Recreational Marijuana: How Christians Can Respond

Is the Christian permitted to use marijuana?
While America celebrated 239 years of independence on July 4, many in Oregon were celebrating four days of legalized recreational marijuana use. The Pacific Northwest state joins Colorado, Washington, and Alaska, who also now allow people to use and possess limited amounts of pot for recreational use. The number of states where marijuana possession or medicinal use of marijuana is now legal is growing all the time. And the number of questions that are being asked of pastors and other Christians are growing even faster.
What should the pastor say when confronted with that inevitable? In the past, the answer was easy and took little thought. “No – it is illegal.”
The question is more complicated now. An appeal to the law for prohibition cannot be made. The Christian is going to have to have reasons. Of course, an explicit prohibition on marijuana does not appear in the Bible, but the Bible is sufficient for ministry and godliness. It does speak to the issue, but in order to hear what Scripture says, we will need to think about four different issues: 1) What is the role of federal, state, and local law in the life of the Christian? 2) How does marijuana work? 3) What does the Bible say about inebriation? and 4) What does Jesus ask of His disciples?

The Christian and the Law

The Christian is obligated to obey the law (Rom. 13:1-2), but that is not the last word. Because the authority of the state is derived and not absolute, authorities can be in the wrong. They do not have the right to command that which the Lord prohibits or prohibit that which the Lord commands (Dan. 3; Acts 4:19). What the government deems as lawful is not always beneficial for the Christian. There are a host of sinful activities that the government permits (e.g., adultery, drunkenness, gluttony, abortion, coveting, jealousy, lust, etc.). Consider the events of the last couple weeks and the U. S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize and protect the “right” of same-sex couples to unite in state-recognized marriages.
Perhaps looking to government to define good and evil in the past was not a bad idea. This is no longer the case. And this is particularly relevant for the Christian and marijuana: Government permission is not a reliable indicator of what God approves.

The Science: What is marijuana and how does it work?

The Bible does not say anything explicit about marijuana, but it has a lot to say about inebriation. Therefore we need to understand what marijuana is and how it works.
Marijuana is the dried and shredded leaves and flowers of the hemp plant, Cannabis Sativa. It is chemically complex with many different agents. The most notable is Tetrahydro-cannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component. In most of the brain, it increases the tendency to fire. This causes an increase of dopamine levels, which brings with it the sought-after feeling of pleasure and euphoria. In the hippocampus, responsible for memory creation, it will cause a decrease in firing. THC also decreases firing in the cerebellum which is responsible for motor control.
Inhaling marijuana will bring quick results as 50% of the THC inhaled is absorbed into the bloodstream within minutes of inhalation. Absorption rates are much slower when edible marijuana products are used. A marijuana “high” will also bring with it less desirable short-term effects such as memory loss, diminished problem solving skills, and reduced motor coordination. Responses vary from person to person.

The Bible: What does it say?

The biblical testimony on alcohol is straightforward: drunkenness is prohibited (1 Cor. 5:11). Inebriation is a sin, pure and simple. The Bible provides a host of reasons for why the activity is sinful: seeing and imagining things and the loss of physical awareness and control (Prov. 23:31-35); poverty and financial ruin (Prov. 21:17); and illness (Isa. 19:14; 28:7-8).
But the Bible also presents a positive case for avoiding drunkenness. The Christian is supposed to be controlled by the Spirit, not mind and behavior altering drugs (Eph. 5:18). Further, Jesus demands intentionality in the life of the disciple, with no divided loyalties or double-mindedness (Rom. 12:1-2; James 1:8). Self-control, highly valued by those who want to honor the Lord (Prov. 25:28; Titus 2:2-7), is difficult to maintain when inebriated.

The Disciple: How does recreational marijuana use relate to following Jesus?

So what has Haight-Ashbury to do with Jerusalem? If intoxication is forbidden for the Christian, does that settle the issue? How much of the thinking about the Christian and alcohol transfer to the Christian and marijuana? Quite a bit it would seem, but that does not exhaust all that can be said. Here are a few questions that warrant further investigation and development:

