By / Oct 20

The Biden administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is recommending that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) significantly loosen federal restrictions on marijuana and reclassify it in a lesser category under the Controlled Substances Act. This recommended shift at the federal level is spurred by the increasing efforts at legalization and decriminalization at the state and local levels. Currently, 21 states have fully legalized recreational use of marijuana and six others have decriminalized such use.

If accepted, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) believes this change will bring significant harm to our communities. Because all people are made in the image of God, we desire to see public policy that promotes the flourishing of our neighbors. The ERLC sent a letter to the DEA sharing these concerns and urging them to reject this rescheduling recommendation from the Biden administration.

While proponents of legalization, decriminalization, and rescheduling of marijuana often cite—and overstate—the medical benefits and the disproportionate criminalization impact on marginalized communities, there are compelling arguments to keep marijuana illegal, especially at the federal level.

Why marijuana should be restricted

One of the reasons marijuana should remain illegal is rooted in the health hazards associated with marijuana use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has highlighted several adverse effects such as impairment in learning, memory, and attention. Moreover, it has been associated with an increased heart rate and a higher risk of heart attack. The drug is also more addictive than is assumed, with an estimated 10% of users becoming addicted.

In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a committee of experts to conduct a comprehensive review of the literature regarding the health effects of marijuana use. They found there is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Also, in states where cannabis use is legal, they found an increased risk of unintentional cannabis overdose injuries among children.

In 2019, five years after legalization of recreational sale of marijuana in Colorado, more people were visiting emergency rooms for marijuana-related problems, and hospitals reported higher rates of mental-health cases tied to marijuana. Legalization can potentially lead to a public health crisis, particularly if marijuana use begins during adolescence, a period when the brain is still developing.

The potential impact on mental health further accentuates the concerns surrounding marijuana usage. Early marijuana use is linked to lower IQ scores, dropout rates, and risk of mental illness like psychosis or schizophrenia later in life. Marijuana smoke also contains many of the same carcinogens as tobacco smoke, which could increase future risk of lung cancer and chronic bronchitis.

Another reason marijuana should be restricted is that it remains a “gateway drug” to other controlled substances. As long-term studies have shown, marijuana alters brain chemistry and primes it for sensitivity to other drugs. Usage of the drug has been shown to lead to experimentation with harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Also, as has been shown over the last decade, decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana has normalized drug use, making individuals—especially young people—more susceptible to trying substances that are even more dangerous than cannabis. 

Supporters of loosening restrictions argue that there are valid medical reasons for reclassifying marijuana from a Schedule I to Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substance Act. But such a shift is unnecessary since there are already legal and regulated medications available to address the medical conditions that proponents argue marijuana can alleviate.

While marijuana contains compounds like THC with potential medicinal benefits, there are FDA-approved medications like Marinol that serve similar purposes but within a regulated framework. This regulation ensures a standardized dosage and quality, minimizing the potential for abuse that comes with the raw, unregulated form of marijuana that has over 400 components, many of which have not been studied well.

Those advocating for the decriminalization or rescheduling of marijuana too often ignore the potential public health and societal effects. The risks associated with marijuana, in terms of addiction, mental health issues, and its role as a gateway to harder substances, outweigh the perceived benefits of its legalization or decriminalization. The Biden administration should be taking a more cautious approach, emphasizing the importance of maintaining marijuana’s status as an illegal substance in order to safeguard public health, and to ensure the government will continue to protect children from the use of addictive and harmful drugs. 

By / Nov 11

During the recent midterm election, voters across the country voted on more than 100 ballot initiatives, several of which affect a number of social issues. Here are some of the main decisions on issues of special concern to ERLC.

Initiatives related to abortion

Five states had initiatives that were related to adding or removing restrictions on abortion.

California — Pro-abortion | Passed

Proposition 1 amends the state constitution to prohibit the state from interfering with or denying an individual’s reproductive freedom, which is defined to include a right to an abortion and a right to contraceptives.

Kentucky — Pro-life | Failed

Amendment 2 supported amending the Kentucky Constitution to state that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding for abortion. This measure would have prohibited Kentucky courts from interpreting the state constitution in a way that requires protecting abortion or state funding for abortion.

