Should Christians Smoke Medical Marijuana?
No—It's a bad Witness
Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker), writes about pop culture for Relevant magazine and Christianity Today.
Medical marijuana is certainly helpful for people in great pain, many of whom use the drug in the same way they would use a pain reliever like codeine. The difference between codeine and cannabis is that the latter has a very distinct, largely negative image in culture—an image that carries baggage and connotations Christians must consider if they are thinking of using marijuana, even for medical reasons.
When I was in grad school, several of my colleagues smoked marijuana. I do not doubt that smoking marijuana relieved the aches and pains of my 20-something cohorts. But I wonder if "medical assistance" is the primary reason they were using it. More likely they consumed it in the way Oscar on Arrested Development did—enjoying "primo bud" under the auspices of the legal right to medical marijuana.
In California, the image of marijuana use, even for medical purposes, is mostly a joke. Pot smoking has long been associated with "slackers"—zoned out, disengaged, pleasure-seeking rebels always in search of a high. The image has even given rise to a genre of cinema: the Stoner Film. The image of those who smoke weed in these films is one of laziness, irresponsibility, and mischief.
The image of medical marijuana is not much better. Walk down the Venice or Santa Monica boardwalk in L.A. and you will be bombarded with leaflets for the dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in town. Affable hippies even call out, "Get your medical marijuana recommendation here!" The dispensaries are more like recreational amusement shops than clinics for the sick, and the overall culture is one of "Here's a sweet loophole!" partying more than anything else.
Given these connotations, Christians should be cautious about using marijuana. Marijuana is associated with vice and unseemly activity. Christians are called to be above reproach, "without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation," shining "as lights in the world" (Phil. 2:15, ESV). We are told to "not be conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2) and to "walk properly as in the daytime," avoiding sins of addiction such as drinking and partying (Rom. 13:13). In 1 Peter 2:11-12, Peter urges Christians to "abstain from the passions of the flesh" and to keep their conduct honorable, so unbelievers "may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
The issue is not the relative danger of marijuana itself; it is about witness. If Christians use marijuana as a medical aid, it should be done in a quiet, private manner, without flaunting. Christians must be mindful of pot's controversial and hazardous reputation in culture, and be sensitive to the perspectives of both other Christians and unbelieving observers. Christians should take note of the food offered to idols issue in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and strive to abstain from arguably innocuous activities that are nevertheless contested in culture. It is not worth offending or making someone stumble.
Not unless proven …
Dónal O'Mathúna cowrote Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook (Zondervan) and teaches ethics at Dublin City University's School of Nursing.
In most jurisdictions, smoking marijuana, even for medical reasons, is illegal. Christians are called to submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7). Breaking the law can be justified sometimes, most obviously when we must choose between obeying God or the government (Acts 5:29). This does not apply here; Christians should obey laws that prohibit medical marijuana.