When it comes to the discussion surrounding the use of Marijuana, I feel it is important to distinguish the difference between medicinal use and recreational use early on. There are many arguments being raised in defense of Marijuana, largely surrounding its proven medicinal qualities. With its ability to not only relieve pain, but treat disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, even epilepsy! People use it to treat a host of neurological and psychological disorders. And while there are studies that suggest that heavy marijuana use may not be entirely without consequence, the consensus seems to be that its medicinal properties far outweigh its potential (and largely unproven) risk. (Click here to look into that a little further.) With that said, this is not actually the argument I would like to lend my voice to. I am more interested in discussing the concept of recreational marijuana.
As a pretty loud voice for freedom, I often get lumped in with liberal Christianity. And well, to be honest, I don't really fit there either. Despite my insistence that God's people embrace freedom, I very strongly believe that freedom, if embraced in Christ, looks like intense righteousness. I don't subscribe to the opinion that grace came to give me control of my life. In fact, I believe the exact opposite. Grace came to free me from the corruption that only had life in me because I had control. Grace sets me free from every standard and transforms me into a living embodiment of the standard it freed me from.
So no, I am not a liberal christian. I am just not enslaved. With that said, there are a few things that I believe I probably need to mention here, as we search out this controversial and often misunderstood debate:
I have never tried marijuana.
I thought I'd better start there.
In my fourteen years of ministry, most of which was spent in youth ministry, I have addressed this subject more times than I can even begin to remember. And I have heard it all! Kids have argued that because it is a plant, it means that God made it for us, so naturally we are in rebellion by refusing to use it. They have told me that it relaxes them, that it fosters community, that it enables them to think about things they would have never considered otherwise. Some have even gone so far as to tell me that they are freer to experience God's voice and presence when they are "high".
I have heard it all. So despite the fact that I have never smoked marijuana, I am pretty familiar with it. Which brings me to my second, and equally interesting, confession:
I have never really given this much thought.
I know! I just said that I have spent years discussing this subject, but come on! You don't actually have to consider the moral fabric of an activity that the law has already condemned. Right? For over a decade, I have been able to address this subject without a second thought because, hey, it is illegal. ***Insert "shrug" emoji*** There is nothing to consider. I was free to ignore all of the arguments, all of its benefits, and every experience that supported it. Because the law is the law. But now the law is changing. State after state is embracing recreational marijuana. Which means that we have to actually stop and consider whether we have a moral, and spiritual, obligation to continue opposing marijuana usage, or whether we can lighten up a bit without inspiring plagues of locusts or a firestorm from the heavens.
So let's approach this from a few different angles. First, let's look at it practically.
No matter what direction you approach this from, there are incredible arguments to be made. For every expert that claims Marijuana is completely safe and non-addictive, there is another expert who is absolutely convinced that it is karate chopping our brain cells. And for each angry parent making war on the local drug dealers, there is another decent parent that is low-key one of their clients. It is so hard to find any conclusive research or thinking on this subject, because it is so shrouded by opinion and controversy. So, seeking a little perspective, I hit social media and asked my friends, family and followers to give me the benefit of their experience. And what I found was, whether people considered their experience with Marijuana to be positive or negative, everyone pretty much agreed that regular usage affected their lives in three pretty extreme ways.
1. It affected their level of stress.
2. It affected their outlook on community.
3. It affected the way they processed thought.
Almost everyone who contacted me to share their experience with recreational marijuana addressed at least one of these areas. Most addressed all three. However, interestingly enough, not everyone was in agreement on whether or not the drug affected them positively or negatively.
Here is a little of what they experienced, collectively.
PRO: About half of the people who reached out to me felt that regular marijuana usage decreased the effect of stress in their daily life.
CON: The other half experienced more stress while regularly using marijuana. Some, as a reaction to the drug itself. Others, in relation to how they felt about themselves having done something they considered wrong.
PRO: Most felt that, while partaking regularly, it fostered an environment where they not only appreciated the time they spent with others more, but actually grew to appreciate community, itself, at a deeper level.
CON: Some, though hating the actual experience of being "high", found that it was so central to their community that they had to continue partaking in order to get the kind of intimacy they needed in their life.
PRO: A small group of the people I spoke with felt like one of the effects of marijuana was that it calmed the "noise" and made it easier for them to really think.
CON: The majority of the people who shared their story with me considered their thinking to be very murky while they were pertaining. Though their minds were less cluttered, their actual thinking was less developed.
After talking to every person I know who had relevant experience (and enough bravery to admit it. Let's be honest), it seems to me that the actual effect of marijuana usage is not a cut and dry story. For some people, it seems to contribute to their overall enjoyment in life, without negatively stealing from the quality of their life. But for an equally large number of people, it either left them unproductive, or affected their thinking and peace of mind in a detrimental way.