Michigan — Pro-abortion | Passed

Michigan Proposal 3, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative, provides a state constitutional right to “reproductive freedom, which is defined as ‘the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.’”

Montana — Pro-life | Pending

Montana LR-131, the Medical Care Requirements for Born-Alive Infants Measure, establishes that  “infants born alive at any stage of development are legal persons; require medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an induced labor, cesarean section, attempted abortion, or another method; and establish a $50,000 fine and/or 20 years in prison as the maximum penalty for violating the law.”

Vermont — Pro-abortion | Passed

Vermont Proposal 5, the Right to Personal Reproductive Autonomy Amendment, amends the Vermont Constitution to add language protecting the right to “personal reproductive autonomy” and prohibiting government infringement unless justified by a compelling state interest. This initiative further codifies protections for abortion in the state and could be interpreted by state courts to require state funding for abortions, gender transformation surgery, sterilizations (even of minors), and a range of other “reproductive” procedures.

Initiatives related to legalization of marijuana 

Five states had initiatives that would legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Arkansas — Failed 

Issue 4 would have legalized the possession and use of marijuana by adults 21 and older, and authorized the cultivation and sale of marijuana by licensed commercial facilities.

Maryland — Passed 

Question 4 legalized the use of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

Missouri — Passed 

Amendment 3 removes existing state prohibitions on marijuana and legalizes the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture, and sale of marijuana for personal use for adults 21 and older. It also allows individuals with certain marijuana-related offenses to be released from prison, parole, or probation.

North Dakota — Failed 

Measure 2 would have legalized the production, processing, sale, and possession of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

South Dakota — Failed 

Measure 27 would have legalized the production, processing, sale, and possession of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

Initiatives related to sports betting

Only one state in this election had initiatives related to sports betting. 

California  — Failed 

Proposition 26 would have allowed in-person sports betting at tribal casinos and licensed racetracks. Proposition 27 would ​​have allowed tribes and gambling companies to offer online and mobile sports betting, and imposed a 10% tax on revenue.

Initiatives related to slavery and indentured servitude

Five states had ballot initiative that would change their state constitutions to prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crime. 

Alabama — Passed

The Alabama Recompiled Constitution Ratification Question made several changes, including “removing all racist language.” The removed language included: “That no form of slavery shall exist in this state; and there shall not be any involuntary servitude, otherwise than for the punishment of crime, of which the party shall have been duly convicted.”

Louisiana — Failed

Amendment 7 would have removed language from the state constitution that allows involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime; and added language to say that the section of the constitution prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude “does not apply to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice.” State Rep. Edmond Jordan, a Democrat from Baton Rouge and author of the amendment, reportedly asked voters to reject the measure because its wording on the ballot differed from his proposal.

Oregon — Passed

Measure 112 repealed language from the state constitution that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments and added language that authorizes an Oregon court or a probation or parole agency to order alternatives to incarceration for a convicted individual as part of their sentencing. 

Tennessee — Passed

Constitutional Amendment 3 amended the state constitution to remove language that allows the use of slavery and involuntary servitude as criminal punishments and replace it with the statement, “Slavery and involuntary servitude are forever prohibited.”

Vermont — Passed

Proposal 2 amends the state constitution to repeal language stating that persons can be held as servants, slaves, or apprentices with the person’s consent or “for the payments of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like” and adds “slavery and indentured servitude in any form are prohibited.” 

By / Dec 9

One of the well-known reasons people smoke marijuana is to get high and experience the reportedly pleasurable intoxication and euphoria initiated by THC. The hallucinogenic effects are even said to have positive benefits for one’s development as a person, as Motley Crüe sang in their 1994 ode to pot titled Smoke the Sky, “But through time we’ve smoked the sky . . . Compliments the senses, opens up the mind.” But is smoking marijuana a harmless way to expand the mind? Hardly. Marijuana doesn’t open the mind: Evidence indicates marijuana use can damage the brain. 

Why does marijuana affect the brain, and why does it get people high? Marijuana interacts with the reward circuit, a group of structures in the brain that are activated by rewarding or reinforcing stimuli. The reward pathway of the brain is connected to areas of the brain that control behavior and memory. The active component in marijuana that gets someone high is THC, and the brain responds to THC by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine which causes feelings of pleasure.  Smoking pot to trigger the reward circuit can be devastating to one’s life and walk with the Lord and, over time, an addiction can develop. 

