As legal recreational marijuana sales began in California Jan. 1, Gateway Seminary President Jeff Iorg bemoaned the increased “human toll” the drug is likely to have on America’s most populous state.
Screen capture from The San Diego Union-Tribune
Legal sales of recreational marijuana began Jan. 1 in California, with many cannabis shops reporting a high volume of customers.
“Whatever economic gains the legalization of marijuana will supposedly produce will be offset by the human toll on damaged relationships, loss of productivity in the workforce and the cost of expanded social programs to deal with the fallout of this bad social experiment,” Iorg, leader of Southern Baptists’ Ontario, Calif.-based seminary, told Baptist Press in written comments. “It’s another step in the wrong direction for a culture bent on self-medication as a solution to personal struggles.”
California voters approved recreational marijuana legalization in November 2016. Recreational marijuana already is sold with legal sanction from the state in Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. It has been approved, but is not yet sold legally, in Maine and Massachusetts.
Medical marijuana use has been approved by 29 states and the District of Columbia.
All marijuana use remains illegal according to federal law, though two drugs approved by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) contain a chemical found in marijuana, according to a 2016 DEA report.
California’s law permits adults 21 and older to possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants at home, according to CNN. The law took effect at the beginning of 2018, with various media outlets reporting long lines at some of the approximately 100 shops that have obtained permits to sell the drug recreationally.
Two of the state’s largest cities – Los Angeles and San Francisco – have yet to institute licensing procedures for vendors, CNN reported. Consequently, vendors there have not begun recreational sales.
According to The Los Angeles Times, recreational marijuana sales are expected to become a $7 billion industry annually in California by 2020. In comparison, the entire legalized cannabis market in the U.S. for 2016 amounted to $6.6 billion, CNN reported.
A spokesman for one West Hollywood marijuana dispensary told The Times he thinks California’s endorsement of recreational cannabis “is going to move the needle like nothing else when it comes to the national conversation.”
Yet Ontario pastor Brian Kennedy has told his congregation not to be deceived into using marijuana simply because it is legal. Kennedy, pastor of Mt. Zion Church, wrote in a blog post following California’s vote to OK recreational marijuana, “Be a sober prayer warrior (1 Peter 4:7). Despite the new California law, this ought to help Christians avoid being sucked into the smoking marijuana movement (see also Ephesians 5:18).”
In spite of the numerous state laws sanctioning marijuana for recreational and medical use, Politico speculated in December that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may contemplate “doubling down” against cannabis.
At Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing, he would not commit to refrain from prosecuting medical marijuana users, Politico reported.
Sessions announced in April 2017 the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety would include a subcommittee to evaluate marijuana enforcement policy. In February 2017, he told the National Association of Attorneys General, “I, as you know, am dubious about marijuana. States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store,” according to Politico.
The DEA classifies marijuana as a “Schedule I” drug – signifying it has no accepted medical use, is not accepted by experts as safe for use under medical supervision and has a high potential for abuse. The Obama administration announced in 2016 it would maintain that classification, supporting its decision with release of 400 pages of marijuana-related materials, including citations of more than 200 published studies.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)