The U.S. House of Representatives’ vote Dec. 4 to decriminalize marijuana could prove devastating for some families and communities, Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore has warned.
The House passed in a nearly party-line vote, 228-164, the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. The bill would end criminal penalties at the federal level for the possession, distribution and manufacture of marijuana.
The proposal is unlikely to go any further when it moves from the Democratic-controlled House to the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority. In the House, only five Republicans voted for the measure.
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said in written comments, “Marijuana legalization is unwise and disastrous for communities vulnerable to substance abuse. Pastors know this firsthand as they minister to families in their churches who have been harmed by the marijuana industry’s profit-driven efforts to romanticize mind-altering drugs.”
Dan Trippie, a Southern Baptist pastor in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, said in a March 2019 article on the ERLC’s website that recreational marijuana numbs its users and threatens the vulnerable.
Marijuana “makes the user feel as though he has entered a new reality – one that is likened to an out-of-body experience,” wrote Trippie, pastor of Restoration Church in Amherst. “People who are numb tend not to notice the injustice around them. … When our heads are buried in the sand (or floating in the clouds), it is easy to close our eyes to the ills of our communities. … And unfortunately, the ones asked to pay the bill are the ones who can least afford it.
“As Christians, we should be those who think through these issues seriously, with the good of our neighbors in mind – and then advocate for the flourishing of our communities.”
Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a collection of experts who oppose marijuana legalization, has cited an increased use of the drug, harm to children and adolescents, and a greater increase in costs to the public among concerns regarding legalization.
Advocates for legalizing marijuana applauded the House vote.
Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), called it “a historic victory for the marijuana policy reform movement.”
Hawkins said the vote demonstrates “federal lawmakers are finally listening to the overwhelming majority of Americans” who support rescinding marijuana prohibition laws.
A Gallup public opinion survey published in November showed a record high of 68% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. The poll found 49% of conservatives and 48% of individuals who attend a religious service weekly support legalization.
The disparity between federal and state policies on marijuana has widened during the last two decades. While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, 36 states have legalized the substance for medical use, and 15 states have legalized it for recreational use by adults as of the November election, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Neither the Obama nor Trump administration has cracked down on states that have legalized marijuana despite the federal policy.
Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is illegal as a Schedule I drug under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, which established five schedules federally for rating drugs based on their capability for abuse and acknowledged medical effectiveness. Schedule I drugs, which are considered the greatest threat to the public, also include ecstasy, heroin, LSD and peyote.
The MORE Act approved by the House also would:
- Create a procedure to eradicate convictions and to administer hearings to review sentences on federal marijuana violations;
- Levy a 5% tax on marijuana products for a trust fund to aid programs for people and businesses affected by the federal policy on drugs;
- Bar the refusal of federal benefits to individuals on the basis of some conduct or convictions regarding marijuana;
- Enable the Small Business Administration to provide loans to legitimate, marijuana-related businesses.
Republicans who voted for the bill were Reps. Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast, both of Florida; Tom McClintock of California; Denver Riggleman of Virginia; and Don Young of Alaska. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a Libertarian, also supported the legislation.
Democrats who voted against the proposal were Reps. Cheri Bustos and Dan Lipinski, both of Illinois; Henry Cuellar of Texas; Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania; Chris Pappas of New Hampshire; and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)