Christians & Marijuana – Part 4 – On Dependency, Legalization & Glorifying God

Is marijuana addictive? Can you not be addicted but still “mastered” by something?Should marijuana be legal? What about separation of church & state?

READ: Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

READ: Part 2 – On Recreational Marijuana & the Brain

READ: Part 3 – The Main Event: Marijuana vs. Alcohol

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Who is the Master?

Finally, as we wrap up this series, we must not forget 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

In fact, while we’re at it, let’s throw in 1 Corinthians 10:23-24:

“‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.”

Even if marijuana were legal everywhere, and even if someone is not convinced that the Bible explicitly forbids all recreational use of it, is there anything profitable concerning marijuana outside the realm of the superficial?

Does it glorify God?

Is marijuana helpful in growing spiritually or emotionally?

More importantly, are you “mastered” by it?

Advocates of marijuana argue that it’s not addictive, but several studies argue otherwise, including a twenty-year study by the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland.[1] If you pay close attention, sometimes even ardent marijuana advocates let their guard down and admit that marijuana is addictive by saying it’s “less addictive” than alcohol.[2]

But say the advocates are correct, and marijuana addiction is rare and no stronger than addiction to, say, caffeine; in fact, maybe “addiction” is even too strong of a word — perhaps marijuana is simply habit-forming.

First, an unhealthy habit, though preferable to full-blown addiction, is still not an ideal situation. One has to carefully consider this unhealthy habit: Are you being “mastered” by it? Does it honor your God-given body? Does this habit honor God?

Secondly, those who fight for the legalization of recreational marijuana – whether writing articles, campaigning, or attending rallies – are showing that they are likely mastered by marijuana by that very act. Think about it: There are far more important things a person can be giving his mind, time, and energy to than fighting for his “right” to smoke marijuana.

Let’s be frank about it: Of all the problems in our world – from poverty to injustice to corruption – if the best use of one’s time is fighting for the legalization of recreational marijuana, then that person has to earnestly rethink his priorities, and what that person is ruled by is clear – and it’s not his love for God or neighbor.

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Legalization

Considering all that has been explored in this series, I believe one can make a moral case against the use of recreational marijuana. But what about legalization? Shouldn’t people have the right to do what they want with their bodies? Doesn’t the criminalization of marijuana waste law enforcement money and manpower?[3] Isn’t there a separation of church and state?

According to the Christian worldview, immorality is linked to what is destructive, and if something is destructive, Christians should stand against it. It’s our duty and right as citizens in a democracy to raise our voices against what is destructive with the goodwill of our fellow citizens in mind.

Likewise, if something is destructive to an individual, it’s destructive to society because no one lives in a vacuum. Where enforcement and penalties for marijuana use and possession certainly need to be carefully reassessed, it doesn’t logically follow that difficulty in enforcing a specific crime means that the crime should be decriminalized.

What About Separation of Church & State?

Furthermore, screams of separation of church and state misunderstand the First Amendment, which only prevents the government from establishing a government-endorsed religion or church. Thomas Jefferson himself made this clear in his letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802; creating a government completely free from all religious influence is not the First Amendment’s purpose.[4]

The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

In fact, in the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence we find these famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Talk of the endowment of rights from “their Creator” is not atheistic, secular jargon. And self-evident truths of the rights of all humans cannot be found in random, mindless, materialistic forces, but are the result of all people being made in the image of God. In fact, the only right that is self-evident from atheistic naturalism is the right of the fittest to survive and pass on their genes. So, where did the Founding Fathers get this idea that all people are created equal? Genesis 1:27 reads,

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

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Moreover, it’s simply impossible to completely separate religious belief from public policy in a democratic country that also guarantees freedom of religion. Everyone’s personal beliefs – whether religious or not – influence their ideas about public policy. Neutrality is impossible; even to claim to have no position is to hold a position.

Christians are often rightfully called hypocrites when they act negatively in conflict to their beliefs, such as if they show hatred towards their neighbors. On the other hand, Christians are rarely criticized for not acting positively according to their beliefs, such as not working for the benefit of their neighbors. Christians should work to influence the law for the benefit of their neighbors or else be rightly labeled hypocrites just as much as self-professed Christians who hate their neighbors.

And so…

Though all issues surrounding marijuana aren’t black-and-white, Scripture gives guidance and clarity to our thinking, as well as condemns all things that cloud our judgment.

