obama-voters this time have made such an irresponsible choice, and no doubt in the comments we will talk about the burdens of self-analysis all of this puts upon conservatives, but the point of this one is to shock, to dismay, to tear aside the veil of the normalcy and standard modes of analysis that we are so inclined to cling to.

It’s different this time.

He’s right, in a sense. It was different this time; 2012 marks the beginnings of a profound cultural shift. Conservative Christians can adapt or suffer continued apocalyptic meltdowns of the sort evinced by Mr. Scott.

About michaeltracey

Journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow me on Twitter at @mtracey.

  • Matt Jones

    The apocalypse will be heralded by people smoking pot at a gay wedding ceremony! 

  • Russian Alex

    the point of this one is to shock, to dismay, to tear aside the
    veil of the normalcy and standard modes of analysis that we are so
    inclined to cling to.

    All right. For the umpteenth time: if you don’t like it, don’t do it! There are people who choose to not have sex. There are people who don’t drink any alcohol. There are people who don’t eat meat. There are people who don’t do any of the above. And you know what? That’s fine! However, it doesn’t mean that the rest of us should become celibate, non-alcoholic vegans. You don’t get to tell me to throw away my 12-pack of PBR, sleep in a separate room from my girlfriend, or forget where is the meat aisle at Winn-Dixie. You are not alone in the world. So far we can’t even agree on how many gods there are, much less which one is real, even much less what he/she/it is going (or not) to judge us for. So, kindly pull your head out of your ass and look around. The sky is not falling; we are still here. Chill out.

  • wmdkitty

    We’re seeing the end of Prohibition 2.0, and that makes me happy.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    Marijuana is no different than alcohol. Both addictive, both avoidable, but both should be legal. Just don’t do it in public and be responsible. People are doing it already, and only a very small amount of people are going to even try it when its legal. It’ll give increased tax revenue and it will put a (albeit small) dent in drug trade. 

    Don’t like it, don’t do it. This coming from a person who has tried cigarettes one time in his life, never smoked marijuana, and drinks MAYBE once a year.

  • Aaron Scoggin

    We can only hope :D

  • jdm8

    Some of them will never understand. But there are some that do. The late William Buckley was clearly in favor of legalization, his column on the topic surprised me, it was pretty cutting edge for a conservative iconoclast. Pat Robertson (yes, that Pat) said this year the current drug laws are oppressive and I think was OK with legalization. Bill O’Reilly think the current laws infringe personal rights. Sarah Palin opposes legalization, but apparently doesn’t think it’s that big of a deal.

  • ReadsInTrees

    I don’t drink or smoke anything, but I support people’s rights to do what they want. I think if alcohol is legal, pot should be too. It’s much less harmful. I went to a college with a mix of rednecks and hippies (both self-given terms), and I had friends on both sides. The rednecks got drunk and did things like light couches on fire, break into fights, drive recklessly around everywhere, and stand in the road after dark to play “chicken” with oncoming cars. The hippies would smoke pot and get high, and then they’d do things like go out into the woods to look at cool leaves, or sit around my dorm room watching music “visualizer” patterns on the computer, or watch the fish in a friends’ tank with a lot of giggling. One of this behavior patterns is highly dangerous, one is relatively harmless.

    The only semi-decent argument I’ve heard against legalizing marijuana is one that I’ve heard from the cops that I work with (who otherwise also want to legalize it), which is that legalizing it means that all of the other officers out there who have been killed by people over marijuana (growers, dealers, smugglers  etc) will now have died for nothing. It’s a disservice to their line of duty death. Hm.

  • ReadsInTrees

    In case you haven’t heard this one yet:

  • chicago dyke

    you forgot “who are lesbians who just had an abortion” but yeah. mostly that. :-)

  • chicago dyke

    so do yourself a favor, and stop believing in the false equiv of “both sides do it.” 

    as you yourself pointed out, one ‘side’ demonstrates a set of behaviors which is violent and dangerous. the other side, the leftist side, mostly does not. it’s like saying “i just ate a pound of pure fat, and a pound of spinach, and i’m sure both contributed equally to making me sick and overweight.”

    also, just so you know, there are, technically and historically and intellectually, more than “two sides.” i don’t know where you went to school, but you should spend some time researching that. people in places like europe understand this is true, and mock ignorant americans who don’t.

     go spend some time on news/blogs/internet sites that aren’t wholly populated by americans, and you’ll see what i mean. or, just turn off the TV/facebook page. just for a little while. it won’t be that painful, i promise. 

