Three years ago, "Mike"—a 20-year-old newcomer to the faith—stepped into my church office. He sat down on my office couch, distressed.
"What's going on, man?" I asked. The fact that he was hiding something couldn't have been more obvious.
"Well," he muttered. "Umm … I've been smoking too much pot lately."
"Just 'too much'?" I asked with a wry, confident smile. "Listen, friend, any pot smoking is too much pot smoking. It is illegal, after all."
"Actually," he said, "it's not illegal for me. I've got my medical marijuana card."
Uh-oh, I thought.
Sure enough: he was legal. He had come by the "license to toke" fairly. He didn't lie or exaggerate to get it. We have newspapers in Portland printing advertisements from doctors: "Headaches? Nausea? Pain? Come get your prescription!" I could get a prescription if I wanted one. Two blocks from our church's sanctuary is a lucrative legal pot dispensary. There are at least a dozen more within a five mile radius.
"Just say no!" was powerless sloganeering for this fellow, especially when he could easily point to Christian drinkers. Without the "obey the law" fallback, what was left?
"Well, just because it's legal," I said, "does not mean it's profitable."
Based on new public opinion stats from Gallup, opinions about marijuana use are changing. For the first time in U.S. history, the morality scales now tip in favor of legalization. More than 58 percent of people now favor it.
If you're a Washington or Colorado pastor, you can already legally fire up a reefer at your next staff retreat. By December 1 of this year, Washington producers will be legally licensed to grow marijuana for recreational use. You can bet your life that the indoor-hydro guys will be cranking those sodium halide grow lights day and night for about three months, until the winter snows melt and their "first" legal buds are vacuum packed and priced to sell. Based on the polls, it won't be long before other states—and eventually the federal government—will follow suit.
Growing up in the 8,000-person town of Burlington, Wisconsin, I learned just how against-the-law pot can be. I've had no trouble pointing to penal terms and state statutes for herbal debates in the past. It's been a sweet moral trump card for pastors. When a red-eyed brother in Christ asks how pot is different from other substances—like alcohol—"Obey the law of the land, son," the pastor says. "Like it or not, God calls us to obey our authorities. Hooch is legal; the marijuana cigarettes are not."
But the trump card is gone for many of us. Likely for all of us soon. For our neighbors and church members, there will be no more need to stash baggies above ceiling tiles to keep them hidden from mom. No more secret lingo, "420" rendezvous, or clandestine hook-ups with Mary Jane. It's possible to imagine the host of your next home community meeting happily setting a jar of pot and a glass pipe next to the bottle of merlot on the refreshments table.
So what are you going to say when the issue gets personal? Should hip pastors spark a bowl with the lost to be "incarnational"? More importantly, are we ready to intelligently discuss recreational pot use with our youth, young adults, parents, and singles? Even more importantly, can we talk about it without oversimplification?