Volume 48 - Issue 2

What Christians Need to Know About “Legalized” Marijuana

By Melvin L. Otey


As states continue to decriminalize marijuana and usage escalates in American culture, Christians must increasingly navigate their associations with the drug. The various implications of marijuana use are much discussed, but the true legal landscape is often misunderstood. Despite recent changes in individual state laws, it is still a federal crime to possess, use, or sell the drug anywhere in the United States. This article argues that—aside from unrelated social, medical, ethical, and spiritual considerations—Christians must abstain from either medical or recreational marijuana use because they are obliged as a matter of faith to obey federal authorities.

Cannabis is the most used psychoactive, or mind-altering, drug in the world.1 In the United States, it is “by far the most commonly used illicit substance,”2 and alcohol is the only regulated substance that is more widely used.3 The term “marijuana” refers to the dried leaves, seeds, and stems of cannabis plants, which people can consume in a variety of ways to achieve conscious altering effects.4 Inhalation through smoking is the most common method, but ingestion of marijuana-laced edibles and beverages and vaporization are becoming increasingly popular.

Social attitudes regarding the consumption of marijuana have changed dramatically in recent decades.5 Along with this broader shift, there has been a notable increase in support among people professing Christian faith for decriminalizing marijuana.6 For instance, in 2012, Pat Robertson said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol.… I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”7 This sentiment is not new, and Robertson is not alone.8 Americans are using marijuana more frequently than they used to, and marijuana-related industries are growing exponentially. These changes will inevitably influence Christian churches just as they influence society at large. Although sermons, Bible classes, and small groups do not frequently discuss marijuana, the conversation is long overdue given the current climate.

A comprehensive discussion of marijuana use is multi-faceted and includes, among other things, possible medical benefits, health risks, potential mental and psychological consequences, and a variety of social costs, as well as sometimes complex ethical and moral determinations. However, while people continue to research and debate these matters, they often do so without a full appreciation for the legal landscape. Yet, the legal aspects of marijuana must be a primary consideration in any responsible discussion. This is especially true for Christians, who are bound as a matter of faith to obey proper human authorities. Still, much of the current dialogue about the propriety of Christians using the drug evinces a fundamental lack of awareness about its legal status.9

The legal landscape surrounding marijuana has evolved rapidly, and future changes in federal regulation might afford greater liberties. If, or perhaps when, the federal government follows the several states in deregulating the drug’s possession, use, and sales, then submission to God and government may look different than it does right now. At that time, the intricate complex of medical, mental, and moral considerations typically emphasized in contemporary discussion may well become dispositive. However, the benefits and detriments of marijuana are secondary or tertiary concerns for Christians and all law-abiding residents in the United States since federal law currently precludes them from having, consuming, or distributing marijuana for either recreational or medicinal purposes.

This article briefly discusses the biblical ethic of Christian respect for human authorities, the American system of dual sovereignty, and changes in simultaneous federal and state regulation of marijuana. It then concludes that Christians are not currently free to possess, use, or supply marijuana because any such conduct constitutes a federal offense.

1. The New Testament Ethic of Submission to Government

A person’s decision to consume marijuana will be influenced, in some part, by the person’s appreciation—or lack of appreciation—for human government. Christians’ respect for political authorities and the rules they promulgate is informed by a New Testament ethic of support for, and submission to, government. The apostle Paul repeatedly reminds readers of this duty. For instance, in 1 Timothy 2:1–2, he says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”10 In Paul’s estimation, the rules and restrictions issued by government are a necessary part of ordering society for the general welfare, and the authorities are to be supported, among other ways, with prayers.

The Christian’s duty, though, involves more than prayers for human rulers. Paul directs his readers to obey government authorities. In Titus 3:1, he instructs Titus, “Remind [the Cretans] to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work.” In the apostle’s most extended discussion on the matter, he urges,

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:1–4).

Hence, Paul teaches that Christians are generally required to submit to government authority because it is ordained by God and intended for their benefit. Governments can curtail individual freedoms, at least to some extent, and Christians are expected to submit to such restrictions and support the authorities who promulgate them.

