This November, four states will vote on legalizing marijuana: Utah and Missouri for medical use and North Dakota and Michigan for adult recreational use. If all four proposals pass, the national total would reach 32 states with medical laws and 11 with recreational laws. A 2017 Gallup poll found almost two-thirds of Americans supported legalization. Earlier this year, Canada approved full legalization.
Churches rarely discuss marijuana. Here are a few questions to guide the conversation a church could have.
Is marijuana consumption safe? No drug is completely safe, not even the most popular and least regulated drug: caffeine. Our perception of safety is culturally influenced.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioid drug overdoses killed 63,000 Americans in 2016. Alcohol-induced deaths were 33,000. Marijuana deaths were zero. (All these numbers exclude drug-related auto deaths.) This spring, a small number of deaths were linked to contaminated synthetic marijuana — contamination that could have been prevented by regulation.
Medical marijuana gained popularity precisely because patients found it safer and with fewer side effects than traditional pharmaceuticals. Seniors are the most rapidly-growing medical users, relying on marijuana to ease arthritis, chronic illness and general pain. Of course, safe for adults does not mean safe for children. Frequent use among children and teens can reduce memory and learning (though marijuana is still safer than some other drugs, including alcohol).
Are U.S. marijuana laws just? The United States has the highest prison population in the world; one in five prisoners are incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses. Black and brown people are arrested for marijuana use at higher rates than white people, though white people have a slightly higher rate of use.
In Matthew 25 and Luke 4, Jesus suggests the Roman government was unjustly incarcerating individuals and that disciples should advocate for justice and the release of captives. Jesus calls us to oppose state-run, punitive, retributive justice systems.
Is marijuana consumption honorable? As Christians, we’re taught that the body is a temple. We ought to care for our bodies as holy places. Drug use that lowers inhibitions or causes blackouts does not honor the holiness of our bodies. But some Christians read John 2 as Jesus’ endorsement of moderate consumption among a safe and celebrative community in the spirit of trust and — I can’t emphasize this enough — moderation.
Will legalization improve our communities and lead to flourishing? States with full legalization still have problems with illegal marijuana production.
Legalization creates a secondary illegal market, where medical-grade marijuana is processed and shipped to outlawed states. Ironically, one solution to this problem is legalization in every state.
Legalizing marijuana can lower the prison population, especially for people of color who are disproportionately incarcerated. It can increase safety by reducing contamination. It can ease the symptoms of aging for some seniors and allow them to engage more energetically in the community. Does that meet the definition of flourishing? It is a topic worthy of discussion in a congregation.
Hillary Watson pastors at Shalom Community Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. She blogs at gatheringthestones.com.