Pot is more popular than ever, and few groups are as vocally opposed to weed as evangelical Christians.
I know — I was raised as one. Weed was one of the worst things in the world, they told me — and by default, so were the people who used it. I adopted smug self-righteousness and made 4/20 jokes, mocked stereotypes of lazy hippies, and judgmentally dismissed drug users with the label of “criminals” (which is a whole issue in itself).
It wasn’t until later as a young adult that I began to question the morals I was handed in Evangelical subculture, and with that, I learned the conversation about marijuana is far more involved and complex.
Public attitudes toward marijuana are increasingly favorable: surveys find 58% of U.S. respondents favor legal use. (Source: Gallup). Nearly half (49%) said they’ve tried weed, and 77% agree there are legitimate medical uses for it (Source: Pew Research).
A growing number of Christians are digging into the questions and implications of marijuana use. However, it’s not as simple as a government law or a Bible verse.
There are many questions at the intersection of Christianity and marijuana, including its legality, the difference between medical and recreational use, the dangers involved, what the Bible says, and what personal responsibility requires.
The Legal Conundrum of Cannabis
Currently, marijuana occupies confusing legal territory. The federal government holds marijuana use as a federal offense, while 23 states have legalized medical marijuana and four states have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana (including my former home, Oregon).
The conversation is ramping up in South Carolina, where I live. In late 2015, both Republican and Democrat policymakers in the state House and Senate began support of a bill to legalize medical marijuana here (Source: WSPA).
With change on the horizon, the question for many becomes, “If I smoke weed, will I get in trouble with my family, my job, or law enforcement?” And for Christians, “Is it a sin to smoke weed?”
Is Medical Marijuana Sinful or Helpful?
Imagine your grandmother is bedridden with crippling, chronic pain. Maybe your nephew is plagued with seizures, or your mother needs to regain her appetite to survive a tough round of chemotherapy. For any of us connected to someone with such a health concern — as well as muscle spasms, nausea and inflammatory diseases — the merits of medical marijuana gets a lot less theoretical and a lot more personal.
If you look closely at the chemicals in cannabis, you’ll find the psychoactive part of marijuana is called THC — that’s what produces the euphoric, intoxicating high. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the primary non-psychoactive components of cannabis; it’s doesn’t produce the high, but it shows medical effectiveness and future potential for treating the health issues listed above (Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Supporters of medical marijuana legalization have listed such reasons: “It is not as harmful as alcohol. […] It also helps medical conditions as a more natural substitute to pharmaceuticals.” “My grandson was diagnosed with epilepsy a year ago and it has been proven that it helps with the seizures” (Source: Pew Research). Some Christian families have even moved to states where it’s easier to get medical marijuana for their children’s health issues.
Does the Bible Offer Guidance for Medicinal Marijuana?
The Bible doesn’t explicitly mention marijuana, but it does mention offering a substance for someone in sickness or facing death. It warns against intoxication while making choices that significantly affect yourself and others, but alcohol is recommended for the sick or dying: “Let beer be for those who are perishing, wine for those who are in anguish!” (Proverbs 31:6). However, that sort of comforting for the sick is a drastic difference from the intoxication, debauchery, and addictive behavior the Bible describes as unfitting for Christians (Galatians 5:19-21, Proverbs 23:29-30).
Most Christians agree that seeking doctor’s input and using prescription drugs is not morally wrong — even for mental illness, anxiety, and depression. They believe God is a healer and provides spiritual, mental, and physical healing (James 5:14, 1 Peter 2:23, Psalm 103:2-4, 3 John 1:2). Does God’s willingness for people to be healed include only prescription drugs? Would He be for or against the healing that medical marijuana offers?
The Pitfalls of Recreational Pot
Medical science suggests some marijuana products offer health benefits, but there are certainly health dangers as well.
- Psychologically, THC wreaks havoc to people with mental illnesses, especially bipolar disorder and multiple personality disorder.
- THC impairs motor skills, short-term memory, and concentration. (Don’t drive or take a test high.)
- Smoking cannabis transfers toxic carcinogens to users’ bodies, though not as harmful as tobacco (Source: Freakonomics Radio).
- Heavy marijuana users experience addiction effects like withdrawal.
- Though the gateway theory of pot is flawed, many users also access harder drugs.
Does the Bible Say Anything About Weed?
Products of the cannabis plant were present and used in various ways by ancient societies, but the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention it.
Some recreational marijuana proponents quote verses that generally mention seed-bearing plants and herbs (Genesis 1:12, Genesis 1:29-31, Ezekiel 34:29, Isaiah 18:4-5). But those attempts to understand the verses as references to the cannabis plant, when read in context, remain unconvincing.
Is It Wrong to Get High?
The Bible doesn’t explicitly speak to getting stoned, but it does address a common form of substance intoxication: drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). Alcohol is praised in moderation, but warned against in excess.
In the event government laws no longer prohibited it, this same principle would lead Christians to believe moderate recreational marijuana use could be appropriate, but excessive use to the point of intoxication is prohibited.
This is where it gets tricky for Evangelicals. Can you smoke pot in moderation and not get intoxicated? Recreational pot is mostly — if not entirely — about getting high. How many people have you met who said they smoke weed for the taste, but not for the buzz? I have yet to meet such a person, though it’s theoretically possible.
There’s also the matter of health. If you excessively eat, drink, or smoke something unhealthy, you’re causing destruction to something God cares about. In that way, the sin of substance abuse is more than just a question of if you can get away with it. Christians are commanded to care for the body God gave them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Can Christians Responsibly Use Marijuana?
The Bible urges dependence on God and not substances; it warns against compromised judgment, and praises sober-mindedness and the pursuit of a renewed mind (Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Peter 5:6-8, Romans 12:2).
The decisions you make show what you value most.
Like each Christian must learn to make wise personal decisions about alcohol, tobacco, overeating, and watching graphically violent or hypersexualized movies, each individual must consider not just what he or she will do, but also the motivation behind it and how it affects the people around him or her (Romans 14:1-23). Would it cause unwelcome tension in one’s marriage and relationships? Would it help or hinder the role of a parent or work of a student or employee?
Instead of asking yourself, “Can I smoke pot?” perhaps the better question is, “What’s at stake if I do smoke pot?”
Evangelical Christians believe they’re living, breathing representatives of Jesus — though they don’t always get it right (Matthew 5:16, Ephesians 5:1-17). At the heart of the matter is whether using marijuana would help more people connect with God and worship Him, or be a detriment to one’s personal life or public reputation.
What the Bible doesn’t explicitly prohibit, Christians should be slow to condemn people who do such things. What the Bible consistently emphasizes about responsibility and making wise decisions, they can be quick to find a faithful path forward.
What Should You Do With Marijuana?
The best path for Evangelicals includes a healthy regard for the just laws of government (Romans 13:1-7). Recreational pot may eventually be legal everywhere, though that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea for everyone (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
It’s high time Christians find a way to help more people exercise — not abandon — God-given responsibility when it comes to marijuana.
In the words of one pastor I knew, “Put that in your theological pipe and smoke it.”