My last post outlined some reasons why marijuana should remain illegal. But as the "big lie" that marijuana is actually "medicinal" keeps getting pushed into the public square, many Christians who once knew better are starting to wonder how - or even if - to respond. If you do wade into the debate, you'll probably hear variations on these two arguments:
The first argument is that society will actually benefit from legalization, because like Prohibition, the ban on drugs leads to criminality, as gangs move in to supply demand. The danger with this argument is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: banning something that people view as benign - indeed medicinal - makes no sense, so of course we should fear bootleggers and hoodlums more. But that begs the question - marijuana is a bad thing that moves people away from living a good life. That's why it is banned and why we are willing to make efforts to stop those who would nonetheless traffic in it for profit, undeterred and unconcerned by the carnage that is left in their wake. Just as we expend resources and take losses in stopping gang activity generally, gang activity seeking to profit from the misery implicit in drug dealing should be vigorously resisted. In other words, the danger is that if enough people delude themselves into thinking that marijuana (and later on other drugs) is benign at worse or medicine at best, there will be no point in trying to deter its use, as the “norm” will have shifted. (By the way, in that event, it will shift back eventually, or we will collapse as a culture, because nature is never deluded. People addicted to or dependent on drugs cannot form the basis for the robust self-government that this country was founded upon. But I digress). The point is that we should not go down that road, because it is clear to thinking adults that, except for the tiniest percentage of terminal patients, marijuana produces only harmful effects. The rational response to this is to ban it, enforce the ban when criminality arises, and work to educate the public to reject it for the blight that it is.
The second argument is that we should allow illegal drugs to be legal so that we can be consistent, because tobacco and alcohol are both legal. Reduced to its core, this argument says that if one bad thing is legal, then all bad things must also be legal. To be true to this principle, we would have to agree to legalize every item of contraband, from mushrooms to PCP to heroin. This is plainly irrational. Moreover, even if we did legalize marijuana, we won’t get rid of every criminal pedaling it. There will still be violence associated with its distribution, and the gangs will shift their efforts to other illegal substances. But that is why organized societies have law enforcement, to always be there to enforce the rules.
But there is also a way to distinguish between alcohol and marijuana. The opposition will acknowledge that alcohol is terribly harmful when abused, both in terms of violence and injury stemming from drunkenness. Consequently, we rightly criminalize most bad aspects of its use, such as being drunk in public, DUI or even having an open container in a car. But the truth remains that alcohol is also a beverage and can be used in a responsible and healthy manner. Red wine for instance is both a beverage and a healthy addition to one’s diet, as long as it is used correctly and not allowed to become a crutch. Alcohol is deeply embedded in our cultural roots and will always have the potential for positive and proper use. There is no way to completely separate the two uses and so as a culture our ties to alcohol are simply too strong to break. This may one day be true of marijuana, but it is not true today. That is why we must continue speaking the truth and fighting against the lie that it is "medicine."
The comparison to cigarettes is a bit more difficult. Cigarettes have been a blight on our culture, in terms of the cost in life, health and wealth that is imposed on those who become addicted to them. We would be better off if cigarettes were outlawed, but before we can do that, the effort to educate the public must continue. We are on the right track, and if we can continue to educate people, perhaps we can eventually eliminate use, as well informed people see smoking for what it is. For now, the rational response has been what we have done – prevent the deleterious effects of second-hand smoke by banning it from most public places, tax it heavily to increase its cost, and get the educational message out at each and every opportunity. Use the media to push the message that smoking is bad and unhealthy until finally that message begins to permeate to all levels of society. Build up a stigma around it so that far from being "cool," cigarette smokers are seen as misguided at best or dangerous to others at worst. Watch a movie from the 60’s, with smoke everywhere inside a restaurant or office, and think about how far we have come. Why would we want to go in the opposite direction with another carcinogen that can be smoked – and that has the additional health problems that are well documented?
In short, the arguments in favor of legalizing marijuana are a deception, designed to appeal not to what is good but what is practical. They rely on shallow thinking; they represent an abandonment of the notion that sober living is a worthy goal for a society to encourage. The Bible is full of exhortations about the value of sober living (See eg. 1 Thessalonians 5; 1 Tim. 3; Galatians 5; 1 Peter 4; Romans 13). If we are to be salt and light - if we are to be true to our calling as Christians in a culture badly in need of sound and mature judgment - then we must be ready to not only see the lie inherent in the pro-legalization forces but also be ready to expose it as a lie. Our children's future is depending on it.