All thoughts and pleasures have a biological component. God has created the reward circuit for a purpose. Because we enjoy pleasurable experiences, we are more likely to repeat actions that activate our reward system.1Matthew S. Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Feeling Trapped (Downers Grove, IL: Biblica Books, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 86.  But Christians are called to live holy lives and exercise wise management of life’s pleasures; just because an experience is pleasurable does not necessarily mean it is good. In our fallen condition, we can abuse God’s good gifts—like the reward circuit—for immoral and unholy purposes. 

Marijuana’s effects on the brain

Regular marijuana use has very detrimental effects on the brains of young people, and much of the damage is not reversible. Keep in mind that the human brain continues to develop into the mid-20s. In 2017, 6.5 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current users of marijuana. This means that approximately 1.6 million adolescents used marijuana in the past month.2Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 18-5068, NSDUH Series H-53),” https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.htm#illicit1. This is concerning because multiple studies using neuroimaging suggest that regular cannabis use during adolescence may lead to structural changes such as altered cortical gray matter development and reduced white matter mylenation.3Robert L. Page, II, et al, “Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation 142 (August 5, 2020): e14. And the effects of cannabis on the teenage brain continue after a period of abstinence; adolescent cannabis users still showed subtle neuropsychological deficits compared to nonuser after one month’s abstinence. Furthermore, earlier onset of cannabis use was also associated with decreased processing speed and executive function three years later.4A.D. Meruelo, N. Castro, C.I. Cota, and S.F. Tapert, “Cannabis and Alcohol Use, and the Developing Brain,” Behavioral Brain Research 325 (May 15, 2017): 4.  In 2017, the Canadian Psychiatric Association noted that regular cannabis use in youth “can affect aspects of cognition, including attention, memory, processing speed, visuospatial functioning, and overall intelligence.”5Phil Tibbo, Candice Crocker, et al, “Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults: A Position Statement Developed by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Research Committee and Approved by the CPA’s Board of Directors on February 17, 2017,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 63.1 (2018): 66.  What this means is that young people who smoke pot are damaging their ability to think clearly and make good decisions. 

Marijuana negatively affects the adult brain too, but the person who starts smoking pot at age 30 doesn’t appear to do as much damage to his brain as someone who starts smoking pot at age 15. This doesn’t mean there are no detrimental consequences for adults who smoke marijuana. One European study from 2019 found that people who used cannabis daily had an increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users, and the risk rose to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency cannabis.6Marta Di Forti, et al, “The Contribution of Cannabis use to Variation in the Incidence of Psychotic Disorder Across Europe (EU-GEI): A Multicentre Case-Control Study,” Lancet Psychiatry 6 (2019): 427 – 436. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases.

The path to addiction

Related to marijuana’s negative effects on the brain is the possibility of addiction. One piece of urban legend about marijuana is that it doesn’t affect the brain in the same way as harder drugs, so you shouldn’t be as worried about addiction to marijuana as to alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or other illicit drugs. To be clear, the effects of cocaine and heroin addiction are more severe than marijuana. But marijuana affects the reward circuit similarly to other common drugs of abuse. It is very likely that repeated exposures to marijuana results in neuroadaptations, not only to the reward circuit, but also to downstream targets that are critically involved in the development of drug addiction.7Erik B. Oleson and Joseph F. Cheer, “A Brain on Cannabinoids: The Role of Dopamine Release in Reward-Seeking,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In Medicine 2.8 (August 2012): 10. This means the effects of marijuana on the brain are more complex and far-reaching than most people think. 

Approximately 9% of those who experiment with marijuana will become addicted. But the percentage of those who become addicted is much higher for those who start using during adolescence, with one in six teenagers who use pot eventually becoming addicted. Additionally, 25% – 50% of those who smoke marijuana daily will reach clinical criteria for addiction.8Nora D. Volkow, Ruben D. Baier, Wilson M. Compton, and Susan R.B. Weiss, “Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 370.23 (June 5, 2014): 1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/pdf/nihms762992.pdf It should also be emphasized that the DSM V lists Cannabis Use Disorder as one of its diagnoses. 

