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The Culture Is Shifting on Weed. Is the Church Ready?

The Culture Is Shifting on Weed. Is the Church Ready?

On Thursday, President Joe Biden made a series of sweeping announcements about federal marijuana policy, pardoning thousands of people and possibly setting a different court for U.S. law around weed in the near future.

The people most immediately impacted by Biden’s move is anyone who’s been federally convicted solely for possessing marijuana, a number estimated to be around 6,500 people. Currently, no one is in federal prison for possession, but Biden’s pardon will wipe thousands of records clean, removing obstacles in the way of applying to college, getting a job or finding a place to live.

Biden also asked state governors to do the same thing, which would impact way more people’s lives. It wasn’t immediately clear how many planned to follow his lead.

“Sending people to jail for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives — for conduct that is legal in many states,” Biden tweeted. “That’s before you address the clear racial disparities around prosecution and conviction. Today, we begin to right these wrongs.”

“While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted and convicted at disproportionately higher rates,” he added in a video address.

The move does not decriminalize marijuana at the federal level and Biden did not call on Congress to do so. He said that the government needs to maintain “important limitations on trafficking, marketing and underage sales of marijuana.” But he did say his administration would review the marijuana’s category, and whether it should be considered a lower offense. “The federal government currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance,” he said, “the same as heroin and LSD and more serious than fentanyl. It makes no sense.”

As weed grows in both social and legal acceptance, Christians are going to need to be ready to grapple with the issue of marijuana.


“Fred,” a pastor from Georgia [not his real name], has seen that the topic is still too taboo for many churches to deal with. He is a regular user of cannabis, but many people in his congregation don’t know that.

“We have to be an underground church, so to speak, in this area,” he says.

Fred has been a Christian for more than a decade, and says that if God asked him to stop regularly smoking weed, he would. But, to Fred, pot is a gift and a part of creation.

“I believe Genesis 1,” he says referring to the story of God creating all life on Earth. “He called it ‘good’ and ‘very good.’” Fred uses it to slow down, especially when the busyness of life and ministry becomes overwhelming.

“It’s like somebody just called a time out,” he says. “I can take a breath, and I can actually gather my thoughts.”

In fact, for Fred, it’s become an important part of his spiritual life.

“Over 90% of the use is for spirituality,” he says. “I’m either going to read the Bible. I’m going to listen to worship. I’m going to play my guitar and sing to the Lord.”

Fred has heard all of the concerns: The shaky legal status, the scary messages you hear about pot from anti-drug activists. However, he seems unmoved by them.

“I always laugh at the negative connotations,” he says. “They always say, ‘Cannabis or marijuana is a gateway drug.’ And I am always like, ‘Yeah, it’s a gateway to Jesus Christ.’”


You can walk across the street from Pastor Jeff Lacine’s church in Portland, Oregon, and buy a pre-rolled joint for just a couple of dollars. As a teen, Lacine was a daily marijuana smoker, but believes “God rescued me from the distorting clutches of marijuana abuse.”

He has some clear concerns and reservations about the Christian consumption of recreational marijuana, but he also sees the danger in being too quick to dismiss pot, especially in its medicinal use, as something that should be labeled sinful or flatly off limits. Lacine doesn’t want churches to repeat mistakes of the past.

“I think that evangelicals have largely recognized mistakes that the Church has made in reference to alcohol in the early 20th century and even into the mid- and late-20th century, as far as attitudes toward alcohol that were unbiblical and mainly, unbiblically restrictive,” he says. “Unbiblical restrictions have actually reduced our credibility and our witness.”

However, Lacine says that as pastors, there is still an obligation to “protect the flock” and offer leadership and insight when it comes to an issue that could potentially lead to destructive attitudes and behaviors.

“We need to be especially on guard against any claim that chemical-induced spiritual experiences draw us closer to Jesus,” Lacine says. “That practice is more akin to witchcraft than it is to any form of historically and biblically orthodox Christianity.”

But, instead of simply issuing a blanket prohibition of pot, Lacine believes that Christians need to look at the larger narrative of Scripture and understand where a substance like pot fits into it.

