Ganja Love
Pot's new legality lights up a pastoral dilemma.

Any Christians out there want to puff some heady nuggets? Don't worry, we'll toke in moderation.

Let's score some of that sticky, stinky, skunky, outdoor, organic Kush and spark one up! Can't afford 50 bucks an eighth? No prob. We'll get some brick schwag and a Big Bambu to twist a fat cone the size of Jamacia. (Hold the beaners, though; ain't nobody got time for that.)

Yes, friends, Green Ganja and our beloved Red White & Blue went public with their scandalous relationship in the late 60s. Since then, they have become increasingly more affectionate as bffs. And in less time than you think, Uncle Sam and Mary Jane will post a proud new relationship status for all the world to see; THC-PDA, here we come! Full legalization will likely happen in your lifetime, and with it emerges an epic ethical dilemma that few Christian leaders are prepared for.

So far, the dope-smoking discussion has been super easy for all U.S. pastors, whether they do or do not condone alcohol consumption. The law deals us a moral trump card every time:

"Pastor, pastor! Why can't I pass the spliff?" says the red-eyed brother in Christ. "My illegal reefer is not nearly as bad as your legal hooch."

"Obey the law of the land, son," pastor says. "Like it or not, God calls us to obey our authorities. The hooch is legal; the marijuana cigarettes are not."

Conversation over! "Well played, Mr. Genius," I say to myself. And there's still plenty of time for my jonesin' friend and I to recap Aaron Rodgers' highlights from the last Packer game.

But what happens when weed is legal? On what grounds would we forbid its use, especially if we believe that moderate alcohol consumption is legit?

(Note: If you are of the persuasion that alcohol ought to be avoided, then the legalization of marijuana presents no formidable challenge to you. If, on the other hand, you've been one to say that drinking is an OK, even positive, activity in some circumstances, then, ethically, you have some fancy footwork to start practicing.)

By early spring 2014, pastors in Washington and Colorado will lose their trump card altogether. On last year's election day, Washington and Colorado voters spoke loud and clear, saying, "We want the dope smoking. We love the ganja!" By December 1, this year, Washington producers will be legally licensed to grow herb for recreational use, and you can bet your life that the indoor-hydro guys will be cranking those sodium halides day and night for about three months, until the winter snow starts to melt and their "first" sticky buds are vacuum packed and priced to sell.

October 12, 2013

Displaying 1–10 of 11 comments

Tedd Holbrook

November 11, 2013  4:49pm

Several people have commented saying that "nobody" one who smokes pot does so in moderation. This seems to me to be a generalization and even if it is true may not be true in the future when marijuana is legalized (I figure it will be legalized). I think we need to be careful when making loaded statements like that unless we have the facts to back them. And if there are facts to back them I will take back everything I just said. Marijuana is a difficult issue and for me I see it again as an issue of moderation and self-control. Drugs can easily become idols so do we want to expose ourselves to something like marijuana which could become addictive due to the high it produces? Is there a need for marijuana? What are the benefits and are the benefits worth the possible consequences? All of these are questions a believer should ask before becoming accepting of marijuana use.

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bil_

October 23, 2013  11:59pm

I've been thinking about this for several years as the cultural writing has been on the wall. Since I'm not a teetotaler, but believe in scriptures admonition about drunkenness, this is where I draw the line, and encourage others to consider the same. This leaves the issue of Christian liberty up to those who are in relationship and directly accountable to Jesus Christ. Can I advise others? You bet. Are they ultimately accountable to me? I don't believe so. I've heard some of the arguments about "profitability, sacrificial love for neighbors, and so forth," but where is the end of THAT line drawn? It seems to me to take that as the final matter you must live a legalistic life of purity that is above all others. I mean, who knows what you may do on any given day to cause a brother or sister to stumble? Or what if legalism and self-righteousness is their failure? I only know One who has managed the perfect life, and He did it for all of us. Should we sin all the more? No way! But grace, truth, and love must prevail, not legalism. I have had to contend with this issue already with someone using for "medical purposes" but it breaks down when you explore why a medication with THC isn't sufficient for the same purpose. The question I always come back to is this: can you remain sober? Most admit they can't...or don't want to...and that is a heart issue, not a medical one. Lastly, as to drug use, some of the most "drunk" people I've dealt with in a pastoral/counseling setting are folks who are on a cocktail of legal prescription drugs. Where does that fit into the mechanism of "profitability, sacrificial love for neighbors, and so forth?" Are we to all abstain from prescriptions? I appreciate the article, and the conversation.

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Rob

October 20, 2013  9:25pm

Was I the only one disappointed this wasn't going to be a continued metaphor for cell phones?