  • chicago dyke

    cannabis is not “addictive.” all peer-reviewed scientific literature agrees with this fact.

  • wmdkitty

    Thank you!

  • ReadsInTrees

    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just stating my opinion based on my personal experience with people who use alcohol heavily and those who use marijuana heavily. Nothing about what I stated above was anything I got from TV or the internet, just my own real-life experience. AS I stated, I’ve never partaken in either, so I don’t know what the effects of either actually feel like; I’m just observing others. Obviously, people use either in moderation without a lot of harm, and those aren’t the ones I’m concerned about. Some marijuana users are also heavy drinkers, and visa versa, but in my experience, they really only get problematic when they start drinking, not from the pot. So, based on my own experience, I feel that alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana. 

    Get off your high city horse and stop acting like I said things that I didn’t. Did I say that there were just two sides to this whole thing? No. So please explain what you mean with the whole spinach and ice cream thing. I don’t know where you were going with that.

    And if you must know, I attended a small environmental college in Maine. Obviously I know that this is hardly representative of the entire world of substance users, which is why I thought I made it clear that I was simply sharing my experiences with users of alcohol and users of marijuana.

  • Michaelbrice

    Genesis 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
    Dunno why the Christians would be upset, this passage of genesis  says god is o.k. with smoking pot, actually the only thing in the bible god and I agree on.

  • Edmond

    It may not be pretty to say it, and I mean no disrespect to our fine badged men and women, but if you yourself are able to easily spot the reasons why marijuana should not be illegal, then wouldn’t it be fair to say that those cops had ALWAYS died for nothing?  If criminalizing marijuana has always been wrong, then they died fighting a wrongful cause.

    BUT, in a much NICER way, what I’d actually like to get across by this, is that it can be argued that what they died for has never changed.  It was wrong before legalization, it’s still wrong after legalization.  Legalization hasn’t disrespected their deaths, it had no effect.  In fact, as long as we remember that they died in the line of duty, then we can always respect what they died for, even if the laws they uphold change.

    Or that’s my thought.

  • The Captain

    “I went to a college with a mix of rednecks and hippies …. The rednecks got drunk and did things like light couches on fire”

    Did you go to WVU?

  • The Captain

    I fell a lot of the opposition to legalization on the right frankly comes from spitefulness. The intellectual reasonings from a conservative perspective in favor of the prohibition are pretty shaky. Ever since the original debate on the prohibition where marijuana was branded as a favorite of jazz playing Negros,the prohibition on  marijuana has been viewed by many as a way to take something away from those (minorities and the left) they hate. It’s that thing the those dirty hippies do, and if they can make those dirty hippies miserable, even if they have no good reasons to, they will do it.

  • Camorris

    With the end of Prohibition 2.0 will come unintended consequences.

    I think the criminal element currently supplying the product will be driven off into other fields as they become replaced by Corporate America. On the other side, some law enforcement officials will be seeking new employment (perhaps in the snack food industry).

    And the issue of second and third hand smoke wafting from the tokers will likely become a noisy controversy – not just because of its stink, but because of its effect others.

    Overall, I think decriminalizing the use of marijuana will be positive once we deal with the adjustment issues. I can’t imagine why God would be offended by the smell of burning pot since he likes the smell of burnt flesh offerings.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Seriously. I dislike pot. I have a major bias against it because of certain childhood events.

    I don’t go out preaching that nobody should smoke it, nor would I vote to make sure nobody could. And I recognize that it’s actually useful medically, despite my personal biases.

    Am I cheerleading myself? No. I’m saying that being okay with other people doing something you personally find wrong is possible. I’m a living example. Some people should take notes. 

  • ReadsInTrees

    Yes, it’s not a convincing reason by any means. It’s just the only one that’s made me pause.

  • Jinx

    Cannabis can be psychologically addictive, even though it is nowhere near as addictive as narcotics or most other “hard” drugs. 

    I remember hearing that amotivational syndrome may be connected to pot use, but some reports that I have seen from the WHO (World Health Organization) seem to imply that there is no such thing as amotivational syndrome to begin with.

    Ultimately, it may be best to stop our current war on drugs; as a nation, we are incarcerating way too many people (many of them minorities) for victimless crimes and conducting a scary amount of police and government surveillance to continue to enforce laws that are unfair and unnecessarily harsh. Despite this, I will never understand why potheads are so determined to convince us all that cannabis is a harmless substance that has absolutely no health risks or potential for harm. In my opinion, *both* alcohol and marijuana can be gateway drugs and *both* pose a minor threat to public safety and health; even still, this does not justify our governmental authorities’ obsession with pot when alcohol is legal and easily obtained.

