Christians & Marijuana – Part 3 – The Main Event: Marijuana vs. Alcohol

Is marijuana less harmful than enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine? The Bible allows alcohol consumption in moderation, so can adult Christians use marijuana in moderation?

READ: Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

READ: Part 2 – On Recreational Marijuana & the Brain

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POT vs. ALCOHOL

A constant thread of thought running through many pro-marijuana arguments is how alcohol has far more negative effects – physically, mentally and socially – than marijuana.

For instance, alcohol plays a role in 2/3 of all violence by an intimate (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend)[1] and contributes to 25% to 30% of all violent crime in America.[2] Alcohol is responsible for approximately 100,000 sexual assaults among young people[3] and an average of 79,000 premature deaths every year.[4] People are eight times more likely to be abusive on days they consumed alcohol compared to days they didn’t.[5]

Thus, marijuana advocates present the illegality of marijuana as an arbitrary law continued by decades of anti-marijuana bias.[6]

Is marijuana less harmful than enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine? The Bible allows alcohol consumption in moderation, so can adult Christians use marijuana in moderation? Christians should take good care of their God-given bodies, but is an occasional marijuana cigarette any worse than an occasional cigar or espresso shot or candy bar?

When speaking of recreational marijuana use, the key characteristic that differentiates it from other relatively unhealthy acts is that the vast majority of users only partake in marijuana for the sole purpose of becoming high.

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In 1 Peter 5:8, Christians are called to be sober-minded (but joyful – Gal. 5:22-23), and drunkenness is clearly forbidden throughout Scripture. Outside of arguments for the medical uses of marijuana, I didn’t come across a single argument in my research that marijuana was for any other purpose than to become intoxicated.

Here, the comparison with alcohol breaks down because one can enjoy a pint of beer or a glass of wine without becoming inebriated. Many people enjoy beer and wine for the taste. Conversely, I’ve never come across an argument for marijuana legalization based on the pleasure of the taste or smell. Cigar smoking can be an unhealthy habit, but many Christians enjoy an occasional cigar because of the flavor. The reason for recreational marijuana use, whether stated or implied, is mental impairment.

To illustrate, even while arguing that increased numbers of traffic accidents in states with legalized recreational marijuana are inflated or inaccurate, marijuana advocates still freely admit that marijuana impairs driving abilities.[7] One advocate even tried to argue that marijuana users drive safer when they are high because they “are aware of their state and compensate for it”![8]

Even if the strength of one’s high can be regulated by a number of small “tokes,” the writer who careful explains all of this still says the goal is to achieve the smoker’s “ideal level of intoxication.”[9] Where there is nothing unusual about the idea of enjoying a glass of beer or wine without intoxication, it’s safe to say the idea of someone smoking marijuana without intoxication is, at best, an odd idea.

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Modern Prohibition 

Furthermore, the idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol so it should be legalized doesn’t constitute a solid logical argument. Just because one harmful thing is allowed, it doesn’t follow that something else that’s harmful should be allowed also. Because a parent may allow a child to eat a candy bar before dinner, it doesn’t follow that the parent must also let the child eat a bag of chips before dinner because the chips are a bit healthier. Obviously, this train of thinking is moving in the wrong direction.

Christians are fully aware of the destructive effects of alcohol on individuals, families, and society, and if Christians were somehow oblivious to the negative effects of alcohol, the Bible’s many warnings would tune them in to the danger. Alcohol is a gift from God to be enjoyed, but this doesn’t stop Christians from speaking out against its misuse. Likewise, one should expect Christians to speak out against another intoxicant such as marijuana. In fact, due to the destructive nature of alcohol, many Christians voluntarily abstain from alcohol completely so not to cause others to stumble (1 Cor. 8-10), though alcohol isn’t wholly forbidden to Christians by their Scripture.

Russel Moore wisely points out that alcohol “already had a ubiquitous [ever-present; found everywhere] presence in American society long before Prohibition, in ways marijuana has not.”[10] What Moore is saying is that Pandora’s Box has already been opened with alcohol, so mass prohibition like in the U.S. in the 1920s was a failure. On the other hand, marijuana does not have the pervasiveness that alcohol does, so why give it such pervasiveness by making it legal in the first place?

NEXT: Final: On Dependency & Legalization

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[1] Steve Fox and Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana is Safer, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), XiV.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., XiX.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sandra M. Alters, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drugs, (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2011), 147.

[7] Chrsitine Van Tuyl, ed., Marijuana – Introducing Issues With Opposing Viewpoints, (Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2007), 38.

[8] Ibid., 34.

[9] Fox, Marijuana is Safer, 22.

[10] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Christians Torn About Legal Marijuana,” Christian Century, March 5, 2014, 14-15.

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.sbts.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=664d73f4-0451-4bc4-8bd2-b43febd820ec%40sessionmgr4001&vid=14&hid=4211

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Christians & Marijuana – Part 2 – On Recreational Marijuana & the Brain

If there’s a place for proper alcohol consumption in the Christian life, is there a place for proper recreational marijuana use? How safe is marijuana?

