The Believer’s Response to Legalized Marijuana

The world continuously increases in iniquity. All about us the ungodly rush with unbridled lusts to fill the cup of iniquity. A significant power for unbridling restraints on man’s lusts has been legalized in Canada and ten states in the United States. That power is marijuana.
Marijuana is the product of the cannabis plant that contains the “mind-altering” chemical THC. Marijuana can be smoked, brewed in a tea, mixed into foods, and inhaled with a vaporizer (vaping). For many decades, governments have outlawed the substance because of the proven ill effects on the human body, particularly the brain. The US Federal government has not lifted its ban on marijuana. However, ten states have followed the lead of Colorado, which collected over $500 million in taxes on this substance since 2013. Canada’s government approved the sale of marijuana, and it is obvious what the future holds for the rest of the USA.
The result is that the great majority of Protestant Reformed youth has access to marijuana legally, at least when they turn 21.
This in turn leads to a serious ethical question. How ought the believer to respond to this newly legalized substance?
In answering this question, it must first be noted that the laws of the government are not the moral or spiritual guides for the Christian. If these laws were our guides, we would freely shop on Sunday, gamble, divorce for any reason and marry again, and kill the unborn baby through abortion. Rather, the believer looks to the Bible for right standards and rejects all these activities. On the face of it, then, that the government makes marijuana legal does not make it morally correct to partake of it.
Second, a thinking Christian will have serious concerns about marijuana. As noted, credible studies demonstrate marijuana’s negative effect on the human brain. It impairs memory and focus and reduces attention span. According to the Canadian Medical Association, “Studies have shown that the use of marijuana by adolescents produces bigger deficits and impairment in executive functioning, verbal IQ, learning and memory.”
But that is not all. Marijuana seriously impairs good judgment in daily activity like driving or working. It also lowers inhibitions against sinful actions.
These raise serious spiritual concerns. The Reformed believer knows well that the Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of the sixth commandment (thou shalt not kill) includes this prohibition, “that I hurt not myself, nor willfully expose myself to any danger.” In addition, the scriptures, starting with Noah after the flood, frequently warn against drinking wine in excess. If the Bible condemns drunkenness from wine and strong drink, it surely condemns getting “high” from a drug. Drunkenness leads a man into bondage to wine and into sinful living, especially sexual sins. The same is true for marijuana. Smoking marijuana can bring one into serious bondage to the drug itself (addiction), leading also to the use of stronger drugs when the “high” produced by marijuana no longer satisfies.
I urge parents and youth to be informed on these real and dangerous effects of marijuana. Parents should also be aware that the marijuana of today is ten times more potent than that which the hippies smoked in the 1960s.
But I still envision that the legalization of marijuana will lead to problems. Some members of the PRC (and other Reformed churches) will yield to the temptation to experiment with this drug. Some will continue to use it. Consistories will face the question, Ought we to discipline members for using marijuana?
Parents will deal with this in rearing their teenage children, even as they now do with alcohol. Ministers must prayerfully consider whether or how to address it in the preaching. And surely our schools will deal with the serious effects of marijuana.
Perhaps one might say, why not simply forbid marijuana and discipline those who use it? The problem is that many of the physical and spiritual concerns raised about marijuana can be rightly raised about cigarettes and alcohol. These can have very negative effects on the body, can impair judgment, and have serious spiritual implications. Can a parent (or minister or elder) who smokes cigarettes in all honesty declare to a youth that it is a sin to use marijuana because it damages the body? Can the parent who drinks wine at his social gatherings condemn the use of marijuana to his 21-year-old son? Is it so for the minister, in order to be consistent when preaching on the sixth commandment, that if he will condemn the use of marijuana, he must also take the position that all use of cigarettes and alcohol is sin?
One can make the case—indeed, a strong case—that marijuana has worse effects on the body than the moderate use of cigarettes or alcohol. But the reality is, youth are quick to seize on inconsistencies (real or perceived) in the lives of authority figures in order to justify what they desire to do.
I suggest that adults ought to take a serious look at their possible addiction to cigarettes, for addiction is sin. And they should ask whether alcohol is becoming far too important in their social gatherings.
But, again we ask, without condemning the smoking of even one cigarette as sin and all drinking of wine as sin, what should be the believer’s response to the legalization of marijuana?
It is good to remind ourselves that we have been called by God to be a holy people. We are not of the world. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world, seeking to live the antithetical life of thankful obedience to God.
In reality, as one thinks about the possibility of using this drug, the key question is, “What is my motivation? Why smoke marijuana?”
Now to be sure, a man thinking about taking a glass of wine must face the same question—Why? If the answer is something like, I want to become drunk or “high” to some degree, or, I want to forget my troubles and enjoy the feeling—then the motivation is entirely wrong. It is sin.
On the other hand, a believer (of a legal age) can enjoy wine with a proper motivation. If a believer enjoys wine as a good gift from the hand of God (Psa. 104:15) while also enjoying the food from his hand and the fellowship of the saints, this partaking is entirely legitimate. For he receives wine as a good creature of God, sanctified by prayer and the word (1 Tim. 4:4–5). He drinks the wine that makes glad the heart not because the fellowship of the saints depends on the wine, but rather because a moderate amount of wine can increase the joy of the fellowship.
In contrast with the proper use of wine, using marijuana (not medical) has one goal—to experience the feeling of being “high.” Wine, wrongly used, that is, not sanctified by the word and prayer, can lead to impaired judgment and sinful activity. However, with the use of marijuana, impaired judgment is certain. One other thing. Marijuana does not increase the joy of fellowship. On the contrary, it ordinarily puts the one who uses it into his own little world, cutting off good conversation, much less sanctified conversation.
What is my motivation? This is the question that covenant youth must face as they consider this new possibility, this new temptation.
The world increases in iniquity constantly. Jesus warned us that this would be the case in the last days– “iniquity shall abound” (Matt. 24:12). The world, spurred on by the devil and his host, continually develop and promote new ways of breaking God’s law. Christian youth are particularly the target of Satan’s efforts. Marijuana is not much of a temptation to me, and I do not expect that I will ever enter a social gathering of my peers and be offered marijuana. The same cannot be said of my grandchildren. They will almost certainly face the temptation. This raises the obvious point – who are your friends? Godly friends will help you avoid and reject the use of marijuana.
Nonetheless, as iniquity abounds, covenant youth will need wisdom and courage to reject the sinful pleasures offered them. Receive the good creatures of God that may be received, that is, that which can be sanctified by the word of God and prayer. And keep before you the truth that our Savior gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works (Tit. 2:14).
Redeemed from all iniquity. Amazing!
May God give us wisdom.