—by Lourieke Haller and Gillian Fraser

Earlier this year, the Cape High Court ruled that the ban on marijuana was unconstitutional. The court declared parts of the Law on Drugs and Drug Trafficking and the Medicines and Related Substances Control Act in violation of the Constitution in so far as it violates the private use of dagga for personal purposes. This ruling means that adults can now own, grow, and use dagga in the privacy of their home or property. However, it is still prohibited to sell or use it in public.

Confusion abounds
Response in the country is varied, with many people who are in favour of the verdict due to the medicinal benefits of marijuana, and others who are upset and disappointed about this. As Christians, we need to turn to Scripture when faced with such issues, rather than be led by the general public’s opinion.

Worldwide we see more and more nations legalising marijuana for medicinal use; these include the following countries: Canada (2001), Australia (2016), France (2013), Romania (2013), Chile (2015), Czech Republic (2013), Colombia (2015), Jamaica, and many more. Uruguay was the first country in the world to legalise the cultivation and sales of marijuana for medicinal use as well as recreational drug in 2014.

Recreational marijuana
It usually takes just a few minutes to experience the effects of dagga. A high can last from 15 minutes to a few hours and can cause light euphoria, hallucinations, increased perceptions (not always realistic), short-term memory loss, giggling, possible anxiety, and sometimes paranoia. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive ingredient of the plant) is stored in the body’s fatty tissue for up to a week after the plant is used, unlike alcohol, which is usually excreted within 6-8 hours.

What is medicinal marijuana?
Today there are many people in the church who are delighted with the legalisation of dagga because of its medicinal benefits. There are supposedly more than 700 medicinal uses for the plant. For example, it reportedly helps to combat nausea in cancer patients and improves appetite in HIV patients. It reduces the intraocular eye pressure of people suffering with glaucoma and relieves certain types of pain, such as peripheral neuropathy, better than the general painkillers.

There are cases of people with autoimmune diseases that used the marijuana oil timeously that have been cured. One of America’s foremost researchers on medicinal marijuana, Dr. David Bierman, calls it a miracle drug. According to him, there are certain cases indicating that marijuana is beneficial for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, headache, and asthma.

Dr. Allan Frankel, an internationally renowned internist in California who successfully treated patients with medicinal marijuana, personally saw some patients’ tumours virtually disappear by taking 40 to 60 milligrams of cannabinoids a day.

Medicinal marijuana uses the marijuana plant or chemicals in it to treat diseases. It is basically the same product as recreational marijuana, but it is used for medicinal purposes. 

How does it work?
“Your body already produces marijuana-like chemicals that affect pain, inflammation, and many other processes in the body. Marijuana can sometimes help those natural chemicals to function better, “ said Laura Borgelt, PharmD, at the University of Colorado.

The marijuana plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids. Each has a different effect on the body. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most important chemical substances used in medicine. The healing properties stem from its high CBD content. Producers are cultivating cannabis plants for medicinal use that contain higher levels of CBD and lower levels of THC.

Cannabinoid interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, and immune system. Both the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of marijuana come into effect when a cannabinoid receptor is activated.

How is it used medicinally?
Medicinal marijuana can be:

  • Smoked
  • Vaporised (heated until active ingredients are released but no smoke is formed)
  • Eaten (usually in the form of cookies or sweets)
  • Ingested as drops under the tongue or spray in the oral cavity
  • Applied as an oil

However, there has not been sufficient research on the effects and side effects of medicinal marijuana yet. Users must also ensure that the medicinal marijuana comes from a medicinal cannabis plant, which prevents the risk of harmful chemical substances such as pesticides.

The dangers of marijuana
Despite the health benefits of marijuana, there are also risks involved: There is, for example, a correlation between the smoking of marijuana and the number of people who end up in trauma units. Researchers found 58% of patients in Cape Town’s trauma units are marijuana smokers. The percentage for Port Elizabeth was 29%, and Durban 44%.

More risks of marijuana:

  • The THC can be dangerous for people with mental illnesses, especially bipolar individuals and those with multiple personality disorder.
  • THC impairs motor skills, short-term memory, and concentration.
  • The smoking of marijuana carries toxic carcinogens into users’ bodies.
  • It could act as a gateway drug for the use of other dangerous drugs.

What is the Christian response?
While the Bible does not directly refer to marijuana, there are many passages that can be consulted about Christian behaviour. For centuries, the general response in the church about marijuana was related to its legality, with the Bible that exhorted us to obey the laws of the country. This is no longer the case in South Africa because its legality is no longer a factor.

Over-simplification is problematic
While debating the use of marijuana (for or against), many people over-simplify the issue and get entangled in their own reasoning. Here are some general over-simplifications with predictable counter arguments:

  • Dagga is bad for you, and our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. (Alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and sugar are also bad for you, so you should not use them either.)
  • Dagga is worse than alcohol. You cannot use it with moderation. (How is it worse? Alcohol-related accidents and assaults are much more common.)
  • Dagga is never mentioned in the Bible, but wine is. (T-shirts and coffee are also not mentioned in the Bible.)
  • Dagga is now legal, which means Christians can use it too. (The Christian’s standard does not necessarily correspond to the law. For example, abortion and pornography are legal, but that does not make it acceptable for me as a Christian.) 

Marijuana vs alcohol
Many Christians compare marijuana with alcohol. Indeed, the two have a lot in common: both contain an ‘intoxication factor’ and both are natural products from the earth and not chemically produced. However, there are differences: marijuana differs from alcohol because it was a cultural symbol of rebellion, especially in the last century; while alcohol is socially acceptable. Marijuana is also not directly mentioned in the Bible. Comparing these two substances, will however not provide a satisfactory answer to the question if Christian may use marijuana or not within the Church there are still differences of opinion whether Christians may drink alcohol or not.

Handle the issue according to the Bible’s guidance
It is more important to note that Jesus is looking at the heart of man. The question should not be: “May I do that?” But rather, “Why do I want to do that?” Jesus refers to the heart of man when He talks to the Pharisees about what makes a person unclean. “It is not what goes into the mouth that makes man unclean, but what comes out of the mouth makes it unclean.” – Matthew 15:10.

It is also the issue He touches on during the Sermon on the Mount, when He talks about the fulfilment of the law. “Everyone who looks at a woman and desires her, has committed adultery with her in his heart.” God looks at the motivation of the heart.

For example, if the user plans to use medicinal marijuana during chemotherapy, it is vastly different from the individual’s motive who uses it to experience the psychoactive high. God is above the law; He always looks at our heart’s motives.

Further questions to consider: Is it beneficial? Does this build my neighbour’s faith? “’Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”  – 1 Cor 10:23,24.

We must not be ignorant
Our youth are now growing up in a country and a world where marijuana is losing its negative reputation as a forbidden drug and is becoming morally more acceptable in society. It is important that we are not ignorant, but that we empower ourselves with the facts so that we may take an informed stand on the issue.

Pray in all respects
The issue of marijuana will from here on out trigger a wide response, as its legalisation will make it more common in all circles of life. As Christians there will also be differing opinions, but we must align ourselves with the Lord and His Word, and sincerely pray for His guidance. We must never act against our conscience partake in anything that may cause our brother to stumble. You cannot debate this issue on the basis of physical science, social science, or forced comparisons with alcohol and other substances. We must rely on the transforming power of God’s Word for our Christian ethics. Point Christians to the Biblical perspective; it will convince them to love their neighbour and God in everything they think, do, and yes, use.

JOY! Magazine (June 2017)

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