“Purple haze was in my brain, lately things don’t seem the same, actin’ funny but I don’t know why, ‘’scuse me while I kiss the sky.” Oh, wait a minute, I’m sorry...it’s just that after nearly forty-four years of being a Christian, it seems a bit surreal to be writing an article on smoking pot and on the debate over legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes. After all, this would’ve been a hippie’s dream back in the 70's. Despite what all the “societal pied pipers” are telling us, this is not a dream come true, but more of a nightmare in the making, especially for the youth of our country. This reminds me of the rhetorical expression of putting lipstick on a pig that conveys the message that making superficial or cosmetic changes is a futile attempt to disguise the true nature of a product.
A Presidential “Pardon”
What put this on the radar screen of my thinking was President Obama’s recent pseudo-endorsement of marijuana legalization. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) writing about this added, “to the delight of dorm rooms everywhere!” In an interview with New Yorker’s magazine’s David Remnick the President stated,
“I stand by my belief, based, I think, on the scientific evidence, that marijuana, for casual users, individual users, is subject to abuse, just like alcohol is and should be treated as a public health problem and challenge.” He continued, “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
We’ve come a long way from a president who admitted that he tried pot but “didn’t inhale” to the president’s biography that confirms the fact that during his college years he used marijuana and sometimes “a little blow.” I realize this his interview is not the same thing as signing actual legislation, but at the very least, we’re looking at a measure of validation from the nation’s highest office. The WSJ’s review and outlook page put these things succinctly into perspective:“Mr. Obama is the President, not a stoned teenager riffing with his Choom Gang, and he might have set a better example. Parents trying to teach their kids to make better choices than getting high are at a disadvantage when the person in charge of upholding the law says breaking the law is not big deal.”
The Great Pot Debate
So, here I am wading into the “great pot debate,” since some have suggested that the legalization of marijuana could be to 2014 what the sanctioning of gay marriage was to 2013. It’s upon us, whether you like it or not. The choice is whether we will be informed and exercise discernment, keeping our head in the game biblically; or we will allow the “blind to lead the blind.”
The “Yes We Cannabis” movement is out in full force. Statements like “It eliminates the need for law enforcement plus provides needed tax revenue,” “this won’t affect youth; it’s only for ages 21 and up and private use only.” Phew, that is certainly reassuring, because youth have never shown a propensity for getting around age limits on things. Then, there are the arguments from phony science: “It’s for cancer patients” (to oppose it, you must really want people to suffer), or, “marijuana is not addictive. It’s like a beer, harmless. Plus, it’s not as bad as cocaine or heroin.”
Like all moral and cultural debates, there is no shortage of “red herrings” that are part of the discourse. I’m going to mention a few, but first, the advocates for the legalization of marijuana should at least be honest enough to say, “Hey, I just want to party and get high, is all.” At least you’re being honest about gratifying fleshly appetites, instead of advancing some of the phony, circular arguments that predominate this arena.
Last November the AMA, recommending against legalization said, Cannabis is a dangerous drug, and as such, is a public health concern.” It added: “It is the most common illicit drug involved in drugged driving, particularly in drivers under the age of 21. Early cannabis use is related to later substance use disorders. Heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood, and psychotic thought disorders.” A 2012 study of more than 1,000 New Zealanders from birth to age 38 found that “persistent cannabis use was associated with neuropsychological decline across domains of functioning, even after controlling for years of education.” Long-term users saw an average decline of eight IQ points. The decrease in IQ was linked only to those with adolescent marijuana use, not those who started in adulthood.” The results, the study concluded, “are suggestive of neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain.”
All the other efforts to make marijuana use seem safe or more benign sound a bit hollow in light of the facts. “Well, no matter how high stoners get, they’re nowhere near as scary as out-of-control boozers.” People argue that Colorado’s law, like those proposed elsewhere, bans sales to those under 21. The reality is that the laws against underage drinking represent more a challenge to overcome than a barrier to access. Alcohol seems to be the teen drug of choice among most adolescents. The more widely available marijuana becomes, the more minors will use it. Following Colorado’s and Washington’s lead, proponents of legalization are targeting Alaska and Oregon for ballot initiatives in the near future, and six other states after that. Mitchell S. Rosenthal writing in the WSJ wrote, “Yet marijuana is far from safe, despite the widespread effort to make it seem benign. Pot damages the heart and lungs, increases the incidence of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, and it can trigger acute psychotic episodes. Many adults appear to be able to use marijuana with relatively little harm, but the same cannot be said of adolescents, who are about twice as likely as adults to become addicted to marijuana. The new Colorado law limits pot sales to people 21 or older, but making marijuana available for recreational use normalizes it in society. The drug will be made more easily available to those under 21, and how long until the age limit is dropped to 18?”
