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Most pastors strongly oppose legalizing recreational marijuana, survey finds

Cannabis plant
Marijuana plants are sold at the Canna Pi medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle, Washington. |

Most pastors feel strongly that marijuana should remain illegal even as an increasing number of states legalize medical and recreational use and public perception shifts regarding the plant-based drug, a new study of over 1,000 Protestant pastors has found. 

The study released Tuesday from the Nashville-based Lifeway Research found that fewer than one-in-five pastors (18%) say marijuana should be legalized throughout the United States for “any purpose.” 

About 76% of pastors either somewhat or strongly disagreed with the idea of legalizing marijuana for any purpose, including 59% who disagree strongly. Only 6% said they are not sure.

“There are about as many opinions on marijuana as there are ways to consume it,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “When asked about legalizing all such uses, the majority of pastors are strongly opposed.”

The study of 1,007 Protestant pastors was conducted from September 2, 2020, to October 1, 2020. The results show that mainline pastors (43%) are more likely to believe marijuana should be legalized for any purpose than evangelical pastors (10%). 

Methodist (37%) and Presbyterian Reformed (35%) pastors are more likely to back legalization than Restorationist movement pastors (21%), Lutherans (15%), Pentecostals (10%) and Baptists (7%).

Seventy-eight percent of pastors agree that getting high smoking marijuana is “morally wrong,” while 17% disagree and 5% said they are not sure. 

Overall, evangelical pastors are almost twice as likely as mainline pastors to see smoking marijuana to get high as morally wrong (89% to 47%).

Public opinion regarding pot legalization has rapidly changed over the years. 

A recent Gallup Poll found that 68% of Americans supported marijuana legalization, the latest record high.

Additionally, a report from Pew Research found that most Christians support marijuana legalization, with 53% of Catholics and 60% of Protestants (including just over 50% of evangelicals) saying they support legalization. 

Currently, recreational marijuana is legal for adults in 17 states and Washington, D.C., while medical marijuana is legal in 36 states.

Pastor Craig Gross, who sells and promotes marijuana for Christians through a new venture called Christian Cannabis, told The Christian Post that marijuana use should not be an issue if used by responsible adults. He believes marijuana should be treated similarly to alcohol. 

“The third day, God created the plants before He created us,” Gross said. “This was created before us for us. Yes, it can be abused. Yes, it can be taken the wrong way. Do I think a kid should use this? No. There have been so much studies on that, on the underdeveloped mind. I’m talking about legal, responsible adults.” 

Gross also said he believes the Church should try to stay ahead of the conversation on marijuana.

“My end goal with Christian Cannabis is that it shouldn’t take me 18 years to see these kind of conversations with this topic,” he stated. “We’ll be way too late if we wait 18 years. The time is now. Start this conversation. It’s going to be legal, where you have a church and people in your church are going to have questions.” 

But many evangelical and Christian leaders have voiced their opposition to pot use and legalization. 

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, recently said he opposes marijuana use. 

“Most of the young evangelicals I know seek to minister to friends who have been harmed by marijuana culture,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “This isn’t theoretical to them at all.”

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera of BreakPoint cited a report highlighting the links between cannabis, psychosis and suicide, especially with teenagers and young adults. They warn that “America has been sold dangerous lies about marijuana.”

“Despite what we know about the effects of marijuana use on teenage brains and the genetic-related danger to some, we are committed to playing Russian Roulette with young lives,” the authors warned. “And media outlets loudly proclaim legalization as ‘inevitable’ and part of our expanding ‘freedom,’ even while stories about the hazards go underreported.”

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