A Christian should be a good steward of the brain God has given each of us, and a Christian’s life should be consumed by doing the Lord’s will, not being obsessed with the next high. 

Romans 13:12 says, “The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” One way we lay aside the deeds of darkness is by not smoking pot. Marijuana negatively affects the brain, and the damage done to adolescent brains is often irreversible. People do become addicted to marijuana, and Christians should not place ourselves in the position of becoming drug addicts. No one who experiments with drugs or alcohol believes he or she will experience the destructive effects of addiction. 

That’s because addiction doesn’t happen overnight, but experimentation and recreational use slowly increase until addiction becomes an all-encompassing way of life. A Christian should be a good steward of the brain God has given each of us, and a Christian’s life should be consumed by doing the Lord’s will, not being obsessed with the next high. 

  • 1
    Matthew S. Stanford, The Biology of Sin: Grace, Hope, and Healing for Those Feeling Trapped (Downers Grove, IL: Biblica Books, InterVarsity Press, 2010), 86. 
  • 2
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. SMA 18-5068, NSDUH Series H-53),” https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHFFR2017/NSDUHFFR2017.htm#illicit1.
  • 3
    Robert L. Page, II, et al, “Medical Marijuana, Recreational Cannabis, and Cardiovascular Health: A Scientific Statement from the American Heart Association,” Circulation 142 (August 5, 2020): e14.
  • 4
    A.D. Meruelo, N. Castro, C.I. Cota, and S.F. Tapert, “Cannabis and Alcohol Use, and the Developing Brain,” Behavioral Brain Research 325 (May 15, 2017): 4. 
  • 5
    Phil Tibbo, Candice Crocker, et al, “Implications of Cannabis Legalization on Youth and Young Adults: A Position Statement Developed by the Canadian Psychiatric Association’s Research Committee and Approved by the CPA’s Board of Directors on February 17, 2017,” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 63.1 (2018): 66. 
  • 6
    Marta Di Forti, et al, “The Contribution of Cannabis use to Variation in the Incidence of Psychotic Disorder Across Europe (EU-GEI): A Multicentre Case-Control Study,” Lancet Psychiatry 6 (2019): 427 – 436. The risk for psychotic disorders increases with frequency of use, potency of the marijuana product, and as the age at first use decreases.
  • 7
    Erik B. Oleson and Joseph F. Cheer, “A Brain on Cannabinoids: The Role of Dopamine Release in Reward-Seeking,” Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives In Medicine 2.8 (August 2012): 10.
  • 8
    Nora D. Volkow, Ruben D. Baier, Wilson M. Compton, and Susan R.B. Weiss, “Adverse Effects of Marijuana Use,” New England Journal of Medicine 370.23 (June 5, 2014): 1, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4827335/pdf/nihms762992.pdf
By / Mar 15

This weekend many churches in America will observe Substance Abuse Prevention Sunday. In preparation for the observance, here are five facts you should know about the most commonly abused drugs in America.

1. More than 70,000 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2017, the last year for which complete data is available. The rate was 21.7 per 100,000 population, a increase of nearly 10 percent from 2016. Opioids were involved in over two-thirds of overdose deaths, with death rates linked to synthetic opioids increasing more than 45 percent. The rates of overdose deaths involving cocaine increased by more than 34 percent, and the rate of overdose deaths involving psychostimulants (e.g., medicines often prescribed for people with ADHD) increased by more than 33 percent.

2. An estimated 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 652,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (the two categories overlap). About 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, and between eight and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder. Of those who misuse prescription opioids, an estimated four to six percent transition to the abuse of heroin. About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.

3. Alcohol is the most commonly drug in America—and remains the most deadly. Although opioid abuse leads to more direct overdoses, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year. Excessive drinking is also responsible for one in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. Alcohol-impaired driving also accounts for more than 30 percent of all driving fatalities each year. The abuse of alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in America.

4. Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States, notes the CDC. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking as a pattern of drinking that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 grams percent or above. This typically happens when men consume five or more drinks or women consume four or more drinks in about two hours. One in six U.S. adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge. This results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 binge drinks per binge drinker. Binge drinking is most common among younger adults aged 18–34 years, but more than half of the total binge drinks are consumed by those aged 35 and older. Binge drinking is more common among people with household incomes of $75,000 or more and higher educational levels. Binge drinkers with lower incomes and educational levels, however, consume more binge drinks per year.

