Recreational marijuana became legal in Canada last week, the latest development in a decades-long push to decriminalize the drug around the world. Medical marijuana is now allowed in more than 30 U.S. states.
Religious groups have played conflicting roles in these policy shifts. People of faith are among the drug’s strongest supporters and strongest detractors. More conservative believers often say marijuana use is immoral because it pollutes the body and mind, but even some evangelical Christian pastors have come out in favor of medical marijuana as an effective treatment for long-term pain. These complex views are rarely discussed in the quirky stories about “cannabis churches” that spring up after legalization.
Ahead of Election Day on Nov. 6, when voters in Michigan, North Dakota, Missouri and Utah will vote on recreational or medical marijuana initiatives, here are resources to help you write about how faith communities respond to marijuana legalization.
- Read “Mormon church backs deal to allow medical marijuana in Utah” from The Associated Press on Oct. 4, 2018.
- Read “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints joins Utah coalition saying no to marijuana initiative, but yes to medical marijuana” from the Deseret News on Aug. 23, 2018.
- Read “Judge Rules Against Church Seeking To Offer Marijuana As Holy Sacrament” from HuffPost on July 9, 2018.
- Read “In red-state Oklahoma, marijuana ballot question splits people of faith” from Religion News Service on June 6, 2018.
- Read “65 percent of Americans say it’s ‘morally acceptable’ to smoke pot” from The Washington Post on June 4, 2018.
- Read “At ‘pot churches,’ marijuana is the sacrament” from California Healthline on Dec. 22, 2017.
- Read “Holy smoke! The church of cannabis” from The Guardian on Aug. 13, 2017.
- Read “As Nevada embraces pot, priest makes Catholic case for legalization” from Crux on July 5, 2017.
- Read “Holy Rollers: These Devout Christians Are Using The Bible To Argue That Pot Is God’s ‘Perfect Medicine’” from BuzzFeed News on May 15, 2017.
- Read “Clergy join push to legalize marijuana in mission of social justice” from the Chicago Tribune on June 2, 2015.
- Read “Blessing Marijuana For Mercy’s Sake” from The Washington Post on June 26, 2004.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Utah Medical Marijuana Initiative
- Episcopal Church: Urge the Adoption of Laws Permitting the Medicinal Use of Marijuana
- Islam: Is Medical Marijuana Allowed in Islam?
- Presbyterian Church (USA): Item 09-03: On Medical Use of marijuana
- Roman Catholic Church: Respect for the Dignity of Persons
- In 2014, Pope Francis reaffirmed his opposition to drug use and criticized legalization efforts.
- Southern Baptist Convention: Resolution On Alcohol And Other Drugs
- Russell Moore, president of the convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, spoke out against marijuana legalization on his podcast in 2014.
- Unitarian Universalist Association: 1970 General Resolution
- Union for Reform Judaism: The Medicinal Use Of Marijuana
- United Methodist Church: Alcohol and Other Drugs
- “Most in U.S. Say Consuming Alcohol, Marijuana Morally OK” from Gallup on June 4, 2018.
- “About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization” from Pew Research Center on Jan. 5, 2018.
- “One In Eight U.S. Adults Say They Smoke Marijuana” from Gallup on Aug. 8, 2016.
- “Legalize It? A Majority of Christians Say No to Recreational Pot” from Barna on May 12, 2014.
- “General Public, Christian Young Adults Divided on Marijuana Legalization” from Public Religion Research Institute on April 25, 2013.
Steve Berke is the founder of Elevation Ministries, which operates the International Church of Cannabis in Denver.
Amy Burdette, a sociologist at Florida State University, has conducted research into whether infidelity, marijuana use and other behaviors are more or less common among churchgoers.
The Rev. Danny Daniels is lead pastor of Better Life Community Church in Lindsay, Okla. When Oklahoma voters considered a ballot initiative on medical marijuana in 2018, Daniels spoke out in favor of the policy, explaining that his work with hospice patients helped him recognize the value of marijuana use.
Bobby Griffith is co-pastor of City Pres Church in Oklahoma City. In 2018, he supported Oklahoma’s ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.
The Right Rev. Scott Hayashi is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. He supports medical marijuana but advocated against Utah’s 2018 ballot initiative because of concerns about its structure.
Hannah Hetzer serves as the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior international policy manager. She worked on the campaign that led to marijuana legalization in Uruguay and continues to research related policies around the world.
Shaul Magid is a professor of Jewish studies and religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. Among his specialties are Jewish ethics, and contemporary conceptions of Jewish religiosity, renewal and fundamentalism.
Jeffrey Howard Mahan is a professor of religion and communication at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is the author of Media, Religion and Culture: An Introduction and Religion and Popular Culture in America.
He has compared marijuana use in faith communities to other forms of spiritual searching.
Rep. Allen Peake is a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives. He sponsored the 2015 bill that legalized medical cannabis in the state and has said that his Christian faith inspires his activism around the issue.
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has criticized conservative evangelicals who have spoken against or have remained silent on immigration and argued that the August 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was driven, in part, by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Arrange an interview through the Kairos Co.
Rodriguez has also spoken about how people of color are disproportionately affected by current drug laws.
Matthew Schweich is the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This organization is working to change marijuana laws across the country by lobbying legislators and coordinating state campaigns. In 2018, Schweich worked on the Utah ballot initiative.
The Rev. Al Sharp is the executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.
Darren E. Sherkat is a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He studies the intersection of religion, family and politics, and he’s working on a book about marijuana legalization.
The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s also a Catholic priest. He has argued that marijuana legalization could lead to some social benefits, like a reduction in illegal drug trafficking.
Eric E. Sterling is the executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, which advocates for drug policy reforms. From 2013 to 2017, he served on the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and helped author the state’s medical marijuana regulations. Sterling has written about Quaker teachings and drug law.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president of Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix. In 2016, he joined with an interfaith group of Arizona leaders to support a ballot initiative seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. He has written about Jewish teachings on gambling.
Julio Calzada is the director of social politics for the city of Montevideo, Uruguay. He previously served as secretary-general of the country’s National Drug Council and oversaw marijuana legalization there.
Maziyar Ghiabi is a lecturer in modern Iranian history at the University of Oxford. He studies politics, social history and the history of drug laws, and he is one of the co-authors of a 2018 study on Islam and cannabis.
Alison Mather is the director of Quaker Action on Alcohol & Drugs, a British organization dedicated to addressing alcohol and drug abuse, as well as related policies, from within the Quaker tradition.
Imam Syed Soharwardy is the founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, which aims to help Canadians understand Islamic teachings and culture. In the lead-up to Canada’s vote on recreational marijuana, he took part in community discussions on drug use. He supports medical marijuana, but he believes Muslims should not use the drug recreationally.
The Rev. Gerry Taillon is the national ministry leader for the Canadian National Baptist Convention. After Canada legalized recreational marijuana, he called for churches to be more vocal about the dangers of drug use.