Cannabis and the Bible – Where Is the Stigma From?

Cannabis, Bible and Stigma

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding cannabis and the Bible. Does the Bible speak against casual use of cannabis? The simple answer is no. The Bible never says a word about using cannabis. So where does the stigma come from? In order to answer the question, we’ll take a look at the references to cannabis that are found in the Bible, and then we’ll consider the history behind the smear campaigns that have been perpetuated against this plant.

To begin with,

God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1, ESV

God created everything, including all plants, which includes even cannabis. And God said,

Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Genesis 1:29–31, ESV

All of God’s creation, including cannabis, is very good. And every plant, again including cannabis, is intended for our use.

Cannabis gets an even more specific mention in Exodus 30:22–25, where God instructs Moses on how to make holy anointing oil. The third ingredient, variously translated as “aromatic cane,” “fragrant reed,” “cassia,” “sweet myrtle,” or “calamus,” is the Hebrew word kaneh-bosm. And some scholars are coming to believe that “cannabis” would be the better translation.

Of course, none of these references speak to whether it’s okay to actually use cannabis. No one in the Bible is said to have used cannabis, but then no in in the Bible is said to have prohibited it either. The Bible is simply silent on this matter.

But scripture does have a lot to say about drinking alcohol or “strong drink.” Some passages seem to speak against it, while other passages praise it as a gift from God. Taken as a whole, the message we get from the Bible regarding alcohol is that it is indeed a gift to be enjoyed, but that we should do so responsibly and in moderation. There’s nothing wrong with occasionally getting drunk, but we are to avoid a lifestyle of continual drunkenness.

The Apostle Paul teaches that

your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. 1 Corinthians 6:19, ESV

As such, we should take care of our bodies. So, whether it’s alcohol or cannabis, we are free to partake—we must simply be careful not to overdo it. Thankfully,by any measurement, cannabis has been shown to be far safer and less damaging to our bodies than alcohol.

What’s more, cannabidiol – an oil derived from cannabis, also known as CBD – is proving to be an excellent source of healing for people with inflammation, insomnia, epilepsy, anxiety, depression and many other ailments. It’s also not psychoactive, which means you can use it all you like and not worry about getting high from it.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ, the very Word of God, teaches us that the whole law hangs on only two simple principles:

And he said to him,

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37–40, ESV

And Paul reiterates the same thing, clarifying further:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Romans 13:8–10, ESV

So according to both Jesus and Paul, so long as our actions are carried out in love, so long as we do no wrong to our neighbor, then we fulfil the law. And using cannabis – especially the extremely beneficial CBD oil – in no way harms our neighbor, and even serves to bring healing to us in the process.

So why does this stigma against cannabis exist? Why do Christians, by and large, seem to believe that using cannabis is sinful? The answer lies in the ridiculous—and deeply racist—history of smear campaigns against cannabis.

In an article for “The Fix”, columnist, author, and Time magazine health reporter Maia Szalavitz explains,

What most people think they know about cannabis—especially media columnists—is just years of unscientific, paranoid, and even racist government propaganda.

The central figure behind it all is a man named Harry Anslinger. Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (an early predecessor of the DEA), was one of the driving forces behind cannabis prohibition. He pushed it for explicitly racist reasons, saying,

Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men,

and:

There are 100,000 total cannabis users in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from cannabis use. This cannabis causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.

The main reason to prohibit cannabis, he said was:

its effect on the degenerate races.

Harry Anslinger joined forces with William Randolph Hearst, “a publishing and timber mogul who owned major newspapers and popular magazines” and who, according to an article by Gooey Rabinski for MassRoots, “had a clear financial interest in defeating the success of hemp.” Hearst also, “according to one biography, ‘…hated minorities, and he used his chain of newspapers to aggravate racial tensions at every opportunity.’” Anslinger and Hearst “embarked on one of the world’s most effective and long-lasting smear campaigns”:

Together, they crafted a highly inflammatory anti-cannabis public relations crusade with the goal of making the euphoric herb (and, more importantly, its sibling hemp) illegal—effectively eliminating it as a competitor to a variety of petrochemical products (DuPont’s territory) and timber (Hearst’s goldmine). Using Anslinger’s position within the U.S. government and leveraging Hearst’s empire of newspapers and magazines as propaganda outlets, the two concocted outlandish stories, all of which depicted cannabis as being hyperbolically more destructive than what is perceived today as a mild euphoriant that gives its users giggles and the munchies. Their dramatic and sensationalistic stories described cannabis as an evil drug that led to murder, rape, and insanity.

Despite the obvious absurdity of all these claims, the smear campaign worked, and cannabis gained a stigma that has held on to this day. In 1937, Congress passed the Cannabis Tax Act—even though the American Medical Association opposed it—which made it illegal to cultivate or possess cannabis. And we’re still stuck with similar Federal regulations today.

This poses a bit of a problem for Christians, as Paul said,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God Romans 13:1, ESV

On the one hand, we want to caution against applying this verse carelessly, because corrupt governments throughout history have used it to justify all manner of atrocities, and that’s obviously was not what Paul had in mind. But on the other hand, as a general rule, it is a good idea to obey the laws of the land.

Thankfully, even though Federal laws still restrict cannabis under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, several states are swinging drastically toward legalization, as a July 20, 2018 article from Business Insider reports:

Medical cannabis is legal in…30 states after voters in Oklahoma approved a ballot initiative to legalize medical cannabis in June.

And if your state hasn’t yet legalized medicinal cannabis, you may not have to wait too long. The American population as a whole is very much in favor of it:

Support [for cannabis] reached new highs in 2018. A Gallup poll showed that 64% of Americans favor legalization, and even a majority of Republicans back it.

For now, nothing in Paul’s statement suggests that we shouldn’t work toward improving our laws to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. In the meantime, using cannabis-related medicinal substances like CBD to treat epileptic seizures, anxiety, depression, inflammation, and many other problems, is certainly not harmful to us, or to those around us.

Carson Mills
Carson Mills
Carson Mills is a freelance writer and editor. He lives with his family in Washington state, where he enjoys the beautiful scenery, as well as the freedom afforded by Initiative 502. When not nose-deep in a book, he’s usually blogging about some controversial point of theology.

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