US Christians confused over legalisation of cannabis
SPROUTING up, as it were, in my neck of the wood are an increasing number of “grow shops”, psychedelically decorated outlets offering an astonishing variety of cannabis seeds and all the products one needs grow either a solitary plant among your geraniums – or start an entire plantation.
Being a curious cove who was once an ardent supporter of the Legalise Cannabis Campaign in the UK (now CLEAR) I went into one this week to ask in my best Spanglish what the legal situation is in Spain.
The fella serving in this emporium explained that it was legal to cultivate the stuff for personal use. I then discovered that one can easily buy seeds on the Internet from companies such as Sensi Seeds, which combines its business with a top class news blog.
Believing this would make for an interesting for an interesting feature for one of the many English newspapers on the Costa Blanca, I began to do some research – and within seconds discovered a strong religious dimensions to the issue: it appears that Christian groups in the US are in a state of total confusion over the increasing number of states where cannabis use in now accepted.
Religion News reported that, in New York in February this year:
Sunday’s Super Bowl was dubbed by some as the ‘pot bowl’, as the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks hail from the two states where fans can soon get marijuana as easily as they can get pizza.
As public opinion has shifted in support of legalised marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.
Clearly, Christians aren’t going as potty over pot as they are in respect of the growing acceptance of gay marriage, even though a record number of Americans (55 percent) support same-sex unions.
According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favour legalising the use of cannabis, and one of my favourite US social commentators and ardent atheist, Bill Maher, is a passionate supporter of cannabis legalisation.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, aren’t that enthused: almost seven-in-10 (69 percent) of white evangelical Protestants oppose it.
Both Colorado and Washington state approved the recreational use of marijuana by adults in the 2012 elections. Even the swivel-eyed Christian fundamentalist, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who found early support among some evangelicals during the 2012 presidential race, has come out supporting the decriminalisation of cannabis.
Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalisation and 50 percent opposing it. Opinions on how states should handle those who possess or sell marijuana varies among Christian leaders.
Caught in the middle of the debate are pastors, theologians and other religious leaders, torn over how to uphold traditional understandings of sin and morality amid a rapidly changing tide of public opinion.
Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for several prominent evangelicals including Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, admits he takes a view that might not be held by most Christian leaders.
When 50 percent of our prison beds are occupied by non-violent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana. None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use.
Saying that he didn’t think cannabis use was the most serious blight on America, he emphasised that a alcohol abuse was a much more serious issue. President Obama suggested something similar to The New Yorker recently when he said that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol.
But don’t expect pastors to start preaching in line with DeMoss, who said he has not seen much comment from religious leaders on the issue.
If a pastor said some of what I said, there would be some who would feel the pastor was compromising on a moral issue. No one wants to risk looking like they’re in favor of marijuana. I’m not in favor, but I think we should address how high of a priority it should be.
But Rev Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that because the effects of marijuana aren’t much different from getting drunk, it’s use made it a biblical no-no.
It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down/ We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.
Last August Eliyahu Federman, writing for the Jewish Daily Forward, put forward a case for religious cannabis use. Seriously!
Even though religious marijuana use is not generally permitted, in 2006 the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Brazilian-American church União do Vegetal could import and use illegal drugs in worship services. Native Americans are routinely given exceptions to use an illegal Schedule I substance called peyote.
Under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993, the government is required to show a ‘compelling interest’ in order to ‘substantially burden’ a legitimate religious practice. If hallucinogens like peyote can be legal under this standard, why should more mild drugs like marijuana be any different?
Even Prohibition, which banned alcohols in the US, exempted wine for sacramental purposes, or like religious rites.
Alcohol is a drug like marijuana with potentially harmful effects. But if alcohol is widely accepted for religious use among Jews and others – maybe marijuana should be too.
Wiki has an interesting entry about the legality/illegality of pot usage and growth around the world. Surprisingly it shows a high level of tolerance in Islamic Pakistan, where getting stoned is “mostly tolerated”, and Iran where cultivation is legal.
Could this be because, according to this fella:
My theory is that Marijuana is not against Islam or ‘haraam’ because 1. Not mentioned anywhere in the Quran for being forbidden (that I have heard of or have read so far) [and] 2. It falls under the “greater good for the greater number” mentality that Islam has, so therefor Marijuana is not haraam, unless of course you let it take control of your life (smoking weed too often/putting smoking before other needs).