  • Is there any reason to smoke pot recreationally other than to get high? Absorption rates into the bloodstream are so high that marijuana use is typically not coupled with adjectives like “mild,” “moderate,” or “innocuous.” The purpose is to get the potent effect of the THC.
  • Why the desire to feel the effects of the THC and how does such gratification fit into following Jesus? Is it an escape from troubles or suffering? Well this leads to a host of other questions that must be asked. Is drug induced euphoria a faithful means to deal with life’s struggles? Is it possible that the point of discipleship is not to escape suffering, but to remain faithful in the midst of it (2 Cor. 12:1-10; James 1:2-4)?
  • Is the reason behind pot use the pursuit of pleasure? For the Christian, pleasure should be seen as the gift of God that accompanies and rewards right ends. Pleasure is never to be the end itself. In fact, the apostle Paul warned that the end times would be characterized by those who prioritize the pursuit of pleasure over faithfulness (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Rather, the Christian is to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33) and engage in those behaviors that promote it (Rom. 14:17).
  • Is recreational marijuana use consistent with the call for Christians to be “sober-minded” (1 Pet. 1:13)? I realize that Peter was not making a particular case against drunkenness in this passage. He was actually giving a far greater mandate: The disciple of Jesus Christ is to be in charge of his faculties, intentionally setting his mind on future grace. Will unclear thinking get in the way of grace? Paul taught that the Christian is to take every thought captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Will THC enhance or diminish that ability?
  • Will recreational marijuana use enhance the Christian’s ability to use her gifts? The Jesus-follower is to be ready to proclaim the gospel at all times (2 Tim. 4:2), always ready to give a defense (1 Pet. 3:15). Such readiness requires an awareness and intentionality that few would associate with marijuana use.
  • Should the Christian really ask, “How far can I go before I sin?” The biblical logic for the disciple is that are many things that are permitted, but fewer are beneficial, and some can actually enslave (1 Cor. 6:12-13). Mature Christians are committed to serving the Lord in such a manner that they freely relinquish some “rights” for the sake of others (Rom. 14:13-23; 1 Cor. 8:7-13)

Todd Miles is Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, OR. He is married to Camille and they have six children. Todd serves as an elder at Hinson Church. A graduate of Oregon State University, Western Seminary, and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Todd is author of A God of Many Understandings? The Gospel and a Theology of Religions.



  • James says:

    You know what I think about this. It really disturbs me when you say inibriation because when I smoked it was never to be inibriated it was always used to calm my nerves. I don’t drink or do drugs. Most people have prescribed medication. Well I started smoking at age seven it was passed to me from a family member cause I was under alot of pressure. I ran the streets bin in gangs an served in the military. Now as far as marijuana inibriated someone…. Hmmm maybe a pot head. I never smoked alot half a joint here half a joint there sometimes I’d go months without smoking. But you see being a Christian is very stressful now days not jus being a Christian but jus being a good person now days is hard. People deal with things very different from others. Most people drink. I can’t drink I get sick. An you would never see me popping pills. Something that is grown wildly can be illegal? Do you know that it’s scientifically proven that people that have ate shrooms have a better outlook on life. Do you know that back in the biblical days the scents that theyed burn in homes was hash? See when Christians that write these post need to understand that there are godly people out there that know more or should I say gifted. We’re all sinners no doubt. But to judge someone that smokes marijuana is kinda stupid. These are people that have been to a good college an think they know the word its so funny cause most pastors a far from the truth it ain’t funny. It should be legalized but jus like everything God has grown the devil puts a twist on things. It’ll become like alchol with dumb sinful commercials an people won’t use it for its original purpose. It was used to calm the soul an get closer to God if you really wana know what marijuana was originally used for.