Peter agrees with Paul and describes submission to human rulers as “the will of God” (1 Pet 2:13–14). Of course, this duty of submission is not absolute; it has limits.11 For instance, Paul assumes that the authorities are “not a terror to good conduct” and that they punish those whom God recognizes as wrongdoers. The government Paul expects his audience to submit to does not punish law-abiding, morally upright people. Jesus himself demonstrates that challenges to human authorities are sometimes appropriate. In John 18, he resists initial Jewish efforts to adjudicate his guilt. He appears before Annas, the High Priest emeritus, before he is taken to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. During this late-night proceeding, Jesus objects both to Annas examining him and to the officer striking him for questioning Annas’s methods (John 18:19–23).12

2. Dual Sovereignty in the United States

In light of New Testament admonitions to respect and submit to legal authorities, Christians need to know that everyone in the United States lives under a system of dual sovereignty, simultaneously subject to both federal and state regulations. According to the Supreme Court, “Every citizen of the United States is also a citizen of a state or territory. He may be said to owe allegiance to two sovereigns, and may be liable to punishment for an infraction of the laws of either. The same act may be an offence or transgression of the laws of both.”13 Consequently, a person who respects and submits to human authorities in the United States is not free to pick and choose which laws to follow. Instead, the person is duty-bound to obey the laws of both sovereigns.

Simultaneously obeying the laws of both federal and state authorities usually is not difficult because their regulations are often complementary. In some instances, federal and state laws simultaneously regulate essentially the same conduct. When this happens, a single act or course of conduct might subject one to punishment by both federal and state governments. Robbing a bank, for instance, likely violates federal statutes as well as state statutes in the jurisdiction where the bank is located. Consequently, a bank robber can be prosecuted and punished by either or both sovereigns. Where federal and state laws regulate the same conduct by adding cumulative burdens or restrictions, one may be more restrictive than the other. In that case, a person is expected to satisfy both by complying with whichever is more restrictive.

Federal and state laws are also complementary when they supplement one another by adding cumulative burdens or restrictions. When this occurs, the authorities regulate a wider swath of conduct together than either would individually. The network of laws addressing traffic safety on public thoroughfares is but one example. Federal authorities produce motor vehicle safety standards that control the design and function of automobiles. State authorities have additional criteria for licensing vehicles and drivers within their borders. Where federal and state regulations supplement one another, a person can satisfy both authorities, but each imposes additional burdens that the other does not.

While federal and state laws are often complementary, they sometimes conflict. The Framers of the Constitution anticipated inconsistencies between the regulatory schemes of federal and state sovereigns and provided for their resolution. Article VI, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states, in part, that the Constitution and the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” According to the Supreme Court, this Supremacy Clause “unambiguously provides that if there is any conflict between federal and state law, federal law shall prevail.”14

Christians are familiar with the necessity of reconciling conflicting authorities. For instance, in Matt 23:1–2, Jesus tells his disciples to obey the scribes and Pharisees because they sit in Moses’s seat (Matt 23:1–2). Given his admonition, the apostles are presumably disposed to submit to human authorities. Yet, when the Jerusalem Sanhedrin warns them not to teach in Jesus’s name in Acts 5—after Jesus commands them to do that very thing (see, e.g., Matt 28:18–20)—they answer, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). They perceive a conflict between the requirements of God and the Sanhedrin and conclude that they are bound to follow God’s command. Recognition that God’s authority is greater than the authority of the Sanhedrin is implied in their retort. As one author explains, “God is the ultimate authority, not human leaders or governments. This means that the authority of all rulers, all governments, is provisional and limited.”15

Similarly, state authority has bounds because federal law is the highest law in the United States. If there is a conflict in an area where federal and state authorities share the right of regulation, people in the United States must obey the federal law. The analogy between conflicting laws among human authorities and conflicting laws between divine and human authorities is admittedly limited. For instance, the Bible presents God as the ultimate source of all authority, and he delegates authority to human governments.16 Consequently, there are no domains in which human governments have greater authority than God. On the other hand, federal and state governments ultimately have a common source of authority—the U.S. Constitution—and there are spheres where the Constitution does not empower the federal government to restrict state governments. Still, despite the example’s limitations, the basic principle of submission to the higher authority is the same in either case.

3. Meandering Approaches to Marijuana Regulation

Most people witnessing—and perhaps decrying—marijuana’s growing social acceptance probably do not realize that it was lawful to cultivate and consume the substance in the United States until the early twentieth century.17 At that time, individual states began criminalizing its possession and use.18 Before that, though, marijuana was commonly prescribed and used for medicinal purposes. The federal government only began regulating the drug in 1937 with passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. The Act did not criminalize marijuana possession and use, per se, but it placed onerous restrictions and taxes on importation, cultivation, and distribution.