With that, we’ll end this series with one last biblical concept that should guide our thoughts about marijuana and all that we do:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

(1 Corinthians 10:31)

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[1] Sean Williams, “A 20-Year Study on Marijuana Use Yields 5 Surprising Finds,” The Motley Fool, January 11, 2015. Accessed January 2015. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/01/11/a-20-year-study-on-marijuana-use-yields-5-surprisi.aspx

[2] “Know Your Limit,” Consume Responsibly, 2014. Accessed January 2015. http://www.consumeresponsibly.org/limit/

[3] Jamuna Carroll, ed., Marijana: Opposing Viewpoints, (Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2006), 126.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Politics—According to the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 33, Epub Edition.

Christians & Marijuana – Part 3 – The Main Event: Marijuana vs. Alcohol

Is marijuana less harmful than enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine? The Bible allows alcohol consumption in moderation, so can adult Christians use marijuana in moderation?

READ: Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

READ: Part 2 – On Recreational Marijuana & the Brain

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POT vs. ALCOHOL

A constant thread of thought running through many pro-marijuana arguments is how alcohol has far more negative effects – physically, mentally and socially – than marijuana.

For instance, alcohol plays a role in 2/3 of all violence by an intimate (spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend)[1] and contributes to 25% to 30% of all violent crime in America.[2] Alcohol is responsible for approximately 100,000 sexual assaults among young people[3] and an average of 79,000 premature deaths every year.[4] People are eight times more likely to be abusive on days they consumed alcohol compared to days they didn’t.[5]

Thus, marijuana advocates present the illegality of marijuana as an arbitrary law continued by decades of anti-marijuana bias.[6]

Is marijuana less harmful than enjoying a pint of beer or a glass of wine? The Bible allows alcohol consumption in moderation, so can adult Christians use marijuana in moderation? Christians should take good care of their God-given bodies, but is an occasional marijuana cigarette any worse than an occasional cigar or espresso shot or candy bar?

When speaking of recreational marijuana use, the key characteristic that differentiates it from other relatively unhealthy acts is that the vast majority of users only partake in marijuana for the sole purpose of becoming high.

alcoholic_beverages

In 1 Peter 5:8, Christians are called to be sober-minded (but joyful – Gal. 5:22-23), and drunkenness is clearly forbidden throughout Scripture. Outside of arguments for the medical uses of marijuana, I didn’t come across a single argument in my research that marijuana was for any other purpose than to become intoxicated.

Here, the comparison with alcohol breaks down because one can enjoy a pint of beer or a glass of wine without becoming inebriated. Many people enjoy beer and wine for the taste. Conversely, I’ve never come across an argument for marijuana legalization based on the pleasure of the taste or smell. Cigar smoking can be an unhealthy habit, but many Christians enjoy an occasional cigar because of the flavor. The reason for recreational marijuana use, whether stated or implied, is mental impairment.

To illustrate, even while arguing that increased numbers of traffic accidents in states with legalized recreational marijuana are inflated or inaccurate, marijuana advocates still freely admit that marijuana impairs driving abilities.[7] One advocate even tried to argue that marijuana users drive safer when they are high because they “are aware of their state and compensate for it”![8]

Even if the strength of one’s high can be regulated by a number of small “tokes,” the writer who careful explains all of this still says the goal is to achieve the smoker’s “ideal level of intoxication.”[9] Where there is nothing unusual about the idea of enjoying a glass of beer or wine without intoxication, it’s safe to say the idea of someone smoking marijuana without intoxication is, at best, an odd idea.

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Modern Prohibition 

Furthermore, the idea that marijuana is safer than alcohol so it should be legalized doesn’t constitute a solid logical argument. Just because one harmful thing is allowed, it doesn’t follow that something else that’s harmful should be allowed also. Because a parent may allow a child to eat a candy bar before dinner, it doesn’t follow that the parent must also let the child eat a bag of chips before dinner because the chips are a bit healthier. Obviously, this train of thinking is moving in the wrong direction.

