Only recently has it even occurred to me to address this topic.Â But now that 18 states including New York have legalized marijuana for recreational use, we should consider the morality of using this psycho-active drug.Â
Let’s start with basics. Morality is a theory about what behaviors lead us to the good life. For Christians, scripture is our guide to morality because we believe God reveals his will through it. We trust â€“ or are in the process of learning to trust â€“ that God’s will is good and leads us to the good life.
Scripture doesn’t speak about using marijuana, but it speaks frequently about another intoxicant: alcohol. Ephesians 5:17 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” The problem in view here is drunkenness. But is alcohol use always forbidden? No. Psalm 104:15 celebrates God who gives “wine to gladden the human heart,” and Paul urged Timothy to drink a little wine for medicinal purposes. But drunkenness is always prohibited.
Similarly, scripture warns about chronic overindulgence:
“Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wineâ€¦â€
Proverbs 20:1 confirms this concern: “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” Alcohol, indeed, can lead one astray so that he or she can no longer discern the point where drinking alcohol has become destructive. So though moderate use of alcohol is acceptable, scripture recognizes that a line has to be drawn in order to keep alcohol from eroding one’s spiritual and physical health. That line is drunkenness â€“ the point at which one’s senses, reasoning, and self-control begin to be affected.
Can we can apply the same standard to marijuana? We could if one were able to smoke it without getting high. But the whole point of smoking pot recreationally is to get high. One can drink without getting drunk, but one can’t smoke pot without getting high. Cannabis makes one “drunk” in the sense that one’s senses, reasoning, and self-control are compromised.
This moral reasoning seems easy to understand â€“ to me — but I know many who disagree with it. To them “weed is no big deal,” or “it relaxes me when I’m stressed,” or “hey, drinkers are far more dangerous.” Those are all evasions of the real reason they get high: they need marijuana to feel good. They’ll deny it, of course; to them it’s just their “normal.” But that’s what makes it so sad â€“ their baseline emotional/spiritual state is one in which they need a chemical in order to cope.
What about using marijuana for medical purposes?
Cannabis (the proper name of the plant) has proven effective in treating nausea, side effects from cancer treatments, and certain kinds of neurological pain. The pain-reducing chemical in cannabis is THC, and it is the same chemical compound that makes one “high” when smoked. But when used medicinally, its purpose is clearly not recreational but rather palliative. When used that way, cannabis should be viewed as a gift. It’s morally equivalent to the many varieties of morphine we use to alleviate pain. Medical marijuana usually comes in pill form, which may help us feel less ambivalent about using it for medical reasons.
Can using cannabis to control anxiety be considered a medical use? After all, anxiety and depression are a kind of pain; they are diagnosable mental disorders. Some of my inner-city friends and tenants use cannabis to help them cope with the violence and stress of urban poverty. Couldn’t we just say that pot is the poor person’s anti-depressant and leave it at that? After all, millions of Americans at all levels of society use anti-depressants to cope.
Here again our sense of “normal” is skewed. A person who uses either cannabis or anti-depressants should ask: “Why do I need this? What’s going on inside me that is broken?” I hasten to add that I firmly believe anti-depressants can be a gift from God. However, in most cases, one’s strategy for tackling depression shouldn’t include only medicine. Like the four wheels of a car, it should also include counseling, a spiritual program consisting of daily prayer and weekly small group fellowship and Sabbath-day worship, and daily physical exercise. Anxiety and depression shouldn’t be merely medicated; it must be fought. But not with pot. Anti-depressant medication is preferable because it’s widely available, it isn’t intoxicating, and it avoids the destructive side effects of long-term cannabis use.
As of May of this year, $7.9 billion in tax revenue has been generated by sales of legalized cannabis. Some point to this windfall as justification for the “green rush.” But let’s be candid; scads of money are at stake in selling pot, and we should anticipate the usual smokescreen arguments from those whose motive for legalization is profit. They’ll tell us marijuana isn’t dangerous. But that claim is outright deception. The long-term effect of cannabis use is well-documented; it creates a de-motivated, cognitively cloudy, and semi-depressed person who is emotionally dependent on a drug to experience peace â€“ and often even to cope with daily life.
As irritated as I get when I smell the stench of cannabis, I feel compassion for people who rely on it for their pleasure and peace. They’re trapped, and they must cope with a harsh world without a Savior and without the inner power of the Holy Spirit. It’s our job to show them an alternative. “Be not drunk with wineâ€¦ instead be filled with the Holy Spirit.”