Marijuana leaf in a hand.

Faith leaders wrestle over growing support for marijuana

NEW YORK (RNS) 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 legalized marijuana, religious leaders are wrestling over competing interests, including high prison rates and legislating morality.

Mark DeMoss, Sr. Advisor to the Romney campaign, speaks on a panel about faith outreach by both campaigns during the Religion Newswriters Conference in Bethesda, Md. on Friday Oct. 5, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for many Christians like evangelist Franklin Graham and Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green, speaks on a panel during the Religion Newswriters  Association conference in Bethesda, Md., on Oct. 5, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

According to a 2013 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, 58 percent of white mainline Protestants and 54 percent of black Protestants favor legalizing the use of marijuana. On the other side, nearly seven-in-10 (69 percent) white evangelical Protestants oppose it. 

Catholics appear to be the most divided Christian group, with 48 percent favoring legalization 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 nonviolent offenders, we have prison overcrowding problems and violent offenders serving shortened sentences, I have a problem with incarceration for possession of marijuana,” he said.

“None of that’s to say I favor free and rampant marijuana use. I don’t think it’s the most serious blight on America.”

Alcohol abuse, he said, is 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,” he said. “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.”

Views of Legalizing Marijuana: 1969-2013 graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Views of Legalizing Marijuana: 1969-2013 graphic courtesy of Pew Research Center

Both Colorado and Washington state approved the recreational use of marijuana by adults in the 2012 elections. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who found early support among some evangelicals during the 2012 presidential race, has come out supporting the decriminalization of marijuana.

Laws on marijuana have disproportionately impacted minorities, said the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.

“There are community programs that can better engage young people than incarceration,” he said. “Many black and brown lives are destroyed because of incarceration.”

A majority of Americans now favor legalizing the use of marijuana, according to the most recent polling from the Pew Research Center. In 2013, 52 percent said that the use of marijuana should be made legal while 45 percent said it should not. Among millennials (adults born after 1980), 65 percent favor legalizing marijuana use, up from just 36 percent in 2008.

Most Christians are still reluctant to favor legalization, Rodriguez said, since the effects of marijuana aren't much different from getting drunk, which is a biblical no-no.

“It has the ability of diluting reason, behavior, putting your guard down,” he said. “We are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, and it has the ability of hindering a clear thought process.”

Some who favor legalized marijuana liken the Christians who oppose it to be like the early 20th-century evangelicals and fundamentalists who supported a federal prohibition on alcohol.

Part of a move in the Republican Party toward a loosening on marijuana legislation could be coming from people who also would sympathize with the Tea Party, said Russell Moore, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Russell Moore at the Washington offices of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Russell Moore at the Washington offices of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

“I definitely think there’s been a coalition of ‘leave us alone' libertarians and Woodstock nation progressives on this issue of marijuana,” Moore said. “I do think there has been an effort to stigmatize those with concerns as Carrie Nations holding on to prohibition.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has joined a growing group of states that have loosened restrictions on marijuana, planning to allow limited use of the drug by those with serious illnesses. Some leaders, including Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly, have suggested there are medical benefits but do not condone recreational use of marijuana.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana use by adults, according to the Daily Beast. Twenty states have passed legislation to allow medical marijuana since 1996, while 16 states have begun to allow the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

But Moore said the analogy between alcohol and marijuana laws don’t hold up.

“Alcohol already had a ubiquitous presence in American society long before prohibition, in ways marijuana has not,” he said, suggesting he could find support for some medical marijuana. “If there were studies demonstrating marijuana is the best treatment for a particular disease and the prescription was tightly regulated the way we do morphine and other mind-altering drugs, yes. That’s not what we have happening in America right now.”



  1. Any negative comment that can be made about cannabis is applicable to alcohol and pharma man-made drugs to an even greater degree. Why must the lies and hypocrisy persist regarding marijuana?

    Cannabis has plenty of verifiable medical uses yet it is still a schedule 1 drug…why? Because prohibitionists continue the lies of our fathers in favor of big business.

    Cannabidiol has been shown to turn off cancer development and save lives, help with life threatening seizures in children… Search Dravet Syndrome, among other uses.

    It is time to stop believing the refer madness propaganda and research for yourself to find the truth.

    Stop the lies and legalize! Nature over synthetic!

