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.