Christians are fully aware of the destructive effects of alcohol on individuals, families, and society, and if Christians were somehow oblivious to the negative effects of alcohol, the Bible’s many warnings would tune them in to the danger. Alcohol is a gift from God to be enjoyed, but this doesn’t stop Christians from speaking out against its misuse. Likewise, one should expect Christians to speak out against another intoxicant such as marijuana. In fact, due to the destructive nature of alcohol, many Christians voluntarily abstain from alcohol completely so not to cause others to stumble (1 Cor. 8-10), though alcohol isn’t wholly forbidden to Christians by their Scripture.

Russel Moore wisely points out that alcohol “already had a ubiquitous [ever-present; found everywhere] presence in American society long before Prohibition, in ways marijuana has not.”[10] What Moore is saying is that Pandora’s Box has already been opened with alcohol, so mass prohibition like in the U.S. in the 1920s was a failure. On the other hand, marijuana does not have the pervasiveness that alcohol does, so why give it such pervasiveness by making it legal in the first place?

NEXT: Final: On Dependency & Legalization

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[1] Steve Fox and Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana is Safer, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), XiV.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., XiX.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Sandra M. Alters, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drugs, (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2011), 147.

[7] Chrsitine Van Tuyl, ed., Marijuana – Introducing Issues With Opposing Viewpoints, (Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2007), 38.

[8] Ibid., 34.

[9] Fox, Marijuana is Safer, 22.

[10] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Christians Torn About Legal Marijuana,” Christian Century, March 5, 2014, 14-15.

http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.sbts.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=664d73f4-0451-4bc4-8bd2-b43febd820ec%40sessionmgr4001&vid=14&hid=4211

Christians & Marijuana – Part 2 – On Recreational Marijuana & the Brain

If there’s a place for proper alcohol consumption in the Christian life, is there a place for proper recreational marijuana use? How safe is marijuana?

READ: Christians & Marijuana – Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

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In Part 1 we briefly discussed medical marijuana and also looked at what the Bible teaches about alcohol. We concluded that Christians aren’t forbidden from consuming alcohol, but it must be consumed in careful moderation. Various writers of the Bible are clear: drunkenness is clearly a sin.

Now, the question is: If there’s a place for proper alcohol consumption in the Christian worldview and lifestyle, is there a place for proper recreational marijuana use?

Marijuana typically refers to three species of cannabis plant.[1] THC is the active ingredient in marijuana with medical value,[2] and it’s also the only chemical in cannabis that is “significantly psychoactive,” meaning it gets people high.[3] The THC over-activates parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, and concentration, sensory and time perception, and coordinated movement.[4]

Inhalation is the quickest way of feeling the effects of marijuana, coming almost immediately. One pro-marijuana writer explains, experienced smokers can moderate their intake “fairly easily” by taking a small number of “tokes,” almost like sipping wine or beer.[5] Eating cannabis cooked in, say, a cookie or brownie is another common way of taking the drug, but the effects take much longer to feel, are much harder to regulate, and a much stronger high usually follows.[6]

Most opponents and advocates agree that there are negative effects of using marijuana, but their opinions differ greatly in how common and detrimental those negative effects are, including risks of addiction, depression, sexual dysfunction, and even traffic accidents.

I have to say, from my readings, it appears the studies testify more to the damaging effects of marijuana. Even if marijuana advocates decry the seriousness and pervasiveness of these negative effects, they’re negative effects nonetheless, which simply can be solved by not using marijuana in the first place.

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But there are several things that appear the majority on both sides agree upon:

First, death from an overdose of marijuana is unheard of,[7] though over-consumption can have negative, temporary effects.

Secondly, marijuana mixed with alcohol or any other drug is dangerous.

Next, adolescents and pregnant women[8] should certainly not use marijuana, one reason being it has much stronger negative effects on developing brains.[9] People who began smoking marijuana heavily in their teens lost as much as eight points of IQ between age 13 and 38. Cognitive abilities were not restored in those who quit as adults. Those who started smoking marijuana in adulthood did not show significant declines in IQ.[10]

Finally, both sides agree to certain health concerns with use, such as “noxious smoke” and the negative effects on the lungs[11], but disagree on the extent of the danger.

The pro-marijuana camp typically explains away such concerns in a way duly represented on a pro-pot website: “Like virtually any other substance or behavior, consuming marijuana can pose some problems for some people.”[12]

Yet, the safest, most logical course would be that pregnant women and adolescents should certainly not use marijuana. Moreover, since current research shows brain development continues well into our twenties,[13] should not marijuana advocates agree that marijuana shouldn’t be used by people at least until their thirties?