Ignoring its legal status or the social\religious stigmas attached to it, let's also take a look at what the Word has to say before we offer any definitive conclusions.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
This is the text the majority of us stand on when it comes to marijuana, alcohol, and everything of a similar nature. We argue that God has called us to sober thinking, so indulging in anything that compromises our thinking is a no-no. Which, in general, I agree with that thought. But let's consider this actual text. Look at it in context:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
1 Peter 5:6-9 (ESV)
In our culture, sobriety has come to mean a complete removal from alcohol or any other kind of intellectually compromising substance. But that's not quite what Peter was going for here. It's similar, but the difference is important. He isn't commanding the church to avoid alcohol or comparable substances. He is exhorting them to not allow their fear to cripple them... he is saying that the enemy seeks to destroy them, and in many circumstances, he will cause them real difficulty. But they must resolve to not allow their fear, or their circumstances, to sway them from their course (which, and I hate to point this out, is less likely to happen if you smoke, since marijuana is kind of known for its stress-relieving properties).
At its most basic level, sobriety means to be resolved in your thinking. To be stable. To be unchangeable. Meaning that, despite any outside influence, you remain you.
Which is the major danger of drunkenness. As most of us have witnessed, either in our own lives or in the lives of someone that we know, drunks lose themselves almost completely. Intoxication drives them to the most extreme version of who they are. It takes all control away from them and hands it to their emotions, leaving them helpless to defend themselves against their every whim. They do things that they would never even consider doing when at full capacity.
You know the classic "drunk" moves! Waking up in someones bed that you find repulsive. Finding yourself naked on a strangers floor with no memory of how you got there. Vandalizing property. Hurting yourself. Submitting to people you never would have otherwise.
The jury is settled on this one. Drunkenness robs us of control and makes us into the worst version of ourselves, leaving us helpless, and sometimes a danger to ourselves and others. Don't get me wrong, most responsible adults have learned how to drink in settings and among groups where they are less likely to put themselves in situations where they will be harmed, or make decisions they will live to regret. And the majority of people know how to stop themselves from getting to the level of drunkenness where their stupid makes an appearance. But drunkenness, if allowed control, is detrimental to our thinking. It leaves us void of sensibility and restraint.
The big question is... does marijuana do the same thing?
If so, then it should be avoided at all costs, because unlike alcohol, marijuana isn't as manageable. With alcohol, drinking in moderation doesn't actually cost you anything. However, with pot, as I've been told, "high is high".
If not, then perhaps the conversation surrounding marijuana should not be about the morality of the herb itself, but the restraint of the person questioning its use. Because, as I said, for every person who claims marijuana is relaxing and fun, there is another who has found it to stress them out or cause anxiety.
I have hated marijuana for most of my life. That is not an exaggeration. I have strained relationships with friends, even ended some of those friendships, over this issue. I felt so strongly about it when I was a new christian that I honestly wouldn't associate with people who considered it to be an acceptable practice. However, having gotten older and less law-driven, I have stopped allowing my disagreements to become hatred. So over the years, I have made a friend or two who "toked", and although it made me uncomfortable, I chose to love them. And you know what I found...? Other than an annoying amount of laughter and an unreasonable amount of peace, they really didn't behave in a way that concerned me.
Now, having spoken in length with dozens of people who have had experience with this drug, whether positively or negatively, I have to admit that I am even more convinced that there is quite a wide gap between the crushing control that alcohol brings to the table, and the care-free "high" that pot offers.
I'm just not convinced they are the same thing.
With that said, I have no intention of trying marijuana even once it is legal, and I don't necessarily think it is the wisest practice. But, I have enough questions where I am not sure that I can continue offering a blanket "no" when it comes to pot.
However, I would offer caution. Not everyone's experience has been harmless, and social stereotypes don't come from nowhere. It is pretty clear to anyone with eyes that an overindulgence in marijuana usage quickly turns from stress-relief into uselessness. And as many of the people who have used marijuana heavily do also use other drugs, I am not convinced that heavy smoking can't lead down dangerous roads, though it seems clear to me that it doesn't have to. If smoking leaves you anxious, or afraid, or so lethargic that you are unable to maintain your natural lifestyle, or seems to create more of an itch for you... maybe put down the roach, bro. Just a thought.
Once again, I am not a fan, and I genuinely think it is probably a better idea to just avoid it altogether. But, if you are going to occasionally partake, and it doesn't effect you in a disabling or intoxicating way... go for it bro. but be ready for the pitchforks. Cause they're coming.
I know not everyone will agree, and I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comment section below.