Marijuana possession and use did not become a federal crime until 1970, when Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act (hereinafter “the CSA”). The CSA classified marijuana as a Schedule 1 hallucinogenic drug. This categorization reflects a high potential for abuse, a lack of accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.19 In short, the CSA designates marijuana as contraband for any purpose, and the lone exception is its use during research studies preapproved by the Food and Drug Administration.20 The CSA can be amended, but marijuana—like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy—is currently a Schedule 1 drug.

Before the early 1900s, federal and state authorities were consistent in declining to regulate marijuana consumption and production. Once states began criminalizing the drug, they made independent decisions for half a century while federal authorities declined to join them. When the federal government passed the CSA, though, marijuana became illegal throughout the United States. Consequently, from 1970 until recent decades, federal and state authorities were once again aligned in marijuana regulations. Possession, use, and distribution simultaneously violated state and federal laws.

Since individual states began criminalizing marijuana in the early 1900s, they have had the primary responsibility for enforcement.21 This was true even after passage of the CSA because the federal government traditionally deferred to the states for low-level users and distributors while it pursued larger-scale, higher-profile traffickers. Beginning in the 1990’s, though, states have increasingly decriminalized—or removed criminal penalties for—medical and recreational marijuana use.22 States that decriminalize are essentially opting out of what has been a joint system of enforcement with federal authorities. In so doing, they have fundamentally altered their traditional and complementary role and begun to profit through taxation and increased industry from conduct the federal government prohibits.23

4. Clarifying Marijuana’s Current Legal Status

Decriminalization in various states has created a regulatory vacuum for lower-level marijuana crimes because, as a practical matter, federal authorities lack the resources to prosecute them without the states’ traditional cooperation.24 In states where decriminalization has occurred, the resulting vacuum allows people to believe that having, using, and selling marijuana is legal since state authorities sanction their behavior and federal authorities are unlikely to punish them. In this new environment, access to marijuana is increasing, and increased access presumably leads to increased consumption.25

As social acceptance grows, criminal enforcement declines, and usage rates increase, Christians, in particular, need to know that “legalized marijuana” is a dangerous misnomer. Neither decreased regulation nor decreased enforcement is the same thing as legalization. No matter what an individual state’s laws may say, anyone who has or consumes marijuana in the United States is committing a federal crime. The United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—one of the thirteen appellate courts just below the United States Supreme Court—says this:

Anyone in any state who possesses, distributes, or manufactures marijuana for medical or recreational purposes (or attempts or conspires to do so) is committing a federal crime. The federal government can prosecute such offenses for up to five years after they occur. See 18 U.S.C. § 3282. Congress currently restricts the government from spending certain funds to prosecute certain individuals. But Congress could restore funding tomorrow, a year from now, or four years from now, and the government could then prosecute individuals who committed offenses while the government lacked funding.26

A first conviction for possessing even a small amount of marijuana is punishable by imprisonment for up to one year and a minimum fine of $1,000, and the penalties increase with either larger quantities or subsequent convictions.27

As the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals noted, marijuana use is a federal crime, even if the use is ostensibly for medicinal purposes. The United States Supreme Court made this abundantly clear in Gonzales v. Raich.28 California voters passed the first modern medical marijuana ballot measure—the Compassionate Use Act of 1996—allowing seriously ill residents access to marijuana for medical purposes. Severe or chronic pain is among the most common needs cited by medical marijuana patients, and the Act exempted physicians, caregivers, and patients from criminal prosecution for possessing or cultivating marijuana for medical treatment with a physician’s recommendation or approval.

In Gonzales, a California resident who suffered from a variety of serious medical ailments used marijuana to manage her pain after conventional medicines failed to alleviate her symptoms. She grew her own marijuana and ingested it by smoking and using a vaporizer. California authorities concluded that her actions were permissible under California law, but federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized and destroyed her cannabis plants. The woman sought relief in the courts and argued that enforcing the federal CSA was unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court held that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to regulate medicinal substances and that the federal government can prosecute marijuana users even if they comply with state laws.

