Christian preachers and theologians are wildly at odds over cannabis use and its legalization.

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Amherst, in solidly Democratic Massachusetts, appears an idyllic place to live: lots of fine dining, culture, diversity, chilled-out college kids—and several medical/recreational cannabis outlets that opened after 74 percent of the town’s population voted to decriminalize pot.

All was cool and dandy in America’s top college town until the Amherst Chinese Christian Church got wind of the fact that a new neighbor intends to set up business soon, growing weed inside a nearby 1,800-square-foot greenhouse.

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I penned those two opening paragraphs in an April 2021 post after learning that Riverside Organics LLC—a micro-cannabis venture—had been granted planning permission for its operation in 2019 following consultations with the local community. This decision was loudly protested by the church.

I was reminded of that report when I received an email this week from Jonathan Gurfein, the company’s owner. He had only just seen my original post and reached out to thank me for publicizing his venture and to update me on its progress. He said that despite the challenges of COVID-19 and the delays it caused, the greenhouse is nearing completion.

Because Bing Liang, a deacon at the church had said, “This will have an impact on our religious values and public safety,” I decided to do a bit of research into Christian leaders’ attitudes towards cannabis use, and found wildly differing views across the Internet.

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Well-known theologian John Piper, above, vehemently opposes the recreational use of cannabis. He used the “your body is a temple” argument in a 2014 piece entitled “Don’t let your mind go to pot.”

Your body is not your own. In view of this, there are at least two biblical truths that would lead us away from the recreational use of marijuana. The first is that, for the Christian, the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. That simple teaching, in context, should have a huge effect.

The second biblical truth that would incline us away from the recreational use of marijuana is that God gave us minds and hearts to know him and love him and discern his will …

Those who live to make much of Christ will want to turn away from marijuana and other destructive, mood-altering drugs, and move toward clear-eyed seeing and lucid thinking for the glory of God.

Well, my body is my own, and all my life I have regarded it more as a fairground than a temple.

Image via YouTube

On the opposite side of the argument is Californian pastor Craig Gross, pictured above with his wife Jeanette. He is the creator of Christian Cannabis, a site that flatly contradicts Piper’s assertion that pot use separates people from God. Gross’s site boldly asserts that weed is:

An incredible way to connect to yourself and God.

The site also points out that:

Since the beginning of documented time, cannabis has been used in spiritual practices and traditions amongst people groups and religions from all over the globe. However, because of the way cannabis was outlawed in the 1930s, and then propagated as ‘the gateway drug’ in the 1960s and ‘70s, we have a lot of cultural conditioning to undo in an attempt to help people see cannabis for the amazing gift that it is, and the profound spiritual potential it has.

We are so grateful to have experienced this potential of cannabis, and time and time again, we have witnessed the way it can transform lives when used as a tool or in support of spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, worship, dancing and writing.

We believe it is our responsibility and a great honor to share with others the fantastic potential of plant medicine. We believe that cannabis is spiritual and we can show you how. Cannabis is amazing for physical health, mental and emotional balance, and fun.

In 2003, The Guardian carried a piece about Jesus using cannabis to cure the sick.

Jesus was almost certainly a cannabis user and an early proponent of the medicinal properties of the drug

Duncan Campbell, writing for the Guardian

Campbell quoted Carl Ruck, professor of classical mythology at Boston University as saying:

There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion.

Referring to the existence of cannabis in anointing oils used in ceremonies, he added:

Obviously the easy availability and long-established tradition of cannabis in early Judaism would inevitably have included it in the [Christian] mixtures.

Bennett suggested that those anointed with the oils used by Jesus were:

Literally drenched in this potent mixture. Although most modern people choose to smoke or eat pot, when its active ingredients are transferred into an oil-based carrier, it can also be absorbed through the skin.

Quoting the New Testament, Bennett argued that Jesus anointed his disciples with the oil and encouraged them to do the same with other followers. This could have been responsible for healing eye and skin diseases referred to in the Gospels.

If cannabis was one of the main ingredients of the ancient anointing oil, and receiving this oil is what made Jesus the Christ and his followers Christians, then persecuting those who use cannabis could be considered anti-Christ.

The year my balcony went to pot

When I first settled in Spain I learned that cannabis had been decriminalized for personal use. Having long campaigned for its decriminalization in the UK, I took this as a signal to grow three plants on my balcony, the maximum allowed.

Photo: Barry Duke

At the start, in the spring of 2016, I was delighted by the progress of the fledgling plants. But they don’t call cannabis “weed” for nothing. By August of the year—a month of ferocious heat on the Costa Blanca—they had reached a height of six feet, and the aroma of the ripening buds permeated my entire apartment.

Worse, the smell entered my neighbor’s apartment, and one evening she rang my doorbell to let me know that her cat had become stoned as a result. I gathered from the conversation that I had with her in Spanish that the animal constantly had the munchies, wouldn’t move much, was purring too loudly and putting on weight. That’s when I decided that the plants, worth several thousand dollars, had to go.

Removing them was no easy task. I had to break them down, and triple bag them in plastic sacks. These had to be sneaked down 31 floors to a nearby dumpster at 4am and the smell lingered in the elevator for days.

Now, thanks to the availability of cannabidiol (CBD) drops in liquid or capsule form, for more than a year I have been testing various brands to control my glaucoma and get relief from the pain a rheumatic right knee occasionally gives me without getting stoned. That said, I still enjoy the occasional doobie. But hey, when you get to 75 you’ve every right to grasp at the best bits of your past.

CBD, according to this report, is a type of cannabinoid naturally found in cannabis plants. Even though it’s derived from the plants, CBD doesn’t create a “high” or any form of intoxication because THC is removed from most products.

To be fair, Piper does acknowledge the medical properties of cannabis:

I doubt that we should oppose a regulated medical use of marijuana, controlled by appropriate physician oversight and prescriptions. Many drugs are sold by prescription which, if they were abused, would be even more destructive than marijuana.

I have a friend who shared with me very soberly that his son had a longstanding injury, and that the only relief he could get was from a small dosage of marijuana.

You will have noted that throughout this piece I have avoided the word marijuana because is mainly used by people who oppose its use—folk such as Jeff Sessions, US Attorney General in the Trump administration who once said “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

Jesus and I would disagree.

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Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....