by Trent Hunter
Recent trends in the direction of the full-scale legalization of marijuana suggest that pot is undergoing a dramatic marketing makeover.
One cannabis branding firm put it this way: “There is a huge untapped market here. It’s about reaching nonconsumers: women, young people, business professionals, grandmothers and soccer moms.” Get ready: If it hasn’t already, your favorite show will probably feature marijuana in a way that makes it feel cool—whether in a joint, a pot-tart, a keefcat or a pot-brownie.
This means that Christians will need to think more carefully about marijuana than most of us have until now. Not everyone will consume pot, but most everyone will be in a position to advise someone who is considering it.
With this in mind, here are five questions to ask before you consume pot.
1. Is It Legal?
One of God’s gifts to us in human government is the regulation of certain socially corrosive behaviors (Romans 13:1–7). The state should not regulate every bad behavior, and so there are many things that are legal that are not therefore ethical. But certain behaviors are regulated, and that’s a good thing. So while more goes into the question of whether we should smoke pot than its legality, this is nevertheless a vital place to start since Christian discipleship means being honorable and obedient citizens.
At present, a number of states have made marijuana legal for medical use, and two states have made it legal for recreational use. However, Christians should be aware that under federal law marijuana is still illegal to buy, sell, possess or use. This is why, for example, an employer can still fire someone for consuming pot even in off hours, and why the federal government can prosecute a person for its possession, though such prosecution would rarely happen in the case of an individual.
2. What Will It Do to Me?
This question has to do with our relationship to our own bodies. Of course, our bodies are not merely our bodies. They were made for God’s glory, and they were bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:12–20). For this reason, as with anything we consume, we should want to know what it will do to us. For some, this question has an easy answer: It gives you a buzz! But how? The buzz comes from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), a psychoactive, mind-altering and intoxicating chemical.
It’s true that marijuana is not as dangerous as harder drugs, and for that reason it is often suggested that marijuana is actually more like alcohol. But we should be careful with this comparison. Alcohol in moderate amounts has many desirable effects, including benefits to one’s health. But in excessive amounts, Scripture teaches what we know from observation, that drunkenness “takes away understanding” and leads to “poverty,” “sorrow” and “strife” (Hosea 4:11;Proverbs 23:20–21, 29–35). For this reason, while human societies have nearly universally celebrated alcohol, they have also adopted social norms to regulate its use.
Marijuana and alcohol are alike in that they lead to intoxication. But marijuana is unlike alcohol in important ways. Intoxication with marijuana happens quickly, after about four puffs, and it is highly addictive when compared with alcohol. Alcohol breaks down and leaves the body soon after consumption, but THC can stay in the body for weeks after consumption, yielding ongoing effects. These effects are measurable and many. Studies show that pot slows the mind, dulls the memory, damages the immune system and diminishes motivation, while increasing the risk of socially destructive behavior and severe medical maladies too long to list here. Especially when used by young people, it has been found that marijuana actually transforms the structure of the brain negatively.
One last difference: With marijuana, intoxication is its only recreational purpose. In other words, the one reason marijuana is sought recreationally is the one use for which God forbids alcohol.
3. How Will It Effect My Capacity to Love My Neighbor?
As Christians, our bodies are for the Lord, but love is the second greatest command because our lives are also for other people (Matthew 22:39). So, in what way could marijuana harm or enhance our performance in our roles as sons, daughters, siblings, spouses, students, parents, employees and employers?
Here’s another way to put the question: Will this substance enhance my dominion over life so that I may love others well, or will it exercise dominion over me? On this substance, can I help someone in danger, drive a car safely, model self-control to my children, grieve with someone who is suffering, correct someone who is straying from the faith or encourage someone who is discouraged?
Of course, these questions apply to more than just marijuana. Coffee has dominion over some people in ways that could compromise relationships. But coffee generally sharpens reality and our engagement with the world in our various roles. That’s why home kitchens and office break rooms feature perfectly uncontroversial coffeemakers. Marijuana, by contrast, mutes our ability to control our thinking, our speaking and our bodies in ways that are deleterious not only to ourselves but also to others.
4. Am I Pursuing It as Medicine or Recreation?
We can reasonably say that it is not necessarily sinful for a person to use marijuana by prescription. There are already many drugs that a doctor might prescribe that can address pain that we should not use recreationally. Morphine and oxycodone are examples of addictive substances that serve important medicinal purposes under proper guidance. Marijuana can as well. In fact, we practically have a Bible verse for this: “Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress” (Proverbs 31:6).
But there are good reasons for caution even here. Like some other prescribed substances, we can be tempted to abuse its medicinal purpose. In fact, this appears to be quite common already. The typical user of medical marijuana in California is a 32-year-old white male with no chronic illness. Two percent of users have cancer, and for 94 percent of prescriptions the patient’s pain is unspecified. These are unfortunate statistics. Just like many prescribed drugs, THC may have a medicinal effect, but it is not actually a restorative drug. Similar to chemo, it helps through an effect that also harms. And for this reason Christians should be aware of how the drug works and should seek prescriptions only as truly needed.
5. Will We Smoke Pot in Heaven?
Some things won’t be experienced in heaven because Christ died to fulfill them—marriage, for example. But some things won’t be experienced in heaven because Christ died to rescue us from them. In Galatians 5:21 Paul speaks of “envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (emphasis mine). He continues, “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Intoxication by marijuana is indeed a thing like drunkenness, and a thing that won’t be with us in the new creation.
So, brothers and sisters, don’t be intoxicated with popular culture’s messaging on this issue, and don’t seek the intoxicating artificial peace promised by chemicals like THC. While life is hard and escapes are tempting, they are not the answer. Thankfully, Christ is our answer, and not only does he fill our hearts with himself but he forgives us for seeking life in the broken cisterns of chemically induced euphoric escapes.
Don’t get drunk with wine, and don’t intoxicate yourself with a plant. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, be sober minded, and stay alert for the coming of Christ—a euphoric experience indeed (Ephesians 5:18; 1 Peter 1:13).
Trent Hunter serves as pastor of administration and teaching at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of Graphical Greek: A Quick Reference Guide for Biblical Greek and blogs regularly at Above All Things. He is married to Kristi, and they have three children, Carson, Madalyn, and Shae.