First, full disclaimer: I have never used marijuana in my life, and have rarely even been with people who are (the most notable exception being a stay at a hostel in Hamburg, Germany where everyone staying there was using up the stash they’d brought from Amsterdam).
I have of course frequently been with people who were using before they were spending time with me. One story to illustrate: a couple of years back, I needed a gram scale to weigh balsa wood for a school project, and when I posted that I needed such a scale in our congregational Facebook group, dozens of people responded they had one, until someone said, “Hmmm… I wonder why so many people have gram scales!?”
The Christian case for legalizing recreational marijuana use is, I believe, grounded three points:
Perhaps one of the greatest injustices in the United States has been the outcome of the war on drugs on people of color and the poor. The war on drugs, a race-war if ever there was one, was an ideological mission with destructive consequences. It decimated urban communities across our nation.
The war was predicated on many false assumptions about addiction. It fed into a system (mass incarceration) that jails the mentally ill and drug users. It separated people from caring community and isolated them, just the opposite of what an actual addict needs.
If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend Johann Hari’s Chasing the Scream: The Opposite of Addiction Is Connection, both for a history of the war on drugs, and narrative examples from around the world of how nations and communities are getting things right.
We could have taken another path, a path of treatment, wholeness, care. We punished when we should have provided care, and the result has been an immensely expensive mass system of incarceration that costs us billions of dollars a year and harms families across our nation.
It also incarcerates with far greater frequency black and brown bodies than whites. The war is inherently racist.
This is where the legalization of marijuana comes into play. Across our country, you see states legalizing first the medical use of marijuana, and then the recreational use. The owners of the dispensaries, the growers of marijuana, are those who could afford to buy the contracts.
Wealthy, predominately white owners now stand to make a lot of money providing the same substance that more impoverished people had been providing and locked up for.
I don’t know how to accomplish reparations in such an instance, but it should be pursued. Those incarcerated for selling marijuana should have the chance to start up businesses selling it.
Otherwise, the transition to legalized marijuana will be one that will perpetuate rather than alleviate the struggle of the poor and people of color.
Finally, it’s worth noting that marijuana specifically wasn’t illegal in the United States until FDR made it so in 1937.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was racist in its very origins.
The demonization of the marijuana was related to the demonization of Mexican immigrants. Although marijuana was already present in many medicinal products, the campaign against it made it a “foreign” substance coming in with these new Americans.
By outlawing the substance, places like El Paso where Mexicans were entering the United States could also control immigrants. They needed an excuse to implement racist policies. The excuse was marijuana.
This way vof controlling a people group by controlling their substances worked really well. It has become one of our national radicalized ways for keeping certain minority groups (especially non-white) under government scrutiny and control.
As medical marijuana has entered markets across the nation, we’ve seen the various ways it provides relief from a variety of ailments.
“People treat insomnia, stress, muscle aches, pain, and even obesity with micro-doses of marijuana and marijuana derivatives. Often Christian influencers lean toward arguments of impairment. However, marijuana does not have to make you impaired to have a desired effect. Today, many recreational users are turning to “microdosing” or the act of taking a drug in smaller amounts to reduce impairment, while still getting relief. Many people have found that small doses of THC can help with things like going to sleep, controlling appetite, managing stress, and meditation” (Amanda Roush).
Although there are currently Christian campaigns across our country (I was recently at a special prayer meeting with other pastors who are helping our state leadership in the fight against a ballot initiative for recreational use–as you can imagine, my prayers were different from the majority prayers), there really is not a solid religious argument against marijuana.Scripture does have a few things to say about sobriety: basically, it’s in favor of it (Ephesians 5:18, Galatians 5:19-21). However, the emphasis is on moderation. Don’t get drunk. So the Bible can also encourage people to take a bit of wine with their water (1 Timothy 5:23) for the good of the stomach.
Scripture also asks people of faith to treat their bodies as a temple, and to stay alert (1 Cor. 6:19-20, 1 Peter 5:8). From that argument, depending on your religious perspective, some types of drug use are actually forms of treating the body precisely as a temple. And some drugs, like caffeine, increase alertness.
I don’t want to make too much out of this. There isn’t a unified and clear biblical ethic of substance use and abuse. The emphasis seems to be on moderation in all things. Clearly our current criminalization of marijuana as a substance has been anything but moderate. It’s caused much harm.
Finally, many suffering severe pain and other chronic conditions have, because of our harsh anti-marijuana policies, suffered unduly. Reparations are due them as well, because we can and should do better. Scripture is all about healing and wholeness. It’s why so many hospitals in the United States were started by Christians and churches and denominations. Christians are about healing.
Inasmuch as marijuana can be a healing substance, we need to consider the ways it can provide relief and improved health.
This last point may be the most controversial point I’ll make, but consider it a hypothesis, a modest proposal.
Christianity doesn’t have a super great theology of recreation.
Of course, we have an astounding story to tell of re-creation. In Jesus, with his resurrection, we see the restoration of all things, the new creation… re-creation, if you will.
The word recreation etymologically originally meant refreshment or curing of a sick person.
Over time, it has shifted to mean, as we typically employ it, leisure, things done for amusement, fun, pleasure.
There’s a long and storied history of especially strict Christian communities opposing “pleasure.” Think of the film Babette’s Feast, as one example.
Some Christians, even though almost all of us take time for enjoyment, for pleasure, for recreation, seem to have a problem with people having too much of a good time, or the wrong kind of a good time.
This is why Christians are frequently found railing against the joys of this world: video games, various kinds of sensuality, or…
I get the impression, speaking to many who do use marijuana, that a big part of it for them is they simply enjoy it. It’s recreational, relaxing, pleasurable.
It’s what one might consider a “pure” pleasure. Many marijuana enthusiasts have, over the years, had to add to their repertoire various additional arguments for the benefits of marijuana, but when it comes down to it, the question remains: is it okay for people to use it simply for recreation.
It seems to me, if recreation is about pleasure and joy and healing, the answer can and should be yes. Of course there are dangers of over use. That’s true of any form of recreation, from surfing to video games to chocolate tasting. Too much of a good thing is a thing.
But the right amount of a good thing, at the right time, outlaw or resist that isn’t Christian at all, but simply and rigidly moralistic.
I’ve been in the trenches long enough as a pastor to have a whole set of stories in my back pocket convincing me legalizing recreational marijuana is the right thing. I know elderly parishioners who need it to treat pain, middle aged parents who need it for chronic conditions, and I’ve visited too many people in jail who shouldn’t be there.
I know people whose lives have been changed, where God has used marijuana for good in their lives. I’d like to give even more people the opportunity to choose it as one option among many for healing and wellness.
I’ll let others make some of the additional arguments I’m sure there are to make. Some use marijuana as part of their religious observances, for example, and I’m sure some have had insights while using marijuana that assist in clearly seeing God in Christ in the world. I’d love to hear those stories.
But I hope these suffice for now, giving you sufficient reason, when that petition comes your way to make recreational marijuana use a ballot item, that you’ll sign away.