Some marijuana advocates vehemently dismiss any reports of marijuana’s damaging effects, but they should agree – at the very least – that further research is vital before ardently declaring it harmless. If nothing else, they should heed the logic of one pro-legalization writer:

“The reality, for even pro-legalization people like myself, is that there’s a dearth [lack] of research on the effects of marijuana… It’d be illogical to think that a psychoactive substance that gets you high doesn’t affect the brain. By definition, it does and we should be honest about that.”[14]

There’s a lot of wisdom in what he says. Anything that chemically over-activates parts of the brain and has psychoactive effects is bound to have side effects on the brain. The idea that marijuana is not a manmade chemical and therefore must be harmless doesn’t logically follow; deadly toxins are also found in nature, so being “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthy to consume.

NEXT: Finally! The Main Event: Recreational Marijuana versus Alcohol!

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[1] Steve Fox and Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana is Safer, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), 16.

[2] Sandra M. Alters, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drugs, (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2011), 149.

[3] Fox, 19.

[4]Laura Larsen, ed., Drug Abuse Sourcebook – Fourth Edition, (Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2014), 178.

[5] Fox, 21-22.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] Sean Williams, “A 20-Year Study on Marijuana Use Yields 5 Surprising Finds,” The Motley Fool, January 11, 2015. http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/01/11/a-20-year-study-on-marijuana-use-yields-5-surprisi.aspx

[8] Mark Kittleson, ed., The Truth About Drugs, (New York, NY: Facts On File, 2005), 64-65.

[9] New York Times: Upfront Magazine, “Marijuana: Breaking Down the Buzz,” December 8, 2104, 21.

[10] Larson, Drug Abuse Sourcebook, 109.

[11] Fox, Marijuana is Safer, 22.

[12] “Know Your Limit,” Consume Responsibly, 2014. Accessed January 2015. http://www.consumeresponsibly.org/limit/

[13] “Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years,” NPR.org, October 11, 2015. Accessed January 2015. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708

[14] Michael McCutcheon, “Here’s the Real Story Behind That ‘Marijuana-Changes-Your-Brain’ Study,” Mic.com, April 17, 2014. Accessed January 27, 2015. http://mic.com/articles/87875/here-s-the-real-story-behind-that-marijuana-changes-your-brain-study

Christians & Marijuana – Part 1 – On Medical Marijuana & Alcohol

What is the biblical stance on alcohol? Can this guide our understanding of marijuana use? Should Christians support the use of marijuana for medical reasons?

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On January 1, 2015, Colorado celebrated its first anniversary of legalized recreational marijuana, and since June of 2014 the state of Washington has also allowed its sale and use. Oregon and Alaska will soon join them in 2016.[1]

The status of marijuana in the U.S. is rapidly changing in many realms of our culture, including in law, medicine, and personal opinion. Pew Research in a 2013 report found 77% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and 52% support legalization for general, recreational use.[2]

Furthermore, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S.[3] Over 100 million U.S. citizens (nearly 42% of the population over the age of 12 years-old) admit that they have smoked marijuana.[4] In 2009, 76.6% of all drug-users surveyed used marijuana, and 58% of illicit drug-users used only marijuana and no other illicit drugs.[5]

 marijuana-leaf-joint-140423

MEDICAL USES

Some medicinal benefits of marijuana seem clear, such as with treating glaucoma and migraines[6], but it has not “passed the rigorous scrutiny of scientific investigation” to be found “safe and effective,”[7] nor has the benefits been conclusively shown to outweigh the risks. Also, a decisive way to measure and determine dosage has not been established, as it must be with all legalized medication.[8] Alternatives that do not have the negative side effects of marijuana also need to be further explored, like Marinol,[9] a manmade substitute for marijuana, and cannabidiol, which is a strain of cannabis. Both don’t induce intoxication.[10]

On the other hand, Marijuana certainly appears to be a safer, natural alternative to other drugs regularly prescribed today, like Oxycodone, which is extremely addictive and often leads to heroin addiction. Because of this, many Christians believe marijuana deserves consideration and further study, including Jeff Durbin, radio host of Apologia Radio, pastor, and former chaplain of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.[11] Russel Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, citing Proverbs 31:6, says it is “not a sin for an ill individual to use marijuana prescribed by a physician.”[12]

For now, the wisest course concerning medical marijuana is to administer tight control over it, much as we do with a substance like morphine, and continue to allow medical professionals to conduct studies, including studies of alternatives. This will also give clarity in the debates concerning recreational marijuana (the specific focus of this blog series) and its effects on health.