5. After alcohol, marijuana (cannabis) has the highest rate of dependence or abuse among all drugs. About one in 10 marijuana users will become addicted to the drug, and for people who begin using younger than 18, that number rises to one in six. Despite being treated as rather harmless by legalization advocates, cannabis has been proven to have severe detrimental effects on health and society. For instance, there is a consensus in the medical community that use of cannabis increases the risk of psychosis/psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia. The drug also increases risks to children. A recent study by the Texas Department of Child and Family Services found that marijuana was the substance most identified as an active substance in child abuse and neglect-related fatalities, representing over half of the cases. 

By / Mar 7

They are going to do it anyway. So regulate it, tax it, and we all will benefit.

Alcohol is legal, so what difference does it make if pot is legal?

Prohibition does not work; we learned that lesson.

The government has no business telling people what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their homes. Therefore, make pot legal and leave people to live their lives.

These are just some of the arguments for legalizing recreational marijuana. Those who argue for its legalization seem to make their case based on pragmatics. Advocates for decriminalization contend that laws just don’t work—no amount of regulation will stop free people from indulging. Additionally, if we legalize recreational pot, it can be taxed, and everyone in society benefits from the revenue. Consequently, decriminalizing marijuana simply makes practical sense.

Nevertheless, laws do more than simply restrict behaviors. Laws also commend the type of conduct that we want to encourage. Laws curb the behaviors that we want to discourage while at the same time promote the actions that a society champions. H. Richard Niebuhr noted that legislation works toward an end goal: it leads toward the desires of individuals and social groups.

What Niebuhr realized is that legal codes reinforce a vision of the kind of people we want to be, and they promote the values that a society believes will bring about human flourishing. Therefore, when we consider the question of legalizing recreational marijuana, we do well to think beyond pragmatics and ask the bigger question, “What vision does legalization cast for our future?”

The flight from reality

Marijuana is a drug that takes users into a disembodied state, and this is why so many find it relaxing. Marijuana immediately brings feelings of euphoria and heightens one’s senses, including one’s sense of time. And marijuana makes the user feel as though he has entered a new reality—one that is likened to an out-of-body experience. This intensified state happens within a relatively short period of time. So, many prefer marijuana to alcohol. Moreover, marijuana does not seem to have the same side effects as alcohol. Smoking pot avoids all the inconveniences of hangovers (with the exception that it smells). Therefore, advocates argue that legalizing recreational marijuana is really no different than alcohol.

Nevertheless, this argument ignores the reality that marijuana is a different kind of drug altogether. Marijuana alters the mind relatively quickly. While some comparison between marijuana and alcohol may seem legitimate, most proponents ignore the fact that a person can consume small amounts of alcohol without dramatic mind-altering effects. This is not to argue that one drug has more virtue than the other. I only make the point to distinguish the difference between recreational marijuana and alcohol. Marijuana provides immediate sensations of escape, whereas alcohol requires excess to achieve the same result.

Therefore, decriminalizing marijuana encourages an immediate flight from reality. The escape provided in marijuana merely recycles an age-old religion called Gnosticism. Gnosticism believed that the material world was intrinsically evil; thus, true happiness could only be found when we escape our material world. Cultures that encourage citizens to escape reality pay a heavy price.

Some of our lawmakers applaud the potential revenue from numbing the masses. But our states face challenges that have real and lasting effects on our communities. For example, in my New York community, we face problems such as poverty, racism, and city schools where teachers are asked to achieve unrealistic standards with minimal support. While lawmakers are passing legislation encouraging people to numb the mind, we demand our teachers nurture the mind. It seems odd, and a bit disjointed, that on one hand we champion the mind in education, and on the other we celebrate altering our mind for recreation.

The threat to the vulnerable

Nevertheless, many of the laws that promise escape ultimately lead to captivity. We were told that legalized gambling would be a windfall for our states. Scratch off tickets would be the hope for a better future. Yet how many widows and fatherless have lost their property, and their soul, to the local corner store? Promised freedom has actually enslaved the most vulnerable in our communities because we have failed to recognize that ideas have consequences. Escapism and its consequences leave a culture vulnerable to the complicated conditions of a fractured world.

