It was 60s cultural icon Bob Dylan who sang, “…the times they are a-changin’.” With the recreational use of marijuana now legal in Colorado and Washington, we are indeed witnessing that, the times they are a-changin’. What was once a forbidden pleasure is rapidly gaining wide acceptance in our society. Consider these statistics: 40% of all Americans have tried pot. 50% of all adults have used pot. 50% of all Americans favor legalization. Tellingly, one in eight adults say they have used marijuana in the last year. Twenty states already allow medical marijuana. As at least half-dozen states from Alaska to Maine are currently considering legalization, the stigma of pot as a pernicious drug has pretty much evaporated in our society. For many pot is no longer seen as a counter-cultural experiment but as a normalized and mainstream recreational pleasure.
Colorado is a case in point of how pot is becoming widely accepted. The Denver Post now has a marijuana editor! Articles such as, Pot and Parenting, and Cooking with Pot are appearing for the suburban reader as they sip their coffee in the morning before going off to the office or drop the kids off at school. Colorado already has licensed 150 shops selling marijuana. Many are very upscale and have the look and feel of a sophisticated wine-tasting bar. Playing off of the ubiquitous coffee shop, Starbucks, we now have pot stores called Starbuds. Taxing marijuana sales at the astounding rate of 36%, Colorado is looking to reap millions in revenue, with, ironically, much of the money already earmarked for schools. What cash-strapped state won’t be looking at this potential windfall? While Colorado is being observed closely as a test state, many culture watchers opine that it is only a matter of time until it will be completely legal in most all states to toke up.
While the drive toward legalization gains momentum, many questions remain in this pivotal social experiment. Our culture is taking a huge gamble. What about driving and pot? We already know the havoc and devastation that drinking alcohol to excess and then driving has in our society. What might the consequences be if an increasing number of drivers were to smoke pot and drive? And, what will the cost be to our youth? There is a growing body of evidence that high potency THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, in marijuana is very dangerous to the developing adolescent brain. (THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). Many researchers are warning that pot use among adolescents will make them dumber and actually lower their IQ. Marijuana is a proven impediment to memory. For readers in your fifties or sixties who remember smoking a little weed when you were young, consider that today’s marijuana is about ten times stronger than what was smoked four decades ago. Then, of course, there is always the issue of addiction. About 10% of those who use marijuana will become dependent on the drug. For some, this will become a gateway to the use of other drugs with far more dire consequences. According to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse,of the estimated 7.1 million Americans classified with dependence on or abuse of illicit drugs, nearly 4.5 million were dependent on or abused marijuana. (www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/marijuana)
So what is the Christian to think and do living in a culture (or a state) where marijuana use is increasingly accepted and legal? Should Christians exercise their freedom to use marijuana if they are so inclined? Since marijuana is never specifically mentioned in the Bible it becomes the task of the Christian to think Christianly and biblically about such matters. To do this we need to apply biblical principles to what is becoming a thorny question.
While urging the young and immature Corinthian church toward holy living, the Apostle Paul reminds them that, All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything(1 Corinthians 6:12). Christian freedom, correctly understood, at times exercises self-restraint so as to not become dominated by even legal pleasures. This brings up an important question. What is the function of marijuana use? Outside of medical usages for pain, nausea, or other medicinal purposes, pot functions to give the user a pleasant disengagement from the world. This type of tuning outis an induced escape that seems especially inappropriate for Christians who are called to engage with our world. Pot usage is a barrier to both self-awareness and meaningful social interaction. The purpose of using marijuana is singular. People use pot to get high.
Most people reading this article are at this point asking how is pot different from the appropriate use of an alcoholic beverage? Some will say, you have a glass of wine or a beer and I enjoy some marijuana in similar fashion. I would suggest there are substantive differences. Wine and beer are foods. They have caloric and nutritional value. When used in moderation, especially in combination with a meal, their purpose is not to induce an altered state of consciousness. The taste of a good Merlot or a hoppy IPA is pleasant to the palate. The use of marijuana is used only to numb the brain of the user.
As our cultural sensibilities shift, one thing is for sure. The increasing legalization of marijuana will be an arena where the use of Christian freedom will be tested. In the Apostle Paul’s discussion of spiritual freedom in Romans 14, he summarizes his argument saying, So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Sobering words (pun intended). Christians who flaunt their freedom often do so to the detriment of other believers. This is why the Apostle urges caution in how our freedom is expressed. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (1 Corinthians 8:9). Culture, law, and what is acceptable in a society are constantly changing. Christians have always had to make strategic decisions about how their faith intersects with the world in which they live. This new dilemma (temptation?), to smoke or not to smoke, will give believers another opportunity to think about how to be a disciple in this modern world. Recently, Andy Crouch, executive director for Christianity Today, wrote, We at Christianity Today believe Christians are absolutely free to use marijuana (where legal). And, when it comes to pot in our particular cultural context, we think it would be foolish to use that freedom. I heartily agree.