As I was driving out of the St. Vital Centre parking lot this past Wednesday, I was surprised to see a large group of people standing outside a small store. Then I looked at the sign and realized what was going on. It was a cannabis store. This was the day Canada legalized the recreational use of cannabis nationwide.
Well, the day came and went. Nothing really felt different, at least in my world. But how should we respond to this new reality, especially as people of faith? What should we be teaching our kids about cannabis? And what about us? Should we ever try it for ourselves?
Well, first of all, let me say that I’m no expert on this subject. I’ve never really been affected by drugs or alcohol growing up. That’s not to say I didn’t struggle with addictions, but they were to other things. So for anyone, especially me, education is essential in order to have an informed opinion on the subject.
Second, let’s define the question. To do that, let’s clarify what we’re not talking about.
We aren’t talking about whether or not it’s okay to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. I have a lot of sympathy for people who are experiencing excruciating amounts of pain for which cannabis seems to be the best/only remedy. That makes sense to me. When compared to some of the other drugs that are offered to them, a natural way seems to be a healthier option.
Don't forget that many pharmaceuticals are also highly addictive, often dangerous, and have significant side effects. Under the guidance of a medical professional, cannabis can be a life-changing medicine for people suffering with a variety of ailments.
We’re also not talking about abuse and addiction. I think it goes without saying that we, as Christians, would never condone that. For any substance, including alcohol, illegal drugs, pharmaceutical drugs, coffee, sugar, etc., there’s a danger of becoming addicted. Dependency on such substances takes away our ability to be of sound mind and spirit, destroys our bodies, and can have serious consequences on our relationships. The Church should seek to help people with addictions of all kinds, offering freedom from such bondages through Christ.
Lastly, we’re not talking about anything that would still be considered illegal. You must be over 19 to use cannabis in Manitoba. Driving or going to work while high is illegal. You also can’t simply smoke cannabis anywhere you please (just like tobacco).
So what are we talking about then? I believe the real question we should ask is whether or not the use of cannabis for recreational purposes in moderation is morally acceptable. Seen the same way as alcohol, would it be okay to consume cannabis in a way that isn’t harmful to you or the people around you and doesn’t make you lose control?
That is such a tricky question, especially because it was so easy for us to say no in the past. It was illegal, plain and simple. But our government has changed that, and now it’s up to us, not the law, to decide what would be morally acceptable in this case.
This changes it from a community question to a personal one. The community has decided that it’s okay to use cannabis, now each individual must decide for themselves what they will do. We can draw parallels with alcohol, tobacco, abortion, and Medical Assistance in Dying.
Let’s take alcohol as an example. Prohibition existed in Manitoba from 1915-1923. In 1923, it became legal again, but some smaller communities still decided to remain dry. When the country, province, city, and church all change their views on alcohol, the individual is left to discern on their own. Some decide they can enjoy it, some decide they don’t want to.
It’s similar to the debate that happened in the Corinthian church about meat sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 8). Some couldn’t do it because it shook their faith, but for others it was okay. Paul encouraged all to watch out for those who would struggle with it and asked them to be considerate of what eating meat sacrificed to idols would do to their fellow believer’s faith. But is cannabis the same as alcohol or meat sacrificed to idols? Is it morally the same? Would God be okay if you used cannabis recreationally as a Christian?
I think that’s the question we have yet to answer. The Bible doesn’t say anything about cannabis, or how we should consume alcohol for that matter. But it does say we should treat our bodies well because they are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and that we shouldn’t give ourselves to drunkenness and recklessness (Ephesians 5:18).
I believe that many people in our churches have no desire to try cannabis just because it’s legal, in the same way they wouldn’t want to smoke cigarettes even though they can. But if you are a Christian who wants to try recreational cannabis in moderation, I’d ask you to consider the following questions as you discern (hopefully not alone, but in community):
Why is it that you want to use cannabis? Is there peer pressure? Is it just for fun? Is there a need that you are wanting to fill that could be filled some other way?
Do you know what you’re doing? Are you aware of what cannabis is, what it does, how to use it, and what the laws say?
Do you know the dangers and consequences of it? What if you find yourself feeling more and more dependant on it?
What might this do to your relationships? How would your spouse, kids, parents, friends, neighbours or colleagues respond?
How will this affect your Christian witness? Is this in line with your choice to follow Jesus? Where is your heart in this? What is your attitude in wanting to do this? What will this do to the faith of other Christians around you?
I don’t have all the answers but I would encourage us not to be afraid to talk about these things, because in some ways, these are questions of faith. How can we live lives that are faithful to our call as followers of Jesus? How can we authentically share God’s love and draw people into God’s plan of reconciliation for the world?
Canadian Mennonite University held a community forum on Cannabis recently where the diverse panel gave their perspectives on the topic. I would encourage you to watch it.