Amid efforts being taken in many U.S. states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, theologian John Piper offers at least two biblical reasons why Christians should stay away from the "mood-altering, mind-altering" drug.
Marijuana is often compared with caffeine, but there's a difference, says Piper on the blog on the Desiring God ministry website. While marijuana "temporarily impairs the reliable processing of surrounding reality," caffeine "ordinarily sharpens that processing."
Piper quotes from a study highlighted by the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that advocates for legalization of marijuana, which is categorized in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 as Schedule I drug along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
"The short-term effects of marijuana include immediate, temporary changes in thoughts, perceptions, and information processing," admits the study. "The cognitive process most clearly affected by marijuana is short-term memory."
Other studies suggest that the effect on diminished brain function is more lasting, especially for teenagers, says Piper, former pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minn.
Yet, the United States' first recreational marijuana stores opened in Colorado early this year. Colorado voters approved marijuana legalization in November 2012, as voters in Washington also did. More states are likely to follow suit this year.
Dave Logan, the well-known football coach at Cherry Creek High School in the Denver area in Colorado, told Denver Post, "For years, whether it's drinking, or now with pot being legalized, it trickles down, unfortunately, to ninth-,10th-,11th- and 12th-graders."
For Christians, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Piper writes, quoting 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 and offering the first reason to say "no" to the recreational use of marijuana.
"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" states the passage. And that has been "an immovable barrier between me and self-destruction," Piper shares.
Christians need to ask, "Is this making Jesus look like the treasure He is?" Piper adds. "I would ask this that about smoking, about drunkenness, about recreational marijuana, about sedentary indolence, about overeating, about banal TV watching, and lots of other things."
On the contrary, the Drug Policy Alliance says "a just society" is one in which "people are no longer punished for what they put into their own bodies but only for crimes committed against others." The group says it seeks to "promote the sovereignty of individuals over their minds and bodies."
The second reason why Christians should avoid marijuana is that God gave us minds and hearts to know Him and love Him and discern His will, Piper goes on to say, quoting 1 Corinthians 14:20: "Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature."
We shouldn't become an "experienced sinner" to learn "the folly of sin," Piper warns. "Be willing to be an inexperienced baby when it comes to sharing in mind-clouding drugs. Be ruthlessly clear-headed. Let the herd stampede over the cliff without you. Use your mind to warn them, not join them."
Drunkenness leads away from the kind of sober-mindedness and self-control that is essential in using the mind for the glory of God, he explains.
Greg Stier, the founder and president of Dare 2 Share Ministries International, wrote a recent column expressing concern over legalization of marijuana.
"As the father of a young man who is about to turn 13 on January 30th and the President of a ministry that trains tens of thousands of Christian teenagers from across the nation annually, this is a big deal to me," Stier wrote. "Both as a dad and youth ministry leader I want to help teenagers (and other youth leaders) think Biblically about marijuana use and its impact on society."
Piper concludes his blog post by approving of a regulated medical use of marijuana, controlled by appropriate physician oversight and prescriptions.