Marijuana and Mormonism: the Morality of Mary Jane

To best way to prevent oneself from falling into temptation, is for the moral person to make a decision on the morality of a thing before they have the temptation placed before them. Because of this, I made my mind up to keep myself sexually pure long before anyone found me sexually desirable. I may have gone overboard, as Julie was the first  (and only) girl that I ever kissed. Many people in my generation believe that the question to the legalization of marijuana is only a matter of when, and not if. It is therefor important for us to work out the moral ramifications of marijuana before it becomes fully legal. Currently, despite some states legalizing the substance alternatively for medicinal and recreational use, it is still illegal in the United States at a federal level. I will attempt to compile my mental gymnastics coherently over the next several paragraphs. I intend to address the legal status of marijuana at both federal and state levels, but then (perhaps more importantly) form a well though out argument concerning its morality. As a member of the Church of Jess Christ of Latter-day Saints, my argument will be from that position, though will hopefully be morally compelling to all).  I’ll leave my conclusions until the end, because I want you to read the whole thing!

First we discuss the federal legality. Having found no constitutionally compelling argument for the restriction of marijuana, I must conclude that the federal government should have no part in the restriction of marijuana either medicinally nor recreationally. The above comment will, no doubt, upset many… Including in my own family. One could read deeply into that statement and (rightly) ascertain my opinion on the whole of federal drug law. Particularly in regard to marijuana, the reason for the absolute ban can largely be traced to influence purchased by the tobacco lobby (seeing a competitor) and is not based on sound science. However, I am open to new and impressive constitutional arguments on the subject.

Next we approach state level restriction.  Marijuana’s use as an effective treatment for a number of disorders, diseases, and side effects is generally well known, though not honestly. Anyone who says that  marijuana is any more dangerous than any number of (currently legal) drugs is kidding themselves. Anyone who says that the science clearly and definitively shows its effectiveness is likewise kidding themselves. The current medical research is insufficient because of a number of factors. Many of the research begins with an end in mind: either to show that it is or is not effective. These studies, in my opinion, should be summarily dismissed, as we cannot trust science that doesn’t follow the scientific method.  Most of the research happens at too small of a scale. There is a simply pragmatic reason for this: the very participation in  he studies makes one a criminal. I think this does a significant disservice to the medical community. Some of these studies show promising results, but others (one had only 24 participants)  show little more than anecdotal evidence. These studies should not be dismissed, but should be understood for what they are. Finally, many studies are inconclusive. Inconclusive studies need only show that more research needs to be done. However, anecdotally, the drug is proving to be effective where no others are. This is particularly true of nerve pain disorders, including Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, and (the pain part of) Diabetes. Marijuana also has relatively few side effect (in adults over 25: under 25 there is ample evidence that shows long term damage to the brain, this is simply because the brain is not fully developed until about the age of 25. Studies of MJ users who start after 25 show no significant lasting effect).
Does a state have the right to ban outright  marijuana? That depends on the state’s constitution. Being generally libertarian, I think that states should leave medications legal, so that doctors and sufferers can find any effective alternatives to suffering.
I find no compelling argument for the legal restriction of medical marijuana in individuals over 25 at the state level. I will detail the extent of my conclusion at the end.

As for the legal justification of the restriction of recreational marijuana? The libertarian in me says that the drug should be legal. I’ll discuss moral ramifications later, but each state should be able to decide for themselves.

Now we discuss the morality of marijuana. For those who are not aware, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a health code, defined in the book The Doctrine and Covenants, section 89. The section outlines both healthful and detrimental health principles, and is called the Word of Wisdom. While generally a selection of recommendations, there are certain restrictions to which obedience is requisite to hold good standing in the Church. Specifically, these include the abstination from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco. Most Mormons use the Word of Wisdom as a guideline for their dietary foundations. Some are more exact than others, and that’s okay: the Church neither wants not expects zombies, but rather individuals who think for themselves.

So, I too will use the Word of Wisdom as a foundation for my decision on the morality of marijuana. Because there has been no revelatory codification of the morality of marijuana, we must use the principles otherwise outlined to make our decision. I’ll break down 3 aspects concerning the morality of marijuana. First is the morality of Doctor proscribed medical marijuana.  Second is the morality of personally proscribed medical marijuana (over the counter). And finally the morality of recreational marijuana. I will base my arguments by using current medical understanding as well as by comparing to other drugs, for which the Church has taken official stances.

First, Doctor proscribed medical marijuana. The Word of Wisdom, the average member of the Church, as well as most other Christians that I know hold no moral reservations to Doctor proscribed drugs, including much more dangerous drugs like amphetamines. I see no reason to differentiate here either. I have no moral objection to Doctor proscribed marijuana.

