by Trevor Antley
Some Christians believe that the Bible endorses the use of marijuana or that legalizing medical cannabis is something God would endorse. For example, Christians who believe the Bible supports the use of marijuana most commonly cite this verse from Genesis:
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:29, NRSV)
The same biblical idea from Genesis is reinforced a few chapters later as well:
Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. (Genesis 9:3, NRSV)
For some Christians, and even some ministers and pastors, these verses alone justify partaking in cannabis—after all, God gave us every plant. In his famous commentary on the Bible, the theologian Albert Barnes gave the following interpretation of Genesis 1:29:
“Every herb bearing seed and tree bearing fruit is granted to man for his sustenance. … As usual in Scripture the chief parts are put for the whole, and accordingly this specification of the ordinary and the obvious covers the general principle that whatever part of the vegetable kingdom is convertible into food by the ingenuity of man is free for his use.”
If this clearly justifies the use of cannabis for Christians, then why not legalize it as a medicinal pain killer? It has been clinically proven that cannabis helps dull neuropathic pain with virtually no side effects. For example, a 2015 clinical trial published in Canadian Family Physician concluded, “The current evidence suggests that very low-dose medical marijuana (<34 mg/d) is associated with an improvement in refractory neuropathic pain of moderate severity in adults using concurrent analgesics.” Or a 2012 meta-study that concluded, “Evidence is growing that cannabis can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, presenting a safe and viable alternative or adjunct to pharmaceutical opiates,” as well as noting that “cannabis has the potential to both relieve suffering for those suffering from chronic pain, and to reduce morbidity and mortality often associated the use and abuse of pharmaceutical opiates.”
On a New Jersey radio show, ‘Pastor Bill’ called on “every pastor, every minister, every church across the country should jump on board and get marijuana legal. … When you have the pain levels that I have, or even like the last gentleman … where he was fighting because he had so many things regarding pain. It’s disgusting. Every church should jump on board. God gave us this plant to help us.”
‘Pastor Bill’ is not the only one who believes cannabis should be legalized. According to the Huffington Post, “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.”
DeMoss’s reasoning was slightly different, however, than Pastor Bill’s reasons. Mark DeMoss explained to the Post, “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.”
But whatever the reasoning for legalizing cannabis, I am sure Pastor Bill and other Christians who want to buy marijuana legally would welcome their support in their call for “every pastor, every minister, [and] every church” to “get marijuana legal.”
Some large churches and religious organizations are lining up in support for medical cannabis as well, although most are not the conservative Christian churches and movements in the United States. Still, the list contains several influential and respected religions and churches, including the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the Union for Reformed Judaism, the Progressive National Baptists Convention, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Church of Christ.
Individual clergy from different faiths, numbering about 60 in Pennsylvania and dubbing themselves “Clergy for Compassion,” have also announced their support for legalized medical marijuana. In their official statement, these diverse clergy wrote,
“Across Pennsylvania, there are patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and other debilitating conditions for which medical cannabis has been found to provide significant medical benefits. Some find it to be the most effective way — or, in some cases, the only way — to effectively treat their maladies or the symptoms associated with them. Nobody should have to break the law in order to ease their suffering or that of a loved one.
“We cannot remain silent while people in pain and anguish are deprived of a viable, safe, and responsible remedy.”
Rabbi George Stern, executive director of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, stated simply his reasons for supporting the group and their effort to legalize cannabis: “Jewish tradition teaches that we have both private and public obligations to heal illness and treat pain.”
Another member of this group, Pastor Shawn Berkebile, said,
“I have always believed that God calls us to speak for the voiceless, the suffering, and the hurting. There are people suffering right now — in our homes, at our places of work, in line at the grocery store, and sitting in our houses of worship. Medical marijuana is providing hope for the hopeless and I want the lawmakers of Pennsylvania to realize this.”
Clearly churches and religious organizations listed above and these sixty clergy from different faiths do not see anything contradictory in their religion or in their scripture that should indicate cannabis, especially medical cannabis, should be illegal. In fact, they see it as quite the opposite. ‘Pastor Bill,’ and many others, believe the Bible supports the legalization of marijuana because the Bible states God gave man every seed-yielding plant. Other clergy, like Rabbi George Stern and Pastor Shawn Berkebile, see the justification for legalizing cannabis is because their religions and their scriptures teach compassion, healing, and help for the suffering—which they recognize can be achieved through medical cannabis for not only forms of chronic pain but for a number of other conditions.
Trevor Antley is a writer, editor, and historian. He was raised in Louisiana but has lived most of last ten years in Utah. He studied history, classical languages, and editing at Brigham Young University. He can be reached on Twitter, Facebook, or his personal website TrevorAntley.com.