He continued, “Adolescents are vulnerable–and not just to pot. That’s how they are programmed. They make rash and risky choices because their brains aren’t fully developed. The part of the brain that censors dumb or dangerous behavior is last to come on line (generally not before the mid-20's). Meanwhile, the brain’s pleasure-seeking structures are up and running strong by puberty. When you link adolescent pleasure-seeing and risk-taking to marijuana’s impairment of perception and judgment, it isn’t surprising that a 2004 study of seriously injured drivers in Maryland found half the teens tested positive for pot.”
Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has found that marijuana can damage cognitive function in adolescents by disrupting the normal development of the white-matter that brain cells need to communicate with each other. Most disturbing is a discovery about marijuana last month at Northwestern University. Researchers found lasting changes in “working memory,” brain structures critical to memory and reasoning. Dr. Volkow and most other experts are troubled by changing teen attitudes about marijuana. Barely 40% of adolescents now believe regular use is harmful–down from 80% two decades ago. The propaganda is making some real headway in society.
Former eight-term Representative, Patrick Kennedy, responding to the President’s remarks said: “I think the president needs to speak to his NIH director in charge of drug abuse. She would tell the president that, in fact today’s modern, genetically modified marijuana is much higher in THC levels, far surpassing the marijuana that the president acknowledges smoking when he was a young person.” Alright, alright, you can play point–counterpoint with marijuana advocates, but to deny all the evidence of the harmful effects of marijuana, or to equate its degree of potential harm as no worse than alcohol is to be “willfully ignorant.”
Gateway To What?
I found it interesting that the highest degree of scorn from the marijuana-adherents was the suggestion that marijuana is a “gateway drug.” Proponents for the legalization of marijuana laugh at this suggestion. Yes, it is anecdotal evidence, but the fact is that the majority of heavy drug users began their experimentation by smoking pot. No, not everyone who tries marijuana turns into a heroin addict. But, it definitely is a “gateway drug” insofar as society’s thinking is concerned. More and more, legalizing marijuana is increasingly popular or acceptable with legislators and a lot of the public. This is generally the direction things take in society: first, in practice, then in policy. We’ve gone from the “Just Say No” of the 80's to the “Sure, why not” of the millennials. Stuart Gitlow directs a physician’s training program in addictive disease at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. He stated at the beginning of this year, “There’s no benefit to marijuana. It’s simply that people want the freedom to be stoned. That’s all it is. And there’s a great deal of risk.”
Is Recreational Marijuana Use A Sin?
Last November, the citizens of Colorado voted on Amendment 64 that would allow the “personal use and regulation of marijuana” for adults 21 and over, as well as the commercial cultivation, manufacture, and sale of marijuana, effectively regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol. What is legal and what is moral is not always synonymous. It seems like an obvious answer, but the question here is one of sin. Is recreational marijuana use a sin?
The parallel or analogous reasoning would be the Scripture’s prohibition of drunkenness. (Eph.5:15-20) “So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don't act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Drunkenness in the Bible is the state of being intoxicated by alcohol. That action is judged to be against God’s will, and is sinful.
I know that a large segment of the Christian world has capitulated here, taking the moderation posture rather than that of abstention. Yes, I’m sure you can find the small percentage whose consumption of alcohol is without any intention of being intoxicated, but their number is small. Galatians 5 tells us that drunkenness is a work of the flesh, which describes an appetite that is fed. The question to ask, then, would be: is it aiding the sober-mindedness and self-control that is essential for using our bodies and minds to the glory of God? In similar fashion, can a person consume small quantities of marijuana without any intention of becoming intoxicated? I’m sure you can find one in theory, but in practice, any recreational use of marijuana is for the intention of some level of intoxication. Clearly, then, a sinful motive and action.