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Leonard

October 15, 2013  8:20am

Ben, Thanks for your thoughts on this matter. You are right on in that there is much coming our way we must be prepared to discuss. I think the history of faith in my lifetime has been to shout down what ever issue has come across our moral radar until the wall is large enough to divide a lot of people. I also believe that even the whisper of the Christian, when going against culture, is magnified to sound like shouting by the media. (not that we don't shout) The church was not prepared to discuss music, alcohol, sexuality, homosexuality, abortion and most recently same sex marriage. All the while the church has let slide some other issues like the accumulation of stuff, greed, indifference to the lost, sloppiness with scripture, lack of prayer, homelessness, violence, sex trafficking, hunger, preventable disease and more. We have left many of these issues in the hands of government or media and this never serves people or the kingdom as God intended. To discuss pot well requires us to be aware, gracious and in relationships. These are not the words that come to mind when people talk about the church. Aware - we are peddling outdated information about an ancient faith. Many of my christian friends keep posting on Facebook the spoof request to uncheck boxes because Facebook has changed... How in the world would anyone check real time information on the use of Pot? We just do not apply ourselves this way in the church. Let the pastor do it is our pattern. Gracious - To be gracious one must learn to love sinners and hate our own sin. To love a sinner and hate their sin is to hate the sinner, unless of course you are Jesus and plan to become sin on their behalf. I think (my own opinion) that many christians are afraid to be gracious in that they will lose leverage in a situation or be taken advantage of by someone. Grace tends to erase lines that are drawn by sin and brokenness and replaces them with kindness and forgiveness. This is frightening for me - especially since giving grace requires me to let go of my pride and prejudice. In Relationship - Sometimes I wonder what the church would be like if we were simply better at making disciples. If we were more open to others, if we didn't schedule our compassion to others like an event that happens once a year in Mexico and every first thursday at the mission and on tuesday nights when we have our small group. What would happen if we said, "I am my brothers keeper" and then "kept" our brother. Would we be discussing this in the same way? Would more people be free from addiction or maybe not even started? Would we have a better reputation that that of shouting morals to people who already know they have failed? I think the issue must be dealt with in scripture by pointing people to the stewardship we have with others - A main point in the not everything is profitable discussion. We need to, in the context of relationship point people to freedom and then teach them how to use that freedom. We need to show people how to live better lives through keeping in step with the Spirit than alcohol or pot can offer. For Crying out loud, we have the image of God stamped on our very being, lets not settle for intoxication, rather for an amazing life filled with God's Spirit.

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sheerahkahn

October 14, 2013  6:42pm

"For example, the alcohol we drink – which is ethanol – is converted by enzymes in our stomachs into a toxic chemical called acetaldehydye that your liver must deal with it, converting it to acetate (like vinegar)." But there is one more step, Ben. The acetate is broken further down into...H20, and CO2...both of which the body can process and remove...the caveat being...over time. health wise, then, this becomes an issue of dosage, and concentration in the body, and the body's ability to clear said chemicals. Granted, I do concede the point that people engaged in heavy drinking or pot use are not really to concerned with the science at all...but for me, I'm usually caught up in the biology and chemistry of these things...so lets change tack back to where...and correct me if I'm wrong, you are going with this: I think that that these two addiction issues of alcohol or pot usage (I'm talking about over-use...as in the individual cannot function without self-medicating first) is indicative of deeper issues...thus...the two aforementioned items become the "crutch" for the individual to move forward through their day and be "normal" as much as possible without exhibiting their inner wreckage to everyone to see and judge. It's a tough situation to be in, but I think, and this is just my own personal opinion, that if an individual is seeking help...the best thing to do if the pastor feels a bit "out of his league" is to be the individuals cheerleader/encourager as they do seek help from a medical doctor/counselor. I often heard and read (yeah, I know, anecdotal evidence, so take it for what it's worth) that the individual just needs someone there who cares enough to talk them through the hard times. Anyway, trying to keep the discussion on track, and I'm assuming that is the thrust of your point...is care for the individual...but it's good to know the science behind the topic. I wish you the best...going to be tough engaging in this...even with the moderate users (yes, there are moderate users...again, anecdotal evidence), and I suspect a whole ton of patience, too.