READ: Christians & Marijuana – Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

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In Part 1 we briefly discussed medical marijuana and also looked at what the Bible teaches about alcohol. We concluded that Christians aren’t forbidden from consuming alcohol, but it must be consumed in careful moderation. Various writers of the Bible are clear: drunkenness is clearly a sin.

Now, the question is: If there’s a place for proper alcohol consumption in the Christian worldview and lifestyle, is there a place for proper recreational marijuana use?

Marijuana typically refers to three species of cannabis plant.[1] THC is the active ingredient in marijuana with medical value,[2] and it’s also the only chemical in cannabis that is “significantly psychoactive,” meaning it gets people high.[3] The THC over-activates parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, and concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.[4]

Inhalation is the quickest way of feeling the effects of marijuana, coming almost immediately. One pro-marijuana writer explains, experienced smokers can moderate their intake “fairly easily” by taking a small number of “tokes,” almost like sipping wine or beer.[5] Eating cannabis cooked in, say, a cookie or brownie is another common way of taking the drug, but the effects take much longer to feel, are much harder to regulate, and a much stronger high usually follows.[6]

Most opponents and advocates agree that there are negative effects of using marijuana, but their opinions differ greatly in how common and detrimental those negative effects are, including risks of addiction, depression, sexual dysfunction, and even traffic accidents.

I have to say, from my readings, it appears the studies testify more to the damaging effects of marijuana. Even if marijuana advocates decry the seriousness and pervasiveness of these negative effects, they’re negative effects nonetheless, which simply can be solved by not using marijuana in the first place.

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But there are several things that appear the majority on both sides agree upon:

First, death from an overdose of marijuana is unheard of,[7] though over-consumption can have negative, temporary effects.

Secondly, marijuana mixed with alcohol or any other drug is dangerous.

Next, adolescents and pregnant women[8] should certainly not use marijuana, one reason being it has much stronger negative effects on developing brains.[9] People who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as eight points of IQ between age 13 and 38. Cognitive abilities were not restored in those who quit as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant declines in IQ.[10]

Finally, both sides agree to certain health concerns with use, such as “noxious smoke” and the negative effects on the lungs[11], but disagree on the extent of the danger.

The pro-marijuana camp typically explains away such concerns in a way duly represented on a pro-pot website: “Like virtually any other substance or behavior, consuming marijuana can pose some problems for some people.”[12]

Yet, the safest, most logical course would be that pregnant women and adolescents should certainly not use marijuana. Moreover, since current research shows brain development continues well into our twenties,[13] should not marijuana advocates agree that marijuana shouldn’t be used by people at least until their thirties?

Some marijuana advocates vehemently dismiss any reports of marijuana’s damaging effects, but they should agree – at the very least – that further research is vital before ardently declaring it harmless. If nothing else, they should heed the logic of one pro-legalization writer:

“The reality, for even pro-legalization people like myself, is that there’s a dearth [lack] of research on the effects of marijuana… It’d be illogical to think that a psychoactive substance that gets you high doesn’t affect the brain. By definition, it does and we should be honest about that.”[14]

There’s a lot of wisdom in what he says. Anything that chemically over-activates parts of the brain and has psychoactive effects is bound to have side effects on the brain. The idea that marijuana is not a manmade chemical and therefore must be harmless doesn’t logically follow; deadly toxins are also found in nature, so being “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy to consume.

NEXT: Finally! The Main Event: Recreational Marijuana versus Alcohol!

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[1] Steve Fox and Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana is Safer, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), 16.

[2] Sandra M. Alters, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drugs, (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2011), 149.

[3] Fox, 19.

[4]Laura Larsen, ed., Drug Abuse Sourcebook – Fourth Edition, (Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2014), 178.

[5] Fox, 21-22.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Sean Williams, “A 20-Year Study on Marijuana Use Yields 5 Surprising Finds,” The Motley Fool, January 11, 2015. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/01/11/a-20-year-study-on-marijuana-use-yields-5-surprisi.aspx

[8] Mark Kittleson, ed., The Truth About Drugs, (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2005), 64-65.

[9] New York Times: Upfront Magazine, “Marijuana: Breaking Down the Buzz,” December 8, 2104, 21.

[10] Larson, Drug Abuse Sourcebook, 109.

[11] Fox, Marijuana is Safer, 22.

[12] “Know Your Limit,” Consume Responsibly, 2014. Accessed January 2015. http://www.consumeresponsibly.org/limit/

[13] “Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years,” NPR.org, October 11, 2015. Accessed January 2015. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708

[14] Michael McCutcheon, “Here’s the Real Story Behind That ‘Marijuana-Changes-Your-Brain’ Study,” Mic.com, April 17, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2015. http://mic.com/articles/87875/here-s-the-real-story-behind-that-marijuana-changes-your-brain-study