Because federal and state marijuana laws do not complement one another the way they used to—and the way other drug laws still do—many people will inevitably be confused about marijuana’s legal status. Simply stated, it is illegal. Anyone who possesses or uses or shares marijuana for any reason is violating federal law.29

5. Concluding Observations

The normalization of marijuana use in American culture will impact society in a variety of ways. Some consequences are predictable and others are not, but Christians need to think and talk about how these changes will impact their churches. Is it permissible for a Christian to use marijuana in any form to ameliorate severe pain based on a physician’s recommendation? Is it appropriate for a Christian to smoke a marijuana cigarette in order to help him relax when he feels anxious? Should a Christian accept employment as a cashier in a “marijuana bar?” Is it okay for a Christian to sell marijuana-laced deserts at her bakery shop?

The drug’s legal status must be a principal consideration in answering questions of this kind. Paul and Peter affirm that Christians are expected to submit to governing authorities (Rom 13:1–4; 1 Pet 2:13–14). Despite changing state laws, marijuana possession, use, and distribution are still crimes, and the New Testament ethic of submission to human government precludes Christians from committing criminal acts. This is true no matter how popular or socially acceptable the acts become.

It is possible—perhaps even likely—that federal laws will change.30 After all, the federal authorities’ approach to regulating marijuana has belatedly followed the states. The states have gone from no regulation to criminalization and are now increasingly moving toward decriminalization. The federal government currently follows a policy of non-enforcement, and decriminalization may well be the next logical step. If, or when, marijuana is decriminalized by the federal government, Christians will presumably be free to analyze the propriety of consuming marijuana or being involved in marijuana-related industries just as they currently analyze the propriety of being involved with or consuming other legal intoxicants, like amphetamines and beverage alcohol.

For now, though, alcohol and marijuana are not analogous. Marijuana today is more like alcohol during Prohibition; it is available, but it is illegal. Christians, therefore, have a duty to avoid it. This needs to be understood and communicated clearly within communities of faith because people of faith will increasingly face opportunities—or temptations—to become associated with the drug in one way or another. If the federal laws never change, then this posture of complete abstinence should continue indefinitely.

Whether the laws change or not, though, experts will continue studying the potential benefits and risks of marijuana use.31 Meanwhile, Christians should carefully study and discuss whether the drug might eventually be consumed under specific circumstances and in specific ways that are consistent with their theology and faith.32 If it is ever legalized in the United States, legalization alone will not determine whether or when it is helpful and wise to use it (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23). Robust engagement is needed so that, if the federal government decriminalizes marijuana, Christians will be prepared to make responsible decisions regarding their potential associations with yet another mind-altering drug.

[1] Angélica Meinhofer, Allison Witman, Sean M. Murphy, and Yuhua Bao, “Medical Marijuana Laws Are Associated with Increases in Substance Use Treatment Admissions by Pregnant Women,” Addiction 114.9 (2019): 1593.

[2] Daniel G. Orenstein and Stanton A. Glantz, “Cannabis Legalization in State Legislatures: Public Health Opportunity and Risk,” Marquette Law Review 103 (2020): 1315–16.

[3] Renee M. Cloutier, Brian H. Calhoun, and Ashley N. Linden-Carmichael, “Associations of Mode of Administration on Cannabis Consumption and Subjective Intoxication in Daily Life,” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 36.1 (2022): 67.

[4] This article distinguishes marijuana from hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) oils. Marijuana and hemp are genetically and legally distinct forms of cannabis. Marijuana, cultivated and used as a psychotropic drug because of its higher concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is illegal under federal law. See Title 21 U.S.C. § 812. Hemp has comparatively low levels of THC and is legal. It is cultivated and used in a wide range of nutritional, personal care, health, clothing, paper, construction, and industrial products. CBD oils may be derived from either marijuana or hemp. CBD oils derived from hemp are legal. CBD oils derived from marijuana, though, have higher levels of THC and are not always legal. See Janice Selekman and Joan Edelstein, “Cannabis vs. Marijuana, THC vs. CBD—The State of the Science,” Pediatric Nursing 47.2 (2021): 59–65; Lawrence J. Trautman, Paul Seaborn, Adam Sulkowski, Donald Mayer, and Robert T. Luttrell III, “Cannabis at the Crossroads: A Transdisciplinary Analysis and Policy Prescription,” Oklahoma City University Law Review 45.2 (2021): 131; Karen Hande, “Cannabidiol: The Need for More Information about Its Potential Benefits and Side Effects,” Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing 23.2 (2019): 131–34; Renee Johnson, Cong. Research Serv., R44742, “Defining Hemp: A Fact Sheet” (Mar. 22, 2019), at 1,

[5] “At the state level, rhetoric and practice around the use of marijuana has shifted considerably. This shift is driven by a variety of changes in attitudes as public perceptions of marijuana use nationally have moved significantly toward legalization.” Don Stemen, “Beyond the War: The Evolving Nature of the U.S. Approach to Drugs,” Harvard Law and Policy Review Online (2017): 416. “Most state medical and recreational cannabis laws originated as ballot initiatives, rather than legislation. Of the eleven state recreational laws, all but Vermont’s and Illinois’s were initiatives, as were eighteen of the thirty-three state medical laws.” Orenstein and Glantz, “Cannabis Legalization,” 1323.