  • Michael Tracey

    Maybe you should try some marijuana.

  • Michael Tracey

    The “gateway drug” argument is a complete myth that hinges on a flawed understanding of causation. Marijuana doesn’t cause anyone to engage in further drug experimentation. It happens to be the case that marijuana users are more likely to become exposed to further drug-ingesting opportunities (which can be a good thing, in my view!) but there is nothing that directly links marijuana (or alcohol) use with use of any other substance.

    That aside, marijuana can have many positive effects, which is why so many people seek it for medicinal purposes. Stress relief, nausea relief, appetite enhancement, and the list goes on. Nobody gets prescribed Bud Light by a doctor.

  • Michael Tracey

    “The only semi-decent argument I’ve heard against legalizing marijuana is one that I’ve heard from the cops that I work with (who otherwise also want to legalize it), which is that legalizing it means that all of the other officers out there who have been killed by people over marijuana (growers, dealers, smugglers  etc) will now have died for nothing.”

    They did die “for nothing” as a general rule, unfortunately, but it’s not their fault, it’s the fault of policymakers whose agenda the officers were carrying out. Opposition to pulling out of the Vietnam War was articulated on the very same grounds.

  • Shoebutton

    Well, I lost a bet. I thought British Columbia  would have legalized it years ago, long before any state. :)

  • Jinx

    In the pre-Prohibition era, doctors regularly prescribed alcohol to patients suffering from chronic pain.

    Also, I said that marijuana & alcohol *can* be gateway drugs; for most people, they are not. If you did some research about addiction and the relationship of the ANKKI gene to drug addiction, you might come around to my way of thinking; the scientific facts seem to suggest that people of a certain genotype may react in different ways to controlled substances and alcohol.

    I understand that marijuana can have positive effects; I completely support the idea of allowing people with certain chronic illnesses (especially cancer) to have access to the drug. Even still, marijuana usage also has negatives; that is all that I am trying to explain.

  • ReadsInTrees

    Good point.

  • Michael Tracey

    Sure, marijuana “usage” has potential downsides, like everything else in life. This has no bearing on whether it should be legal. Society shouldn’t criminalize things because they entail a degree of risk.

  • Patterrssonn

    “In the pre-Prohibition era, doctors regularly prescribed alcohol to patients suffering from chronic pain.”

    I think you’ll find that medical practice has come a long way in the last 100 yrs.

  • amycas

     I think we can reasonably deal with second hand pot smoke the same way we deal with second hand smoke from tobacco cigarettes.

  • Jinx

    I am well aware that medical practice has come a long way in the last one hundred years.

    Michael claimed that no doctor prescribes alcohol as a medication; I was simply refuting this charge with historical fact: some doctors (very bad doctors, but that is irrelevant) prescribed alcoholic beverages to patients suffering from chronic pain.

  • Jinx

     I use the term “gateway drug” because there is no better alternative.  Trust me, I hate the term just as much as you do…….

    All I am arguing is that this argument is much more nuanced than “pot is good!” or “pot is bad!.” The risks of marijuana usage vary depending on how much you smoke, your genetics, and your age.

    In other words, this issue is somewhat nuanced and complicated. I agree with you; society shouldn’t criminalize things because they entail a degree of risk. I tried to articulate that position in my first post, although it may have been poorly stated.

  • Patterrssonn

    Except using an example of medical practice of a century ago isn’t a refutation of present day medical practice.

  • Anna

    Why should he try it? I’ve never smoked marijuana either, and I don’t drink alcohol. Whether or not people use mood-altering substances should be a personal decision. It’s not like one choice is better than the other.

  • Deven Kale

     Anything can be psychologically addictive, even root beer. Somebody feeling dependent upon something for their happiness has nothing to do with whether or not it’s true. So while I agree with you that MJ can be psychologically addictive, I disagree that psychological addiction should be used as an argument either for or against anything.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with your conclusions, even if I don’t fully agree with how you got there. ;)

  • midnight rambler

    The obvious reply to the “died for nothing” argument is that, while it’s indeed tragic for those, legalization will prevent anyone else from dying for nothing.  When there’s no other substantive argument for prohibition, everyone who dies is dying for nothing.

  • midnight rambler

     If we can stigmatize marijuana smoking as much as we do tobacco, that would be one of the best benefits of legalization IMO.