The case for legalizing marijuana in the US to include the increasingly popular Cannabidiol (CBD), for medical and recreational use, is growing. The primary argument for legalization stems around the increasing number of Americans who are using or addicted to stronger prescription opioids and similar addictive, pain-killing pharmaceuticals. According to a National Institute on Drug Abuse report, nearly 115 people die every day in the US alone overdosing on opioids, whether prescribed or illicit. In 2017, doctors prescribed opioid medication to nearly 58 out of every 100 US persons, placing nearly 189 million Americans on potentially addictive substances. To put that into perspective, Americans using opioid prescriptions would form the 8th most populous nation in the world, a number greater than the entire population of Russia, Mexico, Japan, or the United Kingdom. And 58 percent is already a 19 percent decrease from 2006.
According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans have tried marijuana, and 12 percent self-identify as habitual users. As of this writing, medical marijuana is legal in 31 states and the District of Columbia. Recreational marijuana use is legal in 9 states.
With all these facts, and a significant stack of anecdotal evidence that supports the popular acceptance, legalization, and use of marijuana and cannabis in the US, how should we as Christians respond?
To get that answer, we have to ask the right question. Cannabis or marijuana in pure, medicinal form and when used for approved purposes under the close control of a prescribing physician, is no different than the currently accepted use of other approved drugs in these United States. The side effects of cannabidiol include dry mouth, low blood pressure, light headedness and drowsiness. Cannabis is not recommended for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant because of the lack of reliable test data.
When compared with opioids, cannabis seems benign. For example, one of the most common and accepted pain-relieving pharmaceuticals is hydrocodone with Tylenol which, according to the Mayo Clinic, can become addictive and cause liver damage, nosebleeds, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing, ulcers, jaundice, lethargy, difficulty speaking, and irregular heartbeat.
Therefore, if we eliminate social, historical, and government-induced perceptions of marijuana, and espouse fair and honest discourse, the question must be, "How should Christians respond to using any prescribed drug with potentially harmful side effects?"
Let's walk though this one step at a time. The Bible provides proof that Jesus was in favor of easing our pain. The book of Romans refers to God as the "Great Physician." In Matthew, the apostle speaks about Jesus performing miracles to heal and relieve people of pain.
"Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." (Matt 15:29-31, NIV)
Second, Christians also often give God the glory for the skill and knowledge of doctors to relieve pain. These doctors prescribe medications, such as hydrocodone when the situation merits, for pain relief. The Bible also confirms in Colossians 4:14 that one of the apostles, Luke, was himself a doctor. At least twice, once in 1 Timothy 5:23 and in Proverbs 31:6-7, the Bible references wine as an acceptable drug to deaden pain. Also, many prescription and controlled medications began as natural substances, to include penicillin for infection, digoxin for congestive heart failure and atrial flutter, and quinine to combat malaria.
Maybe the issue isn't as much with the type or strength of medication as it is with excess or abuse. We have established that the Bible supports relieving pain and the appropriate use of medicines for that purpose. We frequently credit God for providing the skill and ability of doctors to cure disease and treat pain. So the basic premise is that medicines, even drugs with the potential to cause harm, are acceptable when used appropriately and in moderation. Still, even the appropriate use of medications, whatever their origin or potential, should be guided by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians chapter 5 calls it "self-control" (v. 23) and reminds us that followers of Christ "were called to be free" (v. 13). That freedom is tempered to restrict indulgences and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit (v. 13-26). Furthermore, Paul cautions us that, while freedom in Christ makes many things acceptable, it still does not give us free reign to abuse or use in excess anything—whether food, wine, sex or medicine.
"Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Cor 6:9-12, NIV)
The Bible lumps all excesses together and we Christians should consider any excess as contrary to God's plan for us to be content in all things (Phil 4:11-13).
So the real issue for Christians is not whether or not we should support research and the possible inclusion of medical marijuana/CBD as an acceptable pain reliever; rather, how much is too much. Too much food is a sin. Too much sex is a sin. Too much money may lead to the love of money, which is a sin. Too much prayer... ok, not everything in excess is sinful (1 Thes 5:17).
According to a July 2016 Drug Enforcement Administration report, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommended as recently as June 25, 2015 that cannabis in all forms remain classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) (21 U.S.C. § 811). So pray about it and seek God's face before deciding if medical marijuana or CBD is right for you. If the Spirit leads you, be certain to partake as part of a controlled and sanctioned study, because marijuana in all forms remains illegal in these United States, and illegal for US citizens is illegal for US Christians.
– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at https://maklagesl3.wixsite.com/website under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mark-klages-04b42511/.