  • Jim Musacchio says:
    Comments below are mine on an article in Haven Today concerning Marijuana and it’s use by Christians. Jim Musacchio
    While I am in complete agreement with you on the use of Recreational Marijuana but I am afraid that like most believers you are throwing the baby out with the bath water on the marijuana debate.
    Is the reason behind pot use the pursuit of pleasure?
    In many people the answer is yes but not in all users is it for pleasure.
    Is there any reason to smoke pot recreationally other than to get high?
    Yes there are a number of reasons and although most Fundamental Christians fail to acknowledge it as a Mediation when used properly. Also and smoking is not the approved medical method of delivery into the body.
    Absorption rates into the bloodstream are so high that marijuana use is typically not coupled with adjectives like “mild,” “moderate,” or “innocuous.”The purpose is to get the potent effect of the THC.
    While this is true for the drug addicted abusers who want to escape from the world and reality there are many that smoke to relieve their: Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar highs and low, ADD, OCD Autism, Scizophrenia, just to name a few of the mental disorders afflicting people. Marijuana is also used very effectively to relieve the sickness and appetite loss of those undergoing Chemotherapy. Marijuana users will tell you that it gives them the Munchies. It also relieves the pain for those dying from cancer without being Sedated With Morphine. It is effective for Migraine sufferers, people with Chronic Pain, Parkinson’s Disease, Seizures, in Relieving the Pressure in the Eyes of those with Glaucoma, Inflammation, Arteritis, fighting Cancer and many other physical ailments.
    All this is accomplished with the TCP Marijuana that is smoked or eaten in brownies or such other enables. And Yes, it Can And Does have a Psychotropic Effect Depending on the Strength of the TCP in the marijuana and the amount smoked or ingested.
    Now let’s address the “Medical Marijuana”Issue which is a completely different subject than Recreational Smoking of Marijuana. Medical Marijuana is not TCP. It is CBD, it is Not Psychotropic and there is a vast difference between the two chemicals. Although TCP will give some relief from many things it has to be used often and the chance of the High becomes a problem as it does not contain an effective amount of CBD. No one is advocating for the use of Recreational TCP Marijuana for Medical Use. CBD is what is being used for Medical Use.
    I find it hard to believe that Todd Miles, Professor of Theology and author of the article would present such a one sided biased presentation against marijuana without presenting the True Medical Use of CBD Marijuana vs Pleasure Smoking of TCP Marijuana. As one who has obtained a PHD in Theology I would have hoped he would have used his ability to do some research before writing such a Straw Man Argument against marijuana use. Do Believers need to be warned against something that is used for pleasure or is it the fact that so many Believers are just plain Carnal? These are the same ones that the Apostil Paul described as getting drunk when supposedly taking the Lord’s Supper. I also understand why Haven Today would want to warn those, who in their So Called Liberty, would then believe it was OK just because the government said it was legal to do so as was properly pointed out in the article. We have already bought into the Church so many worldly practices and ideas that a warning must be given. But again it troubles me that there was No Differentiation made Between Marijuana for Pleasure and Marijuana for Medical Use.
    We rightfully know the Wine is an Intoxicant when drunken to excess and have been warned scripturally not to be drunk with wine yet all the people in the Bible that we rever as righteous men and women drank wine except the Nazarite who neither drank wine, cut his hair or came in contact with a dead body. Yet the Lord Jesus him self drank wine even obliging his mother’s request when the wine ran out at the wedding feast and it wasn’t baptist gape juice wine either.
    The point I want to make is even as there is a vast difference between the proper consumption of wine and drunkenness, so there is a vast difference between the proper use of medical marijuana and the pleasure use of it. You do a vast injustice to marijuana as a medication by presenting a one sided view that portrays marijuana as an intoxicant drug. Do we not know that many drugs have been derived from natural plant sources? Opium and Cocaine are dangerous drugs yet as used in a medication they are not dangerous unless abused. Living in the Andes Mountains would be impossible without the Coca Leaf from which Cocaine is produced. The leafs are chewed or made into a tea which relieves the effects of the high altitude. A medicine or a drug? You tell me.
    Speaking of Drug Abuse, those that live with Chronic Pain and can’t find relief will and do turn to drugs legal and illegal. So why do we want to make CBD illegal when it can do so much more for so many that suffer without the risks and lack of true relief that present day medicines offer?
    If you lived with a person that suffers continual pain with no remedy other than heavy drugs and see the quality of life degraded to semi invalid state you would be willing to use Skunk Oil if it would help relieve her pain. It is very easy to be closed minded to the legal use of CBD if you are not affected in you own life or that of a loved ones life. God created the plants that from ancient times have been used as medicine effectively. Researcher are continually finding new medicinal plants in the rain forests of Africa and the Amazon that the native people have been using forever. Yet we continue to demonize marijuana as a medicine.
    It is time that people start learning and stop denying the medical value of Medical Marijuana CBD.
    Kevin McKernan
    Marijuana must not be conflated with Cannabidiol
    “… Marijuana and Cannabidiol (CBD) are very rarely related. Most Marijuana is THC enriched and lacking CBD as a direct result. Pathways in the plant that synthesize THCA are in competition for GPP required to make CBDA (CBD’s carboxylated precursor). Most “Marijuana” is devoid of CBD as a result. Likewise, most recreational “Marijuana” is consumed with a route of administration via smoking and cannot deliver 300mg/day via the hepatic portal system which is known to metabolize many cannabinoids into other active molecules not experienced with smoking “marijuana”. Likewise, THC is pharmaceutically very different than CBD such that any reference to studies investigating the non descriptive ‘Marijuana’ are obsolete and irrelevant. The investigator bias on display here is clearly in the camp of Dr. Keller not understanding some of the basics of Cannabidiol research. For reference I would point to the following references highlighting the very distinct nature of CBD compared to THC. Any attempt to conflate these two molecules has already been thoroughly established as foolhardy in the endocannabinoid sciences. For instance, CBD does not get patients ‘stoned’ and its mechanism of action is not related to the CB1 receptor. Some of the most exciting work in this field is exploring cocktails of cannabinoids found in more raw forms of the plant as these cocktails appear to widen the dose response curve. The above studies p-value will likely improve utilizing the methods recently published by Gallily et al.”