  2. Gun rights, same sex marriages, polygamous relationships, marijuana, and gee, a lot of people are using Heroin too, maybe that should be the next great cause. Just because we can, doesn’t always mean we should. When I read stats about DUI (alcohol) deaths and accidents, my gut reaction is to tighten those laws, not expand them to make other intoxicants more readily available. Until people learn to be responsible users (which i don’t see happening anytime soon) why should we make it easier for people to harm others. (I’ve heard and read about too many cases where the person injured or killed was not using or drinking, was following the traffic laws, and a drunk or a stoner caused an accident, and wasn’t injured.
    your ‘right’ to do what you want to do end at that place where they cause someone else harm

  3. Although I doubt that continuous heavy use of any drug is good, the moderate person, one who drinks rarely, should not be constrained by legislation. To put some kid who smokes pot in prison with people who assault, rape, and even murder others is in itself a crime.

    Far more people are killed by alcohol abuse in one year than all other accidental deaths caused by smoking marijuana since the data has been recorded. Yet, we promote alcohol consumption to a degree that is alarming.

    There are medicinal benefits to all drugs. But abuse is abuse, no grey areas needed.

    The choice of abuse is mainly the choice of the individual.

    I would talk about taxing marijuana, but I have yet to see our current taxes spent well. So I don’t see how taxing marijuana will help either.

    To drag the marijuana issue into religion is just adding that issue to all the rest. Have we done so well with our other issues? Discrimination, child abuse, sex trafficking, decent healthcare and education, have all been talked about to an obscene degree, and nothing has been fixed.

    My GOD is a God of choices. I choose HIM and Jesus Christ. As a follower, I am interested in being a better neighbor to all men, but I will reserve the choice as to who I allow in my house. What happens in your house is for you to choose.

    The United States of America is a free country. Hopefully she will stay that way.

    Thank you for reading.

  4. You have laws which were originally drafted to keep white women out of the clutches of various minority men, which have never significantly impacted use, and created a huge profit margin for organized crime.

    Hard stances on drug possession has overcrowded our criminal justice system to the detriment of all public services and quality of life. They have created a class of disenfranchised (and in many cases unemployable) people.

    There is nothing worth defending here. It is not working. We are all paying for the failure.

  5. Because Cannabis is a psychotropic drug which relaxes and opens the mind to reflection, the repressive authoritarian religions have much to fear.

    If they are not careful, more citizens might act and think like a compassionate Jesus and what good would the fear-mongering, spiteful ‘God of Abraham’ do them then?

    The business of religion could be at risk.

  6. There is a certain contrasting quality between judgments within the world view of the proponents of the war on cannabis and Christian theology.
    The “everything is toxic” philosophy embraced by the ONDCP toxicologists and controlling offices such as the FDA and DEA is the exact opposite of sound Christian theology [1,2], and the corollary truths built upon it are not Biblically founded, and can be proven to be Biblically incorrect. -And if it’s not Theologically true, if it’s not true in the Bible, than it isn’t true at all [3].
    No Bible believing Christian can accept any “toxicology” studies or reports from the ONDCP in good conscience, when they consider the axioms that were used to build their studies. Do Christians adhere to “scientific” theories about big bang and evolution? No, and we can also reject the observations of the ONDCP about cannabis on similar grounds when all things are considered in a clear systematic theology. One must “Test The Evidences” that come from outside Scripture.
    Scripture, tradition, and reason imply that all things are good, and that substance (such as foods and drinks) only becomes toxic in it’s misuse, that is, in the uses that are not in order with the purposes God created them [4]. The Scripture’s warnings against these philosophies are traditionally viewed as warnings about the Gnostics of the second century. It was a blending of Jewish, Greek, or Eastern philosophy with Christianity. These Gnostic errors are widespread, they appear century after century, and shows itself in many forms of religion, not merely in distorted forms of Christianity. In life application today, we can see that same Gnostic germ resurface in our society in the influence of modernism and postmodernism.
    The war against cannabis is a frightening illustration, in that it is successful in stifling Evangelism within the local Church, and not many Leaders recognize what’s going on, despite the fact that it devastates the lives of millions in perdition. This ascetic teaching is unnatural, contrary to the constitution of the world as that has been arranged by a holy and wise Creator, and it is also subversive of Christian liberty. Nothing can be esteemed common or unclean without throwing a reproach upon the Creator. [5] To further discover the long term consequences of these unnatural teachings, we can observe the characterizations and acts employed in the war on pot have a resemblance to the warnings in Scripture regarding the signs of false teachers (which are directly linked to signs of the coming Rapture of Christ’s church). The war on cannabis shares at least 2 key qualities as the Gnostics. In the presence of the negative implications of statements such as “there is no way to teach this to you in a brief, ” and, “everything is toxic, there is no harmless substances. “, the Christian should be reminded that encouraging formalism and asceticism as the result of false teaching is traditionally known as the activities of demons [6]; and the acknowledgment of liberty of conscience in a free moral agent is the formation of evangelical theology- for this very reason the Reformers left the Roman Catholic Church! [7]. The binge drinking phenomena we see in the just say no generation, as well as the licentious rebellion in the 60’s, is evidences of the “fleshly indulgence”, or antinomian development that results from these ascetic teachings. [8,9,10]