People who are numb tend not to notice the injustice around them. But maybe that’s the point? When our heads are buried in the sand (or floating in the clouds), it is easy to close our eyes to the ills of our communities. Pragmatism can have a cost. And unfortunately, the ones asked to pay the bill are the ones who can least afford it. As Christians, we should be those who think through these issues seriously, with the good of our neighbors in mind—and then advocate for the flourishing of our communities.

By / Jul 7

They were everywhere: Slouched on park benches. Lollygagging in doorways. Strumming guitars. Asking passersby for money. Pretending to stop passersby for other reasons and then asking for money.

This is the face of legalized pot.

At least it’s the face I encountered during a recent stay in the hip downtown area of a state where recreational use of marijuana was recently made legal.

Most of the locals I talked to don’t care much one way or the other about the legal status of pot. But they do care that what was supposed to be a privately exercised freedom has become public—very public. For despite the fact that it’s not legal to smoke in public, such regulations have little teeth when aimed at wanderers more likely to move on to the next town than show up for court or pay a fine.

Of course, every city has its share of vagabonds and homeless folks. But I’ve never seen them assembled in such numbers. And as sad as the sight of a mentally ill person muttering to himself on the street is, it’s that much more dismaying to witness so many otherwise able-bodied young people wasting away in a haze of smoke and sun, taking refuge from time to time in coffee shops and apartment complex foyers to crash or charge their iPods and smartphones.

I suspect this isn’t what the public signed up for in approving the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Legal is one thing. In your face is another.

Not that the old way of criminalization was working.

On the one hand, I know a sweet little old lady, one who taught Sunday School her whole life, who bought pot on the black market some years ago in order to bring relief to a loved one dying of cancer. On the other, when I was a teenager, pot was far easier to obtain than alcohol, and I smoked more weed than it is comfortable for me to admit. I know firsthand the quiet despair of the drug-addled soul. But more than the regrets I have today over the harm my actions caused to myself and others, I’m haunted by the goodness I missed out on.

The War on Drugs has had, at best, mixed results. According to one report,

Drug convictions went from 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in 1980 to 148 in 1996, an almost tenfold increase. More than half of America's federal inmates today are in prison on drug convictions. In 2009 alone, 1.66 million Americans were arrested on drug charges, more than were arrested on assault or larceny charges. And 4 of 5 of those arrests were simply for possession.

Most agree that this incarceration epidemic has created more problems than it has solved. This is largely why Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana. Other states will likely follow suit.

But legalization and over-crowded prisons aren’t the only solutions. It’s not either/or. It seldom is. Indeed, the necessity of prison reform throughout the history of the modern prison system (a relatively recent invention in human civilization) has been the mother of social invention.

Now is the time for the kind of creative solutions to a drug and prison problem that will advance human flourishing and social good. The failed War on Drugs—and the counter-response of more liberal drug laws that may also be poised to fail—offers a great opportunity for the church, once more, to cut a clear path between justice and mercy to the abundant life.

By / Jun 1

My foster son began using marijuana when he was in the fifth grade. That was before he became a ward of the state and came under my care. But his drug use wasn’t the cause of him being taken away from his parents. It was their drug use.

“My Poppy didn't used to do drugs. He only smoked a little weed. He started after Mama. Mama got started because of my sister.” Today our foster son’s “Poppy” is in prison, and a quick look at photos posted on Facebook and Instagram will reveal his mother's addiction has not waned. Of course, he isn't supposed to see those photos because he has been ordered by the court to have no contact with his own mother and father. Their parental rights have been permanently terminated.

And in the bedroom down the hall is a little boy struggling with all of the challenges common to middle school adolescents but multiplied by the reality of living in a stranger's home and knowing his parents are still alive but not even being allowed to talk with them. On good days, his pain is masked behind dark curls, brown eyes and an infectious grin. On bad days, it is unleashed in self-destructive decisions and unyielding defiance. 

This is why I ask Kentucky Baptists to fight against the legalization of marijuana in our state. But it isn't just the boy down the hall. Today, in Kentucky alone, there are more than 7,600 other little boys and girls in state care. Is every case drug related? No, but most are. Does every addiction begin with the decision to “smoke a little weed?” No, but most do.

