Yesterday, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed a proclamation that officially legalized marijuana in my home state. This was not exactly a shocking development around here. November, voters gave legal marijuana a green light (so to speak) with a convincing (if not overwhelming) majority. “If the voters go out and pass something and they put it in the state constitution, by a significant margin, far be it from myself or any governor to overrule," he told reporters. "I mean, this is why it’s a democracy, right?”
That very same day, I read a timely article on the Relevant Magazine website: "Should ChristiansSmoke Pot or Not?" by Mark Driscoll of Seattle's Mars Hill Church. Given that Washington state just passed a similar law to Colorado's, the issue was pretty front-of-mind for Driscoll, too—so much so that he wrote a whole ebook about it.
While Driscoll is very cautionary about marijuana use, saying he'd "never encourage anyone to smoke weed recreationally," he stops short of saying that it's un-Christian to do so. And as much as we might secretly long for a spiritual leader like Driscoll to tell us what to do (either a "Smoke up! I'm rolling a joint right now!" or a "Good heavens, no! A passage in 1 Esbithians clearly states that …"), I think Driscoll's response is the right one.
Alas, there is no 1 Esbithians to give us direction. God hasn't told us explicitly whether cannabis is an inherently bad thing to smoke or roll or bake in brownies. And so we're left to work out the details through our own powers of discernment.
Discernment. Even the word just screams “no fun.”
Now, let me just say this up front: I have no intention of using marijuana, legal or not. I grew up in the "just say no" generation, and we had anti-drug symposiums every other week, it seems—where some poor guy without any teeth told us that he lost his home and his job and his left kneecap to marijuana use. I voted against marijuana legalization, so you might fairly accuse me of bias.
But let me try to set aside all the potential physical positives and/or negatives of marijuana—be it no worse than alcohol or a dangerous gateway drug or whatever—and just focus on marijuana morality: Is smoking pot a sin? Could it potentially get in the way of our relationship with God?
Maybe Moses didn't bring down a commandment that said "thou shalt not toke." But I think for many folks, using marijuana might be a problem, spiritually speaking—perhaps not so much because of the substance itself but for the underlying issues that it's used for.
Driscoll says that marijuana often qualifies as a form of “self medication,” and that feels pretty fair to me. Some might use it to check painful issues they really should be processing through prayer. For others, it can be a temptation or distraction—something that pulls us away from our God-given calling. When we’re distracted by a drug or unhealthy pastime, we can lose sight of the people we're supposed to be caring for and the jobs God's asked us to do. And though proponents say marijuana isn’t all that addictive (at least compared to some substances), it still feels that it can be plenty addictive enough—threatening to become (as all addictions do) a substitute for God Himself: The medicine and master to which the user sacrifices his or her whole life.
That’s a whole lotta pitfalls, it seems to me. And frankly, I wonder whether our culture has far too many pitfalls as it is.
As a pastor I have noticed that people tend to stop maturing when they start self-medicating. Everyone has very tough seasons in life, but by persevering through them we have an opportunity to mature and grow as people. Those who self-medicate with drugs and/or alcohol (as well as other things) often thwart maturity as they escape the tough seasons of life rather than face them. This explains why some people can be biologically much older than they are emotionally and spiritually.
That's true, I think. Even if pot's legal, our development can still be arrested through its use. And even more problematic: When we self-medicate, we're inherently turning our darkest problems and deepest longings over to a substance when we should be entrusting it to God.