Written by Ruth,
I’ve recently introduced my husband to a frightening documentary which told of a society in which a giant corporation had purchased multiple government agencies and thus was able to convince the people to subsist solely on this corporation’s manufactured product. Believing that water was fit only for their toilets, the citizens of future America poisoned themselves and everything else by replacing water with Brawndo, “The Thirst Mutilator.” Fortunately, a man who had been placed – and abandoned – in suspended animation five-hundred years prior suddenly awoke and managed to convince the citizens to water their crops with…well, water…and the people were saved from starvation.
I am, of course, referring to the 2006 film Idiocracy. While watching it, one can’t help but chuckle and wonder what kind of IDIOTS would ever believe that they should replace all-natural water with a sports drink that happens to own the FDA, the FCC, and the USDA. And yet here we are in a country in which the National Guard and State Police raid little old grannies with a helicopter in order to seize her single medicinal plant. A country in which Americans don’t think twice before washing down their prescription pills with a Miller Light, or five, but haul out the pitchforks over their pot-smoking neighbors. It’s a country in which doctors routinely over-prescribe opioids and set their patients on the path to heroin addiction. A country in which our police systematically hunt and destroy plants which not too long ago were valued for their many industrial and medicinal uses. A country with an astronomical incarceration rate because it sentences men and women to prison for nonviolent, victimless crimes.
It’s not difficult to imagine the idiots of future America making the argument: “I believe what the government is saying about water. I’ve seen the dangers of water firsthand and I’ve heard horror stories involving water. Not only do scores of people drown in water, but I’ve even heard of people who have died from drinking too much water. If water is too hot, it can scald you or boil the flesh off your bones. If it’s too cold, you could get hypothermia and freeze to death. Also, a lot of water is teeming with toxic chemicals and dangerous microbes. It is better not to take the risk. Also, a lot of people have abused water – they use WAY more than they actually need. Some people even use it just for fun and invent new ways of using it, like scuba diving and water skiing, frittering away their time and their money on this liquid death.”
“But, Ruth, people need water to survive. Our bodies are made of mostly water. We will actually die if we do not have water. Your analogy is stupid.”
To that I would respond: we all actually also need cannabinoids, and for some people an external source of cannabinoids is the difference between life and death. They can shrink tumors and fight cancer; they can effectively treat epilepsy and alzheimers. For many others, cannabinoids are the difference between thriving and merely existing. They ease chronic pain, they stimulate the appetite and help the ill to consume the energy they require to fight their illness, and they ameliorate anxiety and depression. What is stupid is to be afraid of a substance and ignore its beneficial uses because some people have abused it, or because the idea of smoking a medication seems wrong to you, or because it has intoxicating effects.
“But It’s a Sin to Become Intoxicated”
It is a sin to become “intoxicated” for the sole purpose of being “intoxicated,” unless by “intoxication” we mean pain relief or an elevation of mood for the depressive or an easing of anxiety for the anxious. For some, such as those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, that “intoxication” is therapeutic, and it isn’t any more sinful to be “intoxicated” in this way than it is to be “intoxicated” from taking prescription antidepressants or anxiolytics. For others, that “intoxication” is a side effect of their medicine, and it isn’t any more sinful than being “intoxicated” from taking prescription opioids as directed. As the pill bottles warn, “Do not drive, operate heavy machinery, or do other dangerous activities until you know how this medication affects you.” The same principle applies to cannabis.
As with any drug, there are pros and cons to using cannabis which must be weighed by each individual. As we do with many other medications our doctors prescribe, we have to first try a drug to see how it affects us – whether or not we feel it is beneficial in treating the ailment it was prescribed to treat, and whether those benefits outweigh any negative side effects.
And in a market saturated with medications offering such potential side effects as hallucinations, “overpowering urges,” an inability to control bowel movements, benign or malignant liver tumors, fatal bleeding, dizziness, lightheadedness, coma, nausea or vomiting, seizures, severe pain, paralysis, massive weight gain, stroke, depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, and death, just to name a few, cannabis emerges as a natural and viable alternative. It also happens to be far less addictive than prescription opioids and has a much higher safety profile than even Tylenol.
Yet many well-meaning Christians insist on applying a unique set of standards to cannabis which define any use as “abuse” and which define experiencing the effects of cannabis, no matter how mildly or medicinally, as “intoxication.” This is based on a belief that any use of this particular plant is disordered, wrong, or “sinful” in and of itself. But then perhaps drinking coffee is sinful because we want to feel the effects of caffeine, just as it is sinful to drink a glass of wine to feel its relaxing effects, as Mormons believe. Perhaps taking ibuprofen to feel its pain relieving effects is sinful, as is taking Benadryl or NyQuil as a sleep aid.
On the contrary, I don’t believe it is inherently sinful to responsibly use a substance in order to feel relaxed or alert or to lessen physical pain. If that is really what we believe, then we’ve falen into gnosticism.
Some early and medieval Christian ascetics, in fact, believed it was sinful to seek pleasure or comfort from food or drink, and so they starved themselves or ate unappetizing food, and only what was enough to sustain them. Some also wore hairshirts in order to cause themselves constant discomfort. And of course, they abstained from marriage and therefore any sexual contact. Do you believe it is wrong to guzzle your water or eat beyond what you actually need, to enjoy a steak or ice cream, or to wear comfortable clothes and a good pair of running shoes? If not, then stop pretending to be the ascetic you’re not. Admit that you believe God created some things for our enjoyment and some things to improve our lives.
Just as we do, or ought to do, with everything else, it makes more sense to work to discover the properly ordered use of cannabis than to condemn it altogether. And I honestly do not believe that I am arguing for Christians to figure out how to properly-order something that is inherently disordered, such as homosexual sex or transgenderism, greed or wrath, envy or vanity, gluttony, lust, pride, or idolatry. I’m not talking about squaring a circle or inventing my own morality and my own god.
In my most recent post, I argued that in general, cannabis use isn’t “bad” or “sinful” in and of itself, and that a Christian may use cannabis with a clean conscience. Drawing from several biblical passages and, I hope, staying true to their intent, I argued that cannabis is essentially “good,” as it is part of God’s creation. It seems obvious to me that, like all other plants and animals, God placed cannabis under the dominion of mankind, to use according to our discretion.
Because cannabis isn’t poisonous and is extremely safe to use – rather, it possesses the ability to confer a multitude of benefits upon the user – precisely because it works in conjunction with the mammalian endogenous cannabinoid system, we can infer that God intended cannabis for human (and even animal) consumption.
At the same time, however, I pointed out that cannabis use for the Christian can be sinful if it is offensive to other believers and causes them to sin, or if it gets in the way of attracting converts to Christ (1 Cor 10:23-33). It is also sinful to use cannabis if the user is acting against his own conscience in using it: if he believes it is a sin to use it and uses it anyway, then he sins in his heart (Rom 14:14-23).
Cannabis and the Law of the State
Given the above understanding of scripture, must we conclude that in a state where cannabis is still illegal, a Christian should probably not be using cannabis – not because the law in particular is good, but because it is sinful to risk the scandal of being arrested for possession? I would not go so far as to say that the law ought to be obeyed because it was instituted by authorities which have been appointed by God (Rom 13:1-7). As Dr. Norman Horn of the Libertarian Christian Institute has written in his article “New Testament Theology of the State,”
Submission to civil government, then, is always qualified. The command is …