Yet, support for marijuana legalization is rising rapidly in the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of Americans now say the drug should be made legal, compared with 44 percent who want it to be illegal. Opinions have changed dramatically since 1969, when Gallup found that just 12 percent favored legalizing marijuana.

Here in Kentucky, marijuana legalization efforts are in full swing. The Speaker of the State House of Representatives introduced legislation earlier this year to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes. In response, we worked through the Public Affairs Committee of the Kentucky Baptist Convention to compel Kentucky Baptists to address the issue. A series of press releases, letters and phone calls helped to spread the word. Concerned Baptists quickly reacted by contacting their elected representatives and imploring them not to take our state down a trail that would likely end at full blown legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

The Baptist outcry was heard and Kentucky legislators acted with wisdom. Ed Shemelya, coordinator for the National Marijuana Initiative, an organization that opposes legalization of pot, was quoted by the press as saying, “The success we had this year was, in large part, thanks to the stand Dr. Chitwood took on this issue.” Shemelya is a 30-year veteran of the Kentucky State Police (KSP), and a retired KSP Post Commander. He is also a fellow Kentucky Baptist who feared that Kentucky would become the 24th state where medical marijuana was legalized by politicians without the input of physicians and pharmaceutical research. Thankfully, Ed’s fears have been put to rest, at least for now, because of the responsiveness of Kentucky Baptists.

Medical marijuana is an emotional, complex and often confusing issue. I have spent time studying the matter and sought out the counsel of law enforcement and medical professionals. The Federal Food and Drug Administration continues to study all of the facts related to the medicinal use of marijuana but has not found any marijuana product to be safe or effective for the treatment of any disease or condition. Moreover, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychiatric Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and American Cancer Society have all reviewed the science as it relates to their respective discipline and do not advocate marijuana as medicine. 

For the sake of those who genuinely suffer from debilitating illness, we hope FDA testing will reveal derivatives that are safe and effective as medicine and would obviously support the legalization of those medicines. Epidiolex is one example of a drug that is a direct derivative from the cannabis plant currently being used in an FDA trial study to determine its effectiveness. My hope and prayer is that we can give time to allow trained researchers and medical professionals to do their work rather than politicians taking matters in their own hands and unknowingly putting people at risk.

After speaking out on the issue, we received many expressions of appreciation and praise. But we also received a good amount of criticism and hate mail. Some of the criticism came from those convinced that marijuana could help them or their loved ones with health problems. Most simply saw us as standing in the way making their pot habit legal.    

Our ultimate desire is to protect children in Kentucky, not harm them or prevent them from receiving treatment they desperately need. The wreck and ruin I have witnessed firsthand in the lives of countless children of drug addicted parents has the common denominator of individuals who started their drug experimentation with marijuana. Potentially multiplying that pain by making marijuana even more easily accessible is, for me, a grave risk we must work hard to avoid even as we try to determine if marijuana can be used for good rather than evil.

Until hard evidence proves that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment option, I implore Kentucky Baptists and Southern Baptists to fight against legalization. Why? For the kids.

By / Nov 7

Marijuana supporters continue to succeed with their plan to legalize this dangerous drug across the country. Their strategy is now quite obvious. They begin by playing on the public’s compassion with medical marijuana, and then follow up with their true agenda: the widespread legalization of recreational marijuana.

A quick look at the 2014 vote results reveals this strategy very clearly. Oregon and Alaska, which both legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, have had legal medical marijuana since 1998. The medical marijuana efforts passed in those states because voters were told it would help relieve peoples’ suffering. Fast forward to 2014, and they now have legal recreational marijuana.

Once a state legalizes medical marijuana, proponents know it’s just a matter of time until they can advance their real agenda. Apparently, it takes about 15 years to desensitize the public enough to the dangers of marijuana to achieve the next step toward full legalization. The other two states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana followed the same trajectory as Oregon and Alaska. Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 1998 and Washington State did so in 2000. Then, in 2012, the two states legalized marijuana for recreational use.