    • Corum Hughes says:

      Thank you for your feedback! We certainly want to keep this an open discourse as it’s an issue becoming more and more talked about within the church. Just as the American Prohibition affected the conversation on alcohol throughout the last century, we expect a similar conversation surrounding marijuana use to take place among Christians for a long time.

  • William Leuters says:

    Very well written and i agree.

  • Jill says:

    Regardless of what we think of this subject for ourselves we need to consider others. I can say for myself that marijuana is a stumbling block. I have cut this from my life, It may still be a temptation, if not for me then possibly for a brother or sister in Christ and God warns us through the following scriptures about stumbling blocks:
    Mark 9:42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.
    Romans 14:20-21 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
    Matthew 13:41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,
    Matthew 18:7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
    Matthew 16:23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
    So we all have some work to do, let’s work together because a house divided will not stand. Let’s not divide God’s house but ask him to help us to remove from our lives the stumbling blocks of others and for unity and peace among all His followers in Jesus name we pray, Amen

  • Kathrine says:

    Marijuana is not a stumbling block I can smoke and still fuction throughput the day. I know people that smoke and can go to work and fuction also during the day. I smoke because it helps me stay focused better my thoughts stop racing and I can get things done.

    • Corum Hughes says:

      Thanks for your note, Kathrine. This issue is probably one that Christians will grapple with for some time, and we appreciate your counter-argument for what’s presented in the article.

  • TwinDooly says:

    After years of use and trying to work out my own salvation with the utmost reverence and respect. Pot is a substance like any other item we can take in our bodies. Paul in Colossians 2:16- End tells us the true Substance to Lean on for life is Jesus . All that goes in comes out in other ways . It’s not what we take in that defiles & makes us idiots. It is how & what we give out to others that defines whose we are.
    I chose to watch what comes out my Mouth & Actions more than Stuff that turns to toxic waste after use…..
    All things in moderation and not same for everyone. Each Pearson needs to allow Jesus to complete them from inside out Not outside in …. just saying
    My habits of using are no different than others who use pharmacy type drugs man approves , so that makes it Ok… nota. If what you chose to use causes you to be an idiot then stop one or the other or better yet both . I can hardly micro manage my own life , let alone others ….. let’s love Jesus because of our Great Need personally . Allow others to work it out and help without adding weight or chains that Jesus took off ….

  • Lyn says:

    I cannot, in good faith use or support marijuana. I feel tgat me using it could be a stumbling block for others. For years I taught my children not to do drugs. We’ve seen people go down hill because of drug use and several die because of related to drug use. So now that pot is legal in several states, an I suppose to change my position on the use of this drug knowing that it can cause such pain in families? The pot of today is a lot stronger than the pot of the 1970’s.
    I believe prescription drugs are abused and doctors should be held accountable for any wrong doing. But, most medications can be adjusted based on needs that have been medically evaluated. With pot, people take how much THEY feel necessary. It would be too easy to abuse this. Many now use it to numb their emotional pain- just a bandaid that prolongs them receiving help. I believe medical marijuana should be dispensed just like any other drug- by doctors who are trained.

  • Sue Placey says:

    I have been a chronic insomniac for 50 years now. The pills the doctor has prescribed have awful side effects and are addictive yet my Christian brothers and sisters do not judge me if I take them. But if I use marijuana which has no side effects and is entirely natural and comes from God’s earth, I am judged. I have other medical issues that are helped by cannabis, but I am judged by legalistic Christians for using it so I have to sneak around and hide my plants even though it is legal here. This is not Christian love.

    • Corum Hughes says:

      Hi Sue. Thanks for your feedback. This article speaks mostly of recreational marijuana use rather than medical relief, which is a much broader subject. I’m sorry to hear of your insomnia and pray that you continue to find relief. Ultimately, we try to use scholarship, Scripture, and God’s guidance when navigating issues like this, but it is not our intention to judge anyone. We simply want to be as faithful as we can with the facts and offer grace and truth through the platform God’s given us.

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