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Ben Tertin

October 14, 2013  12:54pm

Thank you for the thoughtful comments, everyone. Regarding the first commenter's discussion on the realities of smoking, I would add that the list of high-end scientific terms used to describe the realities of drinking are also quite compelling. For example, the alcohol we drink – which is ethanol – is converted by enzymes in our stomachs into a toxic chemical called acetaldehydye that your liver must deal with it, converting it to acetate (like vinegar). Alcohol necessarily causes irritation of the stomach lining, and because it is a vasodilator, it opens blood vessels and causes irregular or rapid heart beating. This is why you sometimes get rosy cheeks when drinking. It significantly diminishes your immune system. It suppresses the hormone vasopressin, which leads to dehydration. I won't get into all of the brain-killing and neurotransmitter-dulling effects it has, but the interesting language gets awesome there, as well. My point is not that you are wrong. It is simply that to say the body "clears" alcohol in six hours but smoking is exponentially worse might be an unbalanced approach. If we're going to talk about the scientific effects of smoking, let's do the same with booze. To the charge that smoking weed is impossible to do in moderation, I cannot really fight back. I think you're probably on the right track. But I also think that this impression may be the result of our cultural upbringing more than the realities of the drugs in question. I have a friend who was just released from a 7-year stint in maximum security prison, and she says that the Sunday morning communion table wine produces a significant effect for her. Having been 100 percent clean for that long means that the dosage and tolerance levels are different in her. If you drink in moderation (which, btw, to the first commenter, is not likely understood by some people to be one beer every six hours) with some frequency, it is likely that alcohol affects you differently, increasing the amount of booze you need to ingest before you cross the "intoxication" threshold. The same is certainly true for the other angle, and if we're going to minister to people who will be smoking legal marijuana in the near future, I am only saying that it may not suffice to say, "Your weed is way worse than my beer. I can drink in moderation, but it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to do what you do responsibly." I suppose that may work in some places, but for any pastors out there who will be working with people who smoke pot with some frequency, that argument will not (especially if you start dropping scientific terms that could be used to describe the smoke of bus exhaust, a campfire, burning incense, etc.). If we are going to get ahead of this thing, rather than getting blindsided two years after legalization has gone through, we need to stop making arguments based on "intoxication levels," or "where the line is" regarding ingesting chemicals into our bodies. I am arguing that the pastoral conversation needs to be located firmly within guidance along the lines of profitability, sacrificial love for neighbors, and so forth. We will make little headway otherwise and and may end up embracing foolishness in the name of "the norm" or "our own experience."

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Richard C Klueg

October 14, 2013  9:35am

Great article, Ben. The objections noted by Curt and Mark do not actually speak to the point, which is that pot users will use the same arguments that Christian drinkers use, including the "moderation" plea. Whatever the reality, I have had pot users tell me with a straight face that they are more aware, mentally sharper, and better drivers when they are on pot. So the "drunkenness" argument will not work with them. I believe that we need to consider the possibility that the prevailing stubborn insistence on demanding "Christian liberty" with alcohol use is going to bring upon us even more negative consequences than it already has.

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elegance

October 14, 2013  8:49am

"...breaking an addiction doesn't just happen in two hours. It takes days, weeks, months, years, decades...even a life-time". Sheer, I beg to differ. My husband was delivered of years of cigarette addiction (3 packs per day) in an instant miracle. He has not touched a cigarette in well over 30 years. I believe deliverance from any addiction is first and foremost a condition of the heart. If a Christian is seeking to justify a questionable activity ( a stumbling block to themself or others) rather than to gain deliverance from it, it is unlikely that they really love the Lord. God isn't interested delivering people who don't want it.

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Mark Gomez

October 14, 2013  8:24am

Ben, you certainly have all of the lingo down, as well as the currently argued details. But the devil is in the details. The one obvious thing that you disregarded was, as Curt has written, nobody smokes pot in moderation. Apart from medical uses, which are questionable in the first place, nobody smokes pot in moderation. The only reason the mass majority of potheads smoke pot is to get high. So the first scripture verse that directly applies in this discussion would be... Ephesians 5:18 "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit," Nobody I know is going to spend the money on pot and not get high, there is no other reason for it. C'mon pastor, this is just not that hard.

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Curt Parton

October 13, 2013  1:43pm

Ben, this was creative, but I think you're missing a big difference between the use of alcohol and marijauna. I know a lot of people who enjoy a glass or two of wine or beer with a meal with no desire or intention of becoming intoxicated. I've never known anyone who smoked pot regularly who didn't desire and intend to get stoned (including myself back in the day). The idea of a casual joint with a meal is just not a natural one. Maybe I'm missing something, but the actual smoking experience was never what it was primarily about. It was about the high. Sure, getting high with others–-but getting high. But–-for some–-one glass of wine or beer can be enjoyable in and of itself. The first question for me is: Is the moderate use of pot without the desire and intention of getting high even a realistic option? When people have asked me about pot (I'm now a pastor), this is what I discuss with them. I've never had even one person suggest that they might actually use pot in this kind of moderation.

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