The town of South Portland in Maine followed this path on Tuesday as well, voting to legalize recreational use of the drug. Maine legalized the medical use of marijuana in 1999. The District of Columbia, which also legalized recreational marijuana on Tuesday, is the outlier. The District legalized medical marijuana in 2010, but given the extreme liberal disposition of the majority of the District’s voters, the more rapid fall isn’t really surprising.

Tuesday’s marijuana votes proved medical marijuana’s status as the Trojan Horse of the marijuana legalization movement. No state has legalized recreational marijuana without first legalizing medical marijuana. The lesson for all the states is clear: if you legalize medical marijuana, it’s just a short matter of time before you will be contending with the likelihood of legal recreational marijuana. Florida’s voters saved themselves from this fate on Tuesday when they rejected an effort to legalize medical marijuana. Given the clear connection between legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, it’s safe to say that Florida has bought itself more time before it must deal with the question of legalized recreational marijuana.

With so much at stake, the church must respond. First, Christians must make sure they balance their compassion with discernment. While we want to do all we can to help people, we must see through what has become the obvious true goal of legalizers. Christians must not allow themselves to be used for an agenda that will result in thousands of destroyed lives. Marijuana is an addictive, mind-altering substance that is nearly impossible to use in moderate doses. It has been a gateway drug for millions of users. Making it more accessible will lead to more drug addiction and all the social costs associated with drug abuse.

Second, Christians must not allow themselves to be persuaded that marijuana is an acceptable medical remedy. Using marijuana exposes a person to multiple toxic compounds and serious personal negative repercussions. Marijuana puts the user at higher risk for cancer, psychosis, strokes, respiratory damage, and heart attacks. It interferes with work and relationships.

Third, Christians must stay engaged in local debates and politics to help keep their communities as drug-free as possible. The path from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana does not have to be inevitable. California, which was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, rejected the effort to legalize its recreational use in 2010. The Maine town of Lewiston also rejected an effort to legalize the recreational use of marijuana on Tuesday. Neighbor love requires that we look out for our fellow citizens. We can help by resisting the deceptive messages of the marijuana purveyors and show up at the polls every time our state is asked to take the next step toward marijuana’s legalization.

Finally, churches must engage their communities. Churches must continue to promote healthy lifestyles as a key to human flourishing for their own members as well as for the public in general. Drug abuse is not compatible with human flourishing. Christians can emphasize this by maintaining drug-free lifestyles themselves and helping their communities understand the connection between drug-free lifestyles and personal potential. In addition, churches should provide services that can help people in their communities overcome drug addiction and reclaim their lives. Jesus not only saves the soul; He also restores broken lives. Churches must offer this message of hope and opportunity to their communities.

While many states are falling for the lie of marijuana’s harmlessness, the church does not have to be taken in. The Bible’s call to personal purity and sobriety has not changed. We must remain faithful to its call and not be deceived by the culture’s call to personal indulgence. As a world steeped in confusion follows a path to destruction, God’s people should be like Daniel and his friends who chose a healthy lifestyle over the king’s table. A watching world will take notice that our lives are healthier and more fulfilling lived in obedience to the Lord. We can make a difference. For the sake of millions of people around us and the glory of God we must.

By / Mar 14

According to the latest statistics, marijuana use is on the rise in America. While this is very disturbing, it should not come as a surprise. Governments, from the federal to the local level, have begun to accept the use of marijuana. Numerous states have legalized its use for medicinal purposes. Some have even legalized the use and sale of small amounts for recreational purposes. This relaxed attitude toward marijuana by civil authorities was certain to lead to its increased use.

Christians, especially, should not succumb to the growing popularity of this drug or to its supposed benefits. Scripture tells us that, in Christ, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” As such, we are called to glorify God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Consequently, there is no place in the Christian life for the recreational use of marijuana. Even its limited value as a potential medicine has not yet been adequately studied. Marijuana is destructive across the entire scope of human experience. Whether one considers its effects on work, relationships, spiritual vitality, physical and mental wellbeing, or any other measure, marijuana is a debilitating and dangerous substance. 

It has been said that facts are stubborn things. This is true for the facts about marijuana as well. Those considering its use should be fully aware of what they are getting themselves involved in. For those concerned about their health and their responsibility to glorify God with their bodies, the following facts should offer reason enough to stay away from this dangerous drug.

Download the full fact sheet here

By / Mar 14