So, the question we will now move to is: In a country where consumption of alcohol is legal and perfectly acceptable, is there a place for legal, recreational marijuana?

 alcohol

BIBLICAL DATA

To begin, a clear understanding of the Bible’s teachings on drug-use needs to be established. Of course, the writers of the Bible never speak specifically about marijuana or illicit drugs, but they do give us principles about the drinking of alcohol that can be applied to marijuana use.

It’s safe to say the Bible’s stance on alcohol consumption is one of careful moderation. Where alcohol is clearly not forbidden, drunkenness is clearly sinful.

In the Old Testament, God tells Israel to enjoy wine (Deut. 14:26) and priests are told to include wine in an offering (Exodus 29:40). In the New Testament, Jesus’ first public miracle is turning water into wine (John 2:1-12), and he’s even accused of being a drunkard because he partook in “eating and drinking” (Matt. 11:19). Paul recommends Timothy to “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (1 Tim. 5:23). This verse also gives us insight into the responsible use of medical marijuana.

Conversely, drunkenness is strongly condemned. Throughout the Old Testament we see the negative effects of intoxication, such as when Noah and Lot drink too much (Gen. 9:21; 19:30-36), and we also see many warnings, including Proverbs 20:1 and 21:17 and throughout Proverbs 23. For example:

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
    and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (20:1)

“Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.” (23:31-35)

Yet, Proverbs 31:6-7 reads:

“Give strong drink to him who is perishing,

And wine to him whose life is bitter.

Let him drink and forget his poverty

And remember his trouble no more.”

Some may interpret 31:6-7 to encourage drunkenness, but considering the many warnings against intoxication in Proverbs and the rest of the Bible, we can conclude that inebriation is not the goal here. (As we saw above, Russel Moore quotes 31:6 as support for medical marijuana.)

In the New Testament, drunkenness is connected with debauchery (Eph. 5:18: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit”) and other sins, such as sorcery, strife, and envy (Gal. 5:20-21). In Luke 21:34, Jesus tells his followers to be prepared for his return and not drunk.

So, where alcohol consumption is allowed biblically, it’s partnered with many strong warnings for responsible drinking. These many warnings emphasize the dangers of alcohol and the great care with which we should use it.

Furthermore, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians contains overriding principles that we must also apply. First, Christians are to be good stewards of their God-given bodies:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

In addition, Paul writes:

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Cor. 6:12)

This passage not only speaks of the great freedom Christians have, but also about using that freedom wisely, not allowing anything to rule over our lives other than love of God and neighbor.

In the next articles, we’ll apply these biblical concepts for alcohol to marijuana. The question is: If there is a place for proper alcohol consumption in the Christian worldview and lifestyle, is there a place for proper recreational marijuana use?

NEXT: How Safe is Marijuana? and The Main Event: Recreational Marijuana versus Alcohol!

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[1] Chris Boyette and Jacque Wilson, “It’s 2015: Is Weed Legal in Your State?,” CNN.Com, January 7, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/07/us/recreational-marijuana-laws/

[2] Martin Alyson and Nushin Rashidian, A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition. (New York, NY: The New Press, 2014), 7.

[3] Laura Larsen, ed., Drug Abuse Sourcebook – Fourth Edition, (Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 2014), 117.

[4] Steve Fox and Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Marijuana is Safer, (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013), XV.

[5] Sandra M. Alters, Alcohol, Tobacco, and Illicit Drugs, (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2011), 146.

[6] Noel Merino, ed., Medical Marijuana: Current Controversies, (Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2011), 30.

[7] Ibid., 43.

[8] Larsen, 180.

[9] Merino, Medical Marijuana: Current Controversies, 27.

[10] Martin Alyson, A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition, 25.

[11] Jeff Durbin, “Is Marijuana Use a Sin?,” Apologia Radio. http://www.apologiaradio.com/?p=761

[12] “NEWS: Warnings About Marijuana Abound Amid Legalization Push,” The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, January 27, 2014, http://erlc.com/article/warnings-about-marijuana-abound-amid-legalization-push