According to Lacine, this approach means asking, “What is the biblical, theological understanding, as we understand God’s redemptive plan through the whole Bible, and not just proof-texting the verses for or against?” he explains. Though, he says that after counseling many churchgoers who use recreational cannabis, “there is not a single case that I have come across where I have found it beneficial in an individual’s discipleship to Christ.”

For Lacine, it starts with understanding God’s desire for people to overcome the haze of the fallen world, and to actually see God as He really is.

“The promise of the Christian—the goal of redemption— is to see things as they really are,” he explains. “To see with clarity. That is ultimately seeing God as He really is.” With that understanding, does marijuana lead us to God’s design for redemption?

“I think the God-given place of substances in this world is to help us along that journey with our broken bodies,” Lacine explains. He points to coffee, which can help us wake up and think clearly. Similarly, he sees a scriptural place for proper alcohol use, which the Bible uses to help us understand ideas like celebration and abundance. That’s why he thinks pot needs to be discussed with such nuance and understanding.

“My hope is to push the Church, particularly the local church … to ask these questions with this redemptive, historical framework,” he says. “The question we need to ask with marijuana is, ‘Is it being used in a way where it’s clarifying or where it’s distorting?’ And that’s not a question that I can answer across the board. That’s the place where the local church is needed.”

Part of answering that question is understanding how pot is used, bred and sold. There are two primary components that make marijuana, marijuana: THC and CBD.

CBD (cannabidiol) is the part of the cannabis plant that is typically sold in oil form or edible candies that can be used for everything from pain management to treating insomnia. According to the World Health Organization, “CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential.” CBD also doesn’t affect mental clarity.

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive ingredient. In other words, THC is what gets you high. Different strains are bred with different amounts of both components. Oils like Charlotte’s Web has the benefits of CBD without any kind of intoxicating effect of THC. But many dispensaries sell weed specifically bred to contain more THC. The effects that different types of pot have on people—from a cancer patient using pot to alleviate the pain of chemotherapy and a parent using Charlotte’s Web to treat a child’s seizures—vary wildly.

That’s why Lacine believes that it’s important for local pastors to understand what exactly they are being asked about when they are asked about their thoughts on pot.

Ultimately, he sees a need for pastors and churches to understand the nuances of the issue and the individual circumstances of members of their congregation. Because of the complexities of the topic—recreational vs. medicinal uses, unclear legal statuses, differing effects on different people—things are more effectively handled on a relational level, when Christians can know the specifics of people’s needs and the kind of pot they are thinking of using. But that’s also why he believes pastors using marijuana in secret is concerning.

“Nine times out of 10, the people in their community hear that, just like I’m hearing it: This brother is self-deceived,” Lacine says. “He’s using chemicals, in a way, to find an escape from real issues that are to be battled by God’s grace, not by silencing out reality, but by welcoming accountability, the means of grace through Scripture, through prayers with brothers and sisters.”

Because, as Lacine explains, trials should be expected. “While the Gospel imparts to us great comfort in this life, it is not a comfort absent of trials,” he says. “Our goal as Christians in this world is not to escape every painful trial, but to glorify God in the midst of difficulties. God employs trials and difficulties to work what is pleasing to Him in his children … How many Psalms would have not been written if David would have silenced all that was going on inside of his heart with substance abuse?”


For years, Christians have been content to kick the can down the road with weed, largely letting local law enforcement set the tone of the Church’s engagement with cannabis. But while Biden’s move is ultimately limited in scope, it could very well have far-reaching implications for the future. Culturally, marijuana is already quite accepted, even among Christians. Sixty percent of Protestants say weed should be legalized, along with 53 percent of Catholics, according to the most recent study. Even evangelicals — generally the most conservative U.S. demographic — narrowly support legalization, with just over 50 percent saying they believe weed should be decriminalized.

So the time for action has come. Historically, American Christians have not done a great job of approaching complicated situations with nuance, grace and wisdom, but this is an issue that calls for all three. The societal shift on marijuana is clear, and the Church needs to shift along with it. The question is whether Christians will be reactionary in their attitude, or whether they will wisely and humbly lead the way to a higher ground.

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