Cannabis and the Christian

Review of Todd Miles, Cannabis and the Christian: What the Bible Says about Marijuana (B&H Publishing, 2021), ix + 166 pgs., paperback.

Todd Miles is professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, where he teaches theology, church history, hermeneutics, and ethics. I applaud him for having the courage to write this book. The Southern Baptist publisher of the book should be commended as well. For far too long marijuana has been dismissed by conservative Christians as being an evil weed that no one should ever talk about, let alone use. And to their shame, these same Christians are among the most ardent supporters of the government fining people, confiscating their property, and locking them in cages for possessing too much of plant that the government doesn’t approve of.

The author says that he wrote this book “primarily for Christians,” and that most of his arguments “are aimed at Christians.” However, if you are a Christian libertarian, this book will be a disappointment because of what Miles does not say. But to the typical culturally conservative evangelical Christian, Miles might almost seem like a libertarian.

Before writing this book, Miles spoke about the topic on podcasts and radio shows, as well as at churches, men’s groups, youth groups, and conferences. He believes that “churches have ignored the issue of marijuana for far too long,” and for three reasons: because (1) “it was just self-evident that marijuana use was sinful,” (2) “marijuana possession and distribution were illegal at both the federal and state level,” and (3) “the Bible does not specifically address marijuana, either positively or negatively.”

With medical marijuana now legal in thirty-four states and recreational marijuana now legal in seventeen states, the issue of marijuana can no longer be ignored.

After an introduction in which Miles concludes by nicely summarizing each chapter, Cannabis and the Christian has seven chapters:

What Is Marijuana and How Does It Work?
The Risks of Marijuana Use
The Christian and the Law
The Bible and Marijuana
Discipleship and Marijuana
How Does Medical Marijuana Work?
Thinking Biblically about Medical Marijuana

These are followed by an appendix, “Questions and Answers for Pastors and Parents,” in which the author demonstrates “how to apply biblical wisdom to concrete situations.”

Miles does not believe that we can simply “take the Bible’s teaching on alcohol and drunkenness and apply it directly to marijuana and getting high.” He explains how “marijuana and wine are different” in “some important and basis respects,” how “marijuana acts as both a stimulant and a depressant,” and how “responses to the same marijuana sample vary from person to person.”

Miles’s chapter on the risks of marijuana use is straightforward, and could have been written by any opponent of marijuana legalization, but at least he acknowledges here that marijuana is less addictive than nicotine and alcohol, and later that opioids are more addictive than marijuana. However, his chapter on medical marijuana is disappointing. Although he recognizes that “components of the cannabis plant have a proven medical benefit, and there are approved drugs from these components,” he thinks that “the claims of medical marijuana advocates far outpace the hard evidence.” Regarding “the range of medical illnesses for which marijuana may be effective,” Miles concludes that “there is little scientific support for these claims.” The evidence is mostly “nonexistent” or “at best the evidence is weak.” The evidence that marijuana “diminishes pain intensity” is “inconclusive.” To combat nausea due to chemotherapy, Miles only recommends FDA-approved “THC medicines in pill form.”

Miles once believed—like so many other Christians did and do—that “marijuana was wrong because it was against the law.” He acknowledges that he “had equated the civil law of our land with the moral law of God.” Although Miles asserts that “government exists by the ordination of God, exercising an authority that is delegated by God” and that “Christians are to submit to governing authorities,” he nevertheless recognizes that “looking to the government to define good and evil, what is wise and profitable and what is not, is a bad idea” because “civil law is not a reliable indicator of what God approves or of what he disapproves.”

The three most important chapters of Cannabis and the Christian (4, 5, & 7) are important because they focus on marijuana from a biblical perspective. Miles observes that (1) God made the plants, including the cannabis plant, (2) everything God made was good, (3) God gave the plants to humans for food and other uses, and (4) it is possible to misuse God’s good creation. He concludes: “Cannabis is the good provision of a kind and benevolent God. It is not inherently evil. The cannabis plant is a remarkably complex plant with many components.”

But Miles also concludes that, unlike alcohol, marijuana cannot be used responsibly. He posits five questions that every Christian should consider before choosing to use marijuana:

Is there any reason to smoke pot recreationally other than to get high?
Can you be “sober-minded” while using marijuana?
Will THC diminish my ability to honor Christ in my thinking?
Will THC diminish by ability to honor Christ in my actions?
Will THC enhance by ability to commune with God?

His answer to each of these questions is a resounding no. And because “marijuana works as an intoxicant first and a pain reliever second, if at all,” medical marijuana should not be used for pain management. Indeed, “because the Bible forbids intoxication, Christians ought to reflect on the wisdom of using marijuana, or any other mind-altering drug, to control pain.” Miles believes that there is no “morally significant difference between the relief of suffering via THC and the relief of suffering via a prescribed psychoactive drug.”

Yet, on the other hand, “those who suffer acute and chronic pain” have the author’s “deepest sympathies.” No judgment is intended on his part, and he understands “why someone would turn to medical marijuana in the hope that it might alleviate the suffering, if only just a little.” And when his wife was undergoing cancer treatment, the author’s house “because a pharmaceutical center.”

As a Christian who has written over a hundred articles on the evils of the drug war, I still basically agree with the author’s concerns about marijuana. Just because someone opposes the government banning marijuana doesn’t necessarily mean he thinks that marijuana use is a harmless and wholesome thing.

But what is disappointing about Cannabis and the Christian is that Miles never comes out firmly in favor of government taking a “hands off” approach to marijuana. It is only on one page near the end of the book that he even broaches the subject. Because “not everything the Bible defines as evil ought to be forbidden by law,” Miles believes that “Christians of good will can disagree on whether government ought to forbid recreational or medical marijuana.” The church “ought to be careful not to bind the consciences of Christians on questions of wisdom and governmental policy.”

Nevertheless, I am glad that Miles is at least willing to go this far. The typical culturally conservative evangelical Christian wouldn’t even consider this. It is to Christians of this persuasion that I can recommend Cannabis and the Christian as a good first step toward thinking biblically about marijuana.

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