The late Timothy Garon was refused a liver transplant because he used medical marijuana to control his nausea. (Photo: michaelmhughes.com)
In the fall of 2013, an Iowa man named Benton Mackenzie had a run-in with the police. He was arrested and jailed for 42 days, and police also charged his wife, son, and a family friend. His father, an army veteran, and his mother, who has been in the same weekly prayer meeting for four decades, were charged too—simply for living in the same house as Benton.
What crime were all these deviants accused of? Growing and using marijuana.
You see, Benton was dying from cancer. His doctors confirmed that there was nothing they could do to help him and what time he had left was marked by constant pain. The particular type of cancer he had was angiosarcoma, which can cause painful tumors that erupt as lesions on the skin.
It turns out that cannabis oil was the one medicine which brought Benton any relief, but marijuana use—even for medical purposes—is strictly illegal in Iowa.
He was only released from jail when the state got worried about being stuck with his medical bills!
Said Benton’s 71-year-old mom, who was charged as a felon, “My husband and I have been accused of running a drug house, because we allowed him to live [with us] and treat his cancer.”
Is this how we treat cancer patients in the land of the free?
Is this what it looks like to wage the war on drugs?
And if it is, is that really a war we want to keep fighting?
For many Christians—me, in the past, included—continuing the drug war was always a no-brainer. Drugs are bad, so they should be illegal, right?
Not so fast.
Now, the Bible doesn’t speak much on the subject of drugs as we think of them today. It’s not that drugs didn’t exist in biblical times. They did, and it’s even possible that some of the thinkers we today consider the foundation of Western civilization might’ve philosophized while high—which is either scary or funny, depending on how you look at it.
But the Bible doesn’t give drugs much attention. Fortunately, it does have quite a bit to say about alcohol and drunkenness, and many Christians agree that we can apply these principles to drug use, too.
However, if Jesus taught a parable on the three-beer limit, the gospel writers didn’t include that one for us. Instead, we’re given a framework within which we can exercise Christian liberty, follow good judgment, and listen for the conviction of God. Paul writes about drinking in his first letters to Timothy and the Corinthians. John the Baptist abstained from drinking entirely, while Jesus famously used his first miracle in John 2 to create wine for a wedding—and not just any wine, but really top-shelf stuff!
Ultimately, the Bible doesn’t prohibit drinking—far from it—but it’s also very clear that God is not ok with rampant intoxication, addiction, or leading others into sin. Though some drugs are milder than alcohol and some far more dangerous, the same basic principles apply to drug use, too.
When alcohol (or drugs) is abused, Jesus and the New Testament writers seem confident that this is a problem which God can handle as he sanctifies us and makes us into new creations in Christ. At a practical level, this sort of habitual sin is a matter for church discipline, as Paul makes it very clear that he is not telling Christians to solve such problems by getting the secular government involved.
“That’s all great,” you might be thinking. “But the fact that Jesus and Paul didn’t get Caesar to launch a ‘Just say no!’ campaign doesn’t mean drugs should be legal here and now. We can have church discipline to deal with drug abuse and make it illegal, too.”
Sure, but when we throw people in jail for using drugs for medicine or fun, what are we accomplishing?
I mentioned Benton’s story to illustrate the tragic consequences drug criminalization can have for people whose suffering is only helped by now-illegal substances.
But what about the consequences for recreational drug users and their families?
Let examine another story, about a young couple in California named Daisy and Jayme who had three little boys. Daisy and Jayme grew their own cannabis to sell as medical marijuana. Although medical marijuana is legal in their state, in January of last year the couple was arrested and their children were taken away.
While Jayme remains in jail with bail set at $1 million, Daisy is rarely allowed to see her children. In the care of the state, the children have been moved around to multiple foster homes, forgotten the sign language they were learning, and declined in health.
Now, all three boys refuse to even address Daisy as “Mom.”
Daisy’s story may be more shocking than most. But for many who run into legal trouble because of drug use—and their families—the consequences are similarly tragic.
In prison, drug abuse, rape, and mental health problems run rampant. After a prison sentence, with psychological trauma and drug addictions often intact, many ex-prisoners find themselves as part of a permanent underclass, unable to find good jobs no matter how clean of drugs they may be. In an employer’s economy, why hire the ex-con who may be a drug addict when you can hire someone else with less… history?
Drug users are, as The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik writes,“doomed for life to a system of ‘invisible control.’ Prevented from voting, legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, most will cycle back through the prison system.”
Mental illness. Sexual abuse. Long-term unemployment. Untreated addiction. Fragmented families. A life spent behind bars. These are the consequences of the war on drugs—affecting even first-time or nonviolent offenders thanks to mandatory minimum sentencing laws.
Jesus said we would know false teachers “by their fruits.” If I can appropriate that measure, I’d say the drug war has rotten fruits indeed.
Rather than following God’s lead as he “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” we’re tossing them in jail. Rather than following God’s command to “defend the weak and the fatherless; [and] uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed,” we’re creating an orphaned generation.
Is this a goal we want to accomplish? Are these fruits we want to grow?
I’m not “soft on sin;” and I know God wants us to live sober lives, seeking holiness. But I’ve seen that the drug war is bearing terrible fruits; and it’s giving away to government responsibility that Jesus seems to have envisioned being held by the church.
I’m a Christian, and I want to end the drug war. I hope and pray you’ll join me.
This essay is adapted from Bonnie Kristian’s forthcoming book, “Love God. Love People. Love Liberty.”