by John Ellis
Does the recreational use of marijuana fall under Christian liberty?
That’s a question that’s being asked with increased frequency, and a question that will most likely cease to be abstract for churches in the near future. Jeff Sessions isn’t going to be Attorney General forever. Once he’s gone, the winds appear to be blowin’ strongly in the direction of the federal government’s legalization of the recreational use of marijuana. At that point, the above question will no longer be able to be placed under the interpretive authority of Romans 13:1.
So, what is the answer to the above question if and when the government’s prohibition of the recreational use of marijuana is lifted?
This is a question that churches need to be working through, especially those churches that practice church discipline and/or have a church covenant. I’m not sure that it’s enough to have a blanket statement of holiness included in the church covenant. More will probably be needed than simply asserting that the recreational use of marijuana does not fall under Christian liberty. The leadership of churches may need to prayerfully work through a position statement or, at the least, know what they believe the answer to that question is and why.
Churches and pastors that hold to a teetotaling position about alcohol because they believe that the use of alcohol is off limits for Christians are going to have an easier time dealing with this issue. For the record, I don’t believe that “easier time” is a justification for holding to such a strict position regarding alcohol. But my purpose here is not to convince anyone that it’s okay to drink beer.
However, for churches that believe that drinking alcoholic beverages is not prohibited by Scriptures the discussion about the recreational use of marijuana is going to require a little more thought.
By way of introduction for readers who are unfamiliar with me, I was raised by a fundamentalist Baptist pastor father and a Christian schoolteacher mother. Rejecting the God of my parents, I entered adulthood as an atheist and soon embraced the drug culture. By the time my twenties were coming to a close, I was dealing drugs while smoking weed morning, noon, and night. Not long after God saved me from my sins, I worked as a lead facilitator in a substance awareness program targeting 8th graders. By God’s grace, I now serve my church as an Elder (a pastor). So, there’s not a single point within this discussion that I have not had nor do not currently have a personal stake in. I’ve smoked weed, dealt weed, struggled with the question as an immature Christian, taught teenagers about weed, and now as an Elder am tasked with thinking through issues like this as I seek to serve my church family and help them grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
All that to say that this is not an academic discussion for me, nor is it a discussion that at any point I lack first-hand experience and knowledge.
To begin with, the question of how Christians should view getting drunk needs to be dealt with.
The Bible is quite clear on this point – drunkenness is prohibited. In fact, Yahweh spoke so negatively to His covenant people about drunkenness that the rebellious young man who is to be stoned to death in Deuteronomy 21:18-21 has being “a drunkard” listed as one of his offenses.
The Bible’s prohibition against drunkenness is continued in the New Testament.
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery (Ephesians 5:18).”
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy drunkenness, orgies, and things like these I warn you, as I warned you beforehand, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).”
Having had this conversation before, this is the point where lovers of weed jump in and protest that getting high isn’t the same thing as getting drunk. Except those who retort that getting drunk from alcohol and getting high from marijuana are two different things are demanding a slavish and strict adherence to tightly constructed definitions that would render human communication almost impossible; things like relationship and context would be jettisoned.
Of course, getting high and getting drunk are different. But so is getting high from LSD and getting high from heroin. Just like a chihuahua is different from a Great Dane. The question isn’t about the differences. The question is about the similarities. And, like chihuahuas and Great Danes, getting high from weed and getting drunk from alcohol contain more than enough overlap to be placed under an umbrella relational term. So, like how chihuahuas and Great Danes are both dogs, getting high and getting drunk both fit under the Bible’s definition of “drunkenness.”
For one thing, the ancients didn’t have separate categories that parsed out the differences in how substances affected the brain synapses. In fact, much of the alcohol of ancient times (and really leading up to the German beer purity law of 1516) contained hallucinogenic ingredients. Like “magic” mushrooms, for example. The Bible’s prohibitions against drunkenness also prohibited getting high if someone insists on keeping the two modern terms separate.
But that distinction is non-sensical and dishonest. Yes, getting drunk and getting high are essentially the same thing, especially in the context of the Bible’s prohibitions against it. And that’s not to deny the different responses users have to both substances. For example, I loved the high from marijuana, but have never enjoyed the “high” from alcohol. I loved the high from MDMA (ecstasy, molly) but did not enjoy the high from cocaine. The point is that the user’s experience does not determine the umbrella term and definition. Getting high from marijuana falls under the Bible’s prohibition against drunkenness.
That raises the next question – is it okay to smoke moderate amounts of weed? You know, similar to how many Christians believe that it’s okay to drink a moderate amount of alcohol.
Well, that question is nonsensical because it’s virtually impossible to smoke a moderate amount of marijuana in the way that it’s possible to drink a moderate amount of alcohol.
Assuming that the Bible prohibits drunkenness (and I don’t just assume it, the Bible clearly forbids drunkenness), it’s possible to enjoy alcohol without getting drunk. I know this from my training, and I know this from experience.
Assuming normal physiology, the ABV (alcohol by volume), the amount of time in which the alcohol was consumed, and the weight of the drinker all play into determining if the person becomes inebriated or not (these are not the only variables, but they’re generally the most important). Using most blood alcohol level studies and tables, at my weight I need to have four drinks over the space of an hour before being considered drunk according to most state’s DUI laws. For someone 120 pounds or less, it only takes three drinks. And keep in mind that most adults 120 pounds or less are females, and females metabolize alcohol differently than men. Most likely, those three drinks shrink to two when discussing females.
(note – keep in mind that the abv for most craft beer is about 2-3% higher than what these studies and tables use to determine what constitutes one serving of beer.)
Now, I want to be clear (very clear), I am not advocating that males drink four drinks over the space of an hour (in fact, I would strongly counsel against it). Nor do I believe that DUI laws should serve as our standard for what constitutes drunkenness (our DUI laws are too lax). My point is that a couple of drinks over the course of a couple of hours will not make an average sized adult drunk, assuming normal physiology.
Try smoking two joints. Or just one. Make that a half of a joint and see what happens. In fact, it only takes two drags to get high, three at the most. That’s not even half of a joint.
Here’s the thing. No one recreationally uses marijuana for any other reason than to get high. Anyone who claims otherwise is either really high and didn’t hear the question, or they’re lying. And those who claim that they recreationally ingest marijuana for the flavor are lying, too. At best, they’re telling a half-lie. You see, the “better tasting” the weed, the more potent it is, which means that the high arrives quicker and is better. What we called “brick swag,” which was dried out weed filled with stems and seeds, did not taste very well and it took more of it to get a person high. But no one who uses marijuana wants brick swag (or whatever the current nickname for cheap, dried out weed is). Not to mention that marijuana in 2018 is generally “better” (translation – more potent) than the marijuana I used to sell and smoke.
To summarize, the Bible prohibits drunkenness and there is zero reason to recreationally use marijuana for any other reason than to get high. Because of that, I believe that it is pretty obvious that using marijuana recreationally is a violation of God’s holy standard.