    To summarize; The Christian world view and the ONDCP world view can be sharply contrasted. In the ONDCP world view, the Truth is “everything is toxic” and application is “just say no”. In the Christian world view, the Truth is “God’s creation is good” and application is “be ye sober”. The Scripture provides us a sharper, more accurate understanding and response to the subjects of cannabis use in society than the secular drug use prevention community. And as Biblical passages are weighed and discovered as this more accurate Truth, it should bear witness that the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is Truth. We should lend thought to this greater spiritual Truth for which the Bible is compiled as evidence of; That Christ made atonement covering and salvation for our souls. “For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world, but that he world through him might be saved. God publicly displayed him as the mercy seat accessible through faith, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but by grace are you saved through faith, and it’s not of yourselves, it is a gift from God. For whosoever believes in Him will not perish. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”


    [8] Colossians 2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you with
    respect to food or drink, or in the matter of a feast, new moon, or Sabbath days – these are only the shadow of the things to come, but the reality is Christ! Let no one who delights in humility and the worship of angels pass judgment on you. That person goes on at great lengths about what he has supposedly seen, but he is puffed up with empty notions by his fleshly mind. He has not held fast to the head from whom the whole body, supported and knit together through its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.
    If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body – a wisdom with no true value – they in reality result in fleshly indulgence”
    [the characterizations employed in the war on pot are striking resemblance to the warnings in Col.2. “goes on about what he has seen… puffed up by a fleshly mind”. The binge drinking phenomena we see in the just say no generation, as well as the licentious rebellion in the 60’s, is evidences of the “fleshly indulgence”, or antinomian development that springs from these ascetic teachings.]

    [9] Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology
    The Sufficiency of the Scripture
    #5. With regard to the Christian life, the sufficiency of the Scripture reminds us that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by scripture either explicitly or by implication. To walk in the law of the Lord is to be “blameless” (Ps. 119:1). Therefore we are not to add prohibitions to those already stated in scripture. From time to time there may be situations in which it would be wrong, for example, for an individual Christian to drink Coca-Cola, or to attend movie theaters, or to eat meat offered to idols (see 1 Cor. 8-10), but unless some specific teaching or some general principle of Scripture can be shown to prohibit these (or any other activities) for all believers for all time, we must insist that these activities are not in themselves sinful and they are not in all situations prohibited by God for his people.
    This also is an important principle because there is always the tendency among believers to begin to neglect the regular daily searching of Scripture for guidance and to begin to live by a set of written or unwritten rules (or denominational traditions) concerning what one does or does not do in the Christian life.
    Furthermore, whenever we add to the list of sins that are prohibited by Scripture itself, there will be harm to the church and to the lives of individual believers. The Holy Spirit will not empower obedience to rules that do not have God’s approval from Scripture, nor will believers generally find delight in obedience to commands that do not accord to the laws of God written in their hearts. In some cases, Christians may earnestly plead with God for “victory” over supposed sins that are in fact no sins at all, yet no “victory” will be given, for the attitude or action in question is in fact not a sin and is not displeasing to God. Great discouragement in prayer and frustration in the Christian life generally may be the outcome.
    In other cases, continued or even increasing disobedience to these new “sins” will result, together with a false sense of guilt and a resulting alienation from God. Often there arises an increasingly uncompromising and legalistic insistence on these new rules on the part of those who do follow them, and genuine fellowship among believers in the church will fade away. Evangelism will often be stifled. For the silent proclamation of the gospel that comes from the lives of the believers will at least seem (to outsiders) to include the additional requirement that one must fit this uniform pattern of life in order to become a member of the Body of Christ.

  7. All you people have no idea what your talking about. Abortion is no good and we keep doing it. Drinking kills and we keep DRINKING. The government put u in jail for a fore arm but continues selling you fire arms. They sale you medical marijuana license but then take them from you. The church uses our money for good but continues getting richer. People dont know how to see the real picture.

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