Second is over the counter medical marijuana. Some similar examples would be aspirin, alcohol, and caffeine. I’ll show the similarities first: aspirin has significant long term medical risk, but has very little short term risk (to the average person); marijuana is the same. Alcohol, while generally a relational drug is used in many cough and sleep aids. It is certainly mind altering, though in medicinal doses has little to no lasting short term effects (once it has worn off).  Marijuana is the same. Finally, caffeine is similarly addictive as  marijuana, though with a slightly lower mind alteration effect. Now, most members of the Church and most other Christians I know have no problem with the medicinal uses of those 3, and the use of alcohol on this form would not restrict a person’s good standing in the Church (though a shot of whiskey to help one sleep would). Consequently, I must conclude that marijuana, like the others, has no moral reason to be restricted as an over the counter drug. I must say, however, that an age restriction (25 and younger) would be appropriate, just as I believe an age restriction for other OTCs could be appropriate. 

Finally the morality of recreational marijuana use. I’ll use the example of tobacco (used in much the same method as marijuana), alcohol (similar, though greater, mind alteration and long term medical impact as marijuana) and caffeine (slightly lower, though similar, mind alteration and addictive properties to  marijuana). Many of the Christians that I know have open restrictions on the first two, and (as shown) those 2 are specifically restricted in order to maintain good standing in the Church. But I include caffeine because, while many members of the Church hold personal restrictions to it, the Church has said that caffeine is not restricted by the Word of Wisdom.

So what are the principles that define why we, as moral people, would restrict some drugs, and not others?

Addiction: as followers of Christ, we must not forfeit our agency. Addiction does just that: it takes our ability to choose. Alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and marijuana all are (or can be) physically addicting. The difference between a physical addiction and physiological addiction can be simply described as the difference between a physical need and a strong habit. Few argue the addictive properties of alcohol and tobacco. Significant organizations are set up to help individuals overcome those addictions. But many argue that caffeine and marijuana are not physically addictive. Caffeine can replace adrenaline in the body and even hamper the body’s ability to produce adrenaline. Those individuals cannot function without their daily dose of caffeine. Marijuana, it is argued, isn’t addictive. This was true in the 60’s and 70’s, when THC levels (the addicting chemical in cannabis) was between 3% and 5%. Cannabis has been genetically altered to include THC levels as high as 40%. The argument that it is not addictive because it wasn’t in the past no longer holds scientific weight. However, like any addictive substance, some have greater propensity to addictive behavior than others. this means that while a person may drink alcohol every day, they may be able to stop indefinitely with no impact, while another may drink only every couple of days, but physically unable to stop without help. The nature of addiction, then, is that it is very individual and personal.

 Physical harm: as followers of Christ, we must protect the temples He has given us. There are studies that show that there are some healthful benefits to drinking a glass of wine daily, though few dispute that the abuse of alcohol is detrimental. Smoking tobacco causes significant and irreparable damage. Consuming tobacco by other methods also damages the body. Caffeine, on the other hand, has few long term effects on the body. Smoking marijuana does similar damage as smoking tobacco, though consuming it in other ways, like caffeine, has few or less long term ill effects to the body (except in people under 25). Drugs, we see, aren’t inherently damaging to the body.

Mind alteration: when we alter the state of our mind deliberately, we reduce the strength our moral compass, increasing the likelihood to give in to temptation, and reducing our ability to feel the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, thus separating ourselves from God.

Again, we hear no credible argument that alcohol is not a mind altering substance. The alteration of the mind by tobacco is well documented, the many smokers will swear that there is no alteration to their mind. The same can be true of caffeine users, however one must simply ask someone who’s just drink and espresso whether their mind is altered, and you will hear them describe in great detail and it rapid speed without taking a breath how they have had no effect on their mind.  The mind and judgment alteration effects of cannabis is, like tobacco, well documented. However The ability of any drug to alter the mind is reduced with increased use of that drug. For this reason those seeking an high must constantly increase the dose of the drug that they are taking.

My conclusion is this: that drugs are not inherently evil but that an individual should ensure that they are following Christ. If one were to be addicted to caffeine, they should not take it recreationally. The same is true of marijuana. People under the age of 25 should not take marijuana because of the damage to their minds and bodies, though I do not believe that this is impactful for those over 25.  And finally, it is my belief that taking a drug for the purpose of altering one state of mind is contrary to the will of God. I see no advantageous reason to consume marijuana for recreational purposes than to alter one’s state of mind. This could be true of caffeine as well, though many who drink caffeinated beverages do so because they like the taste. My personal favorite is diet Dr Pepper, which is caffeinated.

So to break it down: I believe that medical marijuana should be legal on both the prescribed and over-the-counter levels. It is up to each individual to ensure that they are not abusing those drugs, in order to ensure that they are in line with the doctrines of Christ. It is not inherently immoral to use marijuana as a medicinal drug. However having no realistic recreational use besides getting high, I have come to the conclusion that, for me, recreational marijuana is morally wrong.

Further, this discussion for me is purely academic. Well I am one of those individuals who would benefit most from the legalization of the drug, my doctors have informed me, and my research backs it up, that the combination of the drug with some of the medications that I am on can be very dangerous. Because of this, even if this drug were legal I would not use it.

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