Hey, wait a minute. What about (Gen.1:29) “And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” You see? The Bible approves of marijuana, then. OK, are you using it for food? There are no other foods–even smoked salmon–that we consume by smoking them. Well, what about brownies? I have dozens of recipe books in my kitchen, and I am the chef de jour of my house. I’ve never found one that says “add 1/4 cup of marijuana” to enhance the flavor.
All of this reminds me of the Arab proverb of The Camel’s Nose In The Tent. It talks about one cold night when an Arab’s camel pleaded with its master, “Master, let me put my nose in your tent. It’s cold and stormy out here.” By all means, said the Arab, as he turned over and went to sleep. A little later the Arab awoke to find that the camel had not only put his nose in the tent but his head and neck also. Finally, when he woke up the next time, he was outside in the cold and the camel had the tent to himself. Rosenthal concluded his article, “No one can say how marijuana legalization will play out. A perception of legal marijuana as safe, combined with sophisticated marketing, may well double or triple pot use. Warning of aggressive promotion, drug-policy expert Mark Kleiman, who studied potential issues of legal marijuana market for the Seattle City Council, pointed out last year: ‘The only way to sell a lot of pot is to create a lot of potheads.’”
Torturing The Scriptures
As a lover of God, and of His Word, this is what really caught my attention: those trying to give a scriptural justification for smoking pot. An article appeared in The Huffington Post entitled: “Marijuana: A Theology.” Really? Is this theology deep, or is it just muddy? An example of the warped thinking came out in Great Britain’s newspaper, The Guardian. Somehow, an editor decided that the article was worth publishing. In “Jesus Healed Using Cannabis,” reporter Duncan Campbell used an article from the pro-drugs magazine, High Times, suggesting that Jesus used cannabis in his healing ministry. Quoting from the article:
“Jesus was almost certainly a cannabis user and an early proponent of the medicinal properties of the drug, according to a study of scriptural texts published this month. The study suggests that Jesus and his disciples used the drug to carry out miraculous healings. The anointing oil used by Jesus and his disciples contained an ingredient called kaneh-bosem which has since been identified as cannabis extract, according to an article by Chris Bennett in the drugs magazine, High Times, entitled ‘Was Jesus a Stoner?’ The incense used by Jesus in ceremonies also contained a cannabis extract, suggests Mr. Bennett, who quotes scholars to back his claims. There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion, Carl Ruck, professor of classical mythology at Boston University said.” Unbelievable leaps of logic and biased deductions; but, it comes from “scholars.” These learned men also went on to say that the anointing oil in Exodus 30 contained a cannabis extract. And, oh, yes, we can’t forget that the “pillar of cloud” above the Tabernacle. This was actually “cannabis smoke!” Yes, the priests, and the High Priest in particular, were getting stoned in the presence of God!
A relevant parallel can be found in the warning Peter gives in (2Pet.3:15,16) “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. The word is translated “to twist” or “to torture.” They twist God’s word into all kinds of torturous positions to suit their tastes and lifestyles! There is a big difference between the Scriptures conforming to our lifestyles, or our lifestyles being informed and transformed by the Scriptures!
Being Straight In A Warped World
Another verse that sheds much-needed light on things is 1Cor.6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This verse not only helps to penetrate the fog of deception that lies on people’s hearts and minds today, but it glorifies God’s wonderful grace and salvation. Whatever the condition of our lives, the Blood of Jesus has power to cleanse, to justify, and to transform our lives. All of these sins and practices are in the past tense, “you were.”
God’s plan of redemption has always been to CHANGE US. This does not mean we should simply settle for being mildly religious. This is why Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians in the first century, is still valid for us today: “BUT BE FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT!” When you live here, why look for cheap substitutes like alcohol or marijuana?!
1. Wall Street Journal Review & Outlook, 1-21-14
3. Washington Post, by Ruth Marcus, “The Perils of Legalized Pot,” 1-2-14
6. Wall Street Journal, “Let’s Not Kid Ourselves About Marijuana,” by Mitchell S. Rosenthal, 1-9-14
8. Politico, Patrick Kennedy to President Obama: Pot Has Changed, 1-21-14
9. USA Today, 1-20-14, Elizabeth Weise, “Is Marijuana More Dangerous Than Alcohol?”
10. Wall Street Journal, “Let’s Not Kid Ourselves About Marijuana” by Mitchell S. Rosenthal, 1-9-14
11. The Guardian, “Jesus ‘healed using cannabis’”, Duncan Campbell, 1-6-14