The Conservative Christian Case For Pot Legalization

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Feed the hungry, heal the sick—and free the weed.

There’s a Bible verse for every situation and a teaching of Jesus interpreted to justify just about anything, however tortured. But as Buzzfeed recently reported, more and more conservative Christians in the Deep South—exactly the kind of people in exactly the kind of place where lawmakers and law-enforcement types have relied on popular support for the “morals” of the drug war—are discovering that church and legalization can co-exist. 

More specifically, they’re discovering that if you’re a true Christian—no fallacies here—the only proper course of action is to agitate for legal medical marijuana. And in the Bible Belt, that means using the Bible to do it.

Lydia Decker is a 49-year-old “nondenominational” but nonetheless staunchly conservative Christian living in West Texas, the place where (for some people, anyway) a border wall makes sense. The front lines of the drug war, in other words.

Decker, who interprets the Bible’s teachings literally, has a habit of handing out business cards with a Bible verse—Genesis 1:29.

That verse reads, roughly, depending on your translation (we like the fire-and-brimstone King James; it’s like a reality show where losing contestants receive eternal damnation): “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”

This is the Bible verse quoted by lawmakers in other deep-red, God-fearing states—including Oklahoma and Decker’s Texas—to push for reform on marijuana policy. This is also the verse Decker is using as the name for her pro-legalization organization.

As she told Buzzfeed, “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”

As former Texas state Rep. David Simpson—a conservative Christian and very much a Republican—argued in 2015, when the Tea Party favorite introduced a legalization bill: if God made it, it must be good. And since God made everything, God made weed—and hence, it’s good.

“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” Simpson wrote in a 2015 editorial in the Texas Tribune. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Simpson’s bill didn’t make it to the floor of the Texas state house for a vote, but it wasn’t a total failure by any measure.

In the two years since, marijuana policy has become a mainstream issue in Texas state politics. Cannabis possession was decriminalized in Houston, the state’s largest city, and there is more support than ever for a workable medical marijuana system.

And in Oklahoma—which may have some of the very worst and most punitive drug laws in the United States, with lawmakers so hellbent on maintaining a status quo that’s required the state to spend more on private prisons than it spends on education—a former state senator pushing for marijuana legalization used the Genesis 1:29 quote to anchor the campaign.

It should be noted that that was one of former state Sen. Constance Johnson’s last acts in office before she was handily defeated in a special election for the U.S. Senate.

At the same time, mainstream conservative Christianity’s interpretation of cannabis is closer to the version preached by “fundamentalist” Islam’s mullahs. 

Most Muslim scholars believe marijuana (and alcohol) cannot be consumed by the faithful because they are intoxicants. Here, the two Abrahamic religions share common ground.

As Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention told Buzzfeed, cannabis creates a state of intoxication similar to drunkenness.

And while there is an awful lot of drunkenness in the Bible—some of it the fault of Jesus, who did, after all, turn water into wine—being buzzed is not exactly a state of grace. (For a good time, try and tell that to the Biblical scholars who believe that the “anointing oil’ used by Jesus was cannabis oil. Put them in the same room as Moore if you can.)

This would be why Moore’s group officially told voters to oppose the legalization efforts on November’s ballot, a direction most voters ignored. Legalization won in four states, and in three others—Arkansas, North Dakota and Florida, all deep-red Trump-supporting states—voters approved medical marijuana.

That’s also partially why one Texas resident Buzzfeed interviewed had her membership in a local Seventh-Day Adventist church revoked for wearing a T-shirt that read “Cannabis is medicine, make it legal.”

So 64-year-old Faith Bodle—who lived most of her life in intractable pain before her son provided her “two tiny hits” that made her agony evaporate as if by a miracle—found another church, where she continues to preach her version of the good news.

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