The growing support for legalizing marijuana among Americans and their lawmakers remains unwise but not unexpected, Southern Baptist ethicists say.
Marijuana’s inroads have been demonstrated already in March by a new public opinion poll that shows for the first time a majority in the United States favors legalization of the drug. In addition, Democratic and Republican senators introduced this month for the first time a bill to lift the federal ban on medicinal use of marijuana.
These developments follow the accelerating legalization of marijuana during the last two decades. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana, beginning with California in 1996. D.C. and four of those states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington — also have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Fifteen states — 10 with legalized medical marijuana and five without — have eliminated jail time for possessing small amounts of the drug, according to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
MPP, a leading promoter of marijuana legalization, is seeking to end bans on the drug in 12 more states by 2019. It is campaigning to gain approval of legalized marijuana initiatives in five states next year.
Meanwhile, the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug. Substances in that classification are considered to have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Schedule I consists of “the most dangerous drugs” and have the potential for “severe psychological or physical dependence,” the DEA says. Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
Schedule I status for marijuana — and a continuing ban on even its medicinal use — is warranted, said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“Those who classified it as a Schedule I drug understood just how dangerous it is,” Duke told Baptist Press in written comments. “To ignore this danger for the sake of those who might be helped is to likely unleash its destructive power well beyond any possible medicinal value it might have.”
The evidence of marijuana’s harmful effects includes its status as the most prevalent drug involved in criminal activity, Duke said. In addition, more teenagers enroll in addiction treatment with a principal diagnosis of marijuana dependence than all other illegal substances put together, he said.
“We are not acting responsibly to these kinds of realities or to the clear devastation this drug is causing if we make access to it easier,” Duke told BP. “Easier access to marijuana is bound to lead to more widespread use of it for recreational purposes, with all the attendant problems, including addiction, personal problems and family breakdown.”
Americans “would be better served if Congress retained the Schedule I classification and simply instructed the appropriate government entities to conduct studies to assess the potential medicinal benefits of marijuana,” he said. “Until such studies have been conducted and the benefits are seen to clearly outweigh all the known negative effects, we should continue to make access to marijuana more difficult, not less so.
Southern Baptists continue to demonstrate concern about the harmful effects of drug use on their denominational calendar. This Sunday, March 22, is Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday.
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SOURCE: Baptist Press