[6] See Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Christians Torn About Legal Marijuana,” ChrCent 131.5 (2014): 14–15; Hunter Beckelhymer, “Grams and Damns,” ChrCent 87.9 (1970): 267. In this context, decriminalization refers to removing criminal sanctions for possessing small amounts of marijuana. J. M. Pedini and Cassidy Crockett-Verba, “First in the South: Cannabis Legalization in Marijuana,” Richmond Public Interest Law Review 25 (2022): 149.

[7] Jesse McKinley, “Pat Robertson Says Marijuana Use Should be Legal,” New York Times, 7 March 2012,

[8] “Some recommend that we legalize marijuana, then control it the way we control alcohol.” Beckelhymer, “Grams and Damns,” 267.

[9] See, e.g., Andy Crouch, “A Chance to Grow,” Christianity Today 58.2 (2014): 21–22.

[10] Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

[11] “To assume that in 13:1–7 Paul is presenting in full-blown form a Christian theology regarding ‘Christians and the state’ (as has been often argued)—or that here in 13:3–4 he is justifying the existence of all human governments and the actions of all their officials (as has also sometimes been asserted)—is not only to ignore, but also to misrepresent, the purpose and particularity of his hortatory statements in these passages.” Richard N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, NIGTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 963. “The proviso is that one should submit to the government as and when it is doing what God set the government up to do. Paul is saying that Christians should not resist the legitimate demands of the government.” Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 312.

[12] Melvin L. Otey, “Jesus’s Objections During His Preliminary Examination and Modern Notions of Due Process,” Regent University Law Review 35 (2022): 121–24.

[13] Moore v. Illinois, 55 U.S. 13, 20 (1852).

[14] Gonzales v. Raich, 125 S. Ct. 2195, 2212 (2005).

[15] Luke Wesley, “Church-State Relations: Lessons from China,” Them 47.2 (2022): 368.

[16] “We must never forget that the role and the authority of the state is limited and comes from God.” Wesley, “Church-State Relations,” 369.

[17] Armikka R. Bryant, “Taxing Marijuana: Earmarking Tax Revenue from Legalized Marijuana,” Georgia State University Law Journal 33 (2017): 663.

[18] Even though rates of marijuana use are roughly equal among white, black, and Hispanic peoples, rates of enforcement and punishment are traditionally much higher among minority groups and disfavored sub-cultures. Scholars largely agree that this push toward criminalization was “rooted in racial animus toward Mexican immigrants and African-Americans.” Orenstein and Glantz, “Cannabis Legalization,” 1320. According to Armikka R. Bryant, “Racism and xenophobia played a central role in marijuana’s criminalization because it was associated with migrant workers of African and Latin descent.” Bryant, “Taxing Marijuana,” 663. J. M. Pedini and Cassidy Crockett-Verba explain, “‘Marihuana’ was a term that was used to create a negative connotation with cannabis and link the substance to Mexicans, Black people, and jazz music.” Pedini and Crockett-Verba, “First in the South,” 146.

[19] See Title 21 U.S.C. § 812.

[20] “Not many studies exist on medical marijuana in the United States, mainly due to restrictions imposed by the federal government. Obtaining permission from federal agencies to conduct clinical trials remains difficult for medical marijuana, a scheduled drug. Large-scale randomized control trials require approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” Muni Rubens, “Political and Medical Views on Medical Marijuana and Its Future,” Social Work in Public Health 29.2 (2014): 122.

[21] Jonathan H. Adler, “Federal Power and the States,” Case Western Law Review 65 (2015): 506–7.

[22] Daniel G. Orenstein and Stanton A. Glantz report that, “between 1996 and June 2019, thirty-three U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands legalized use of cannabis for medical purposes, and eleven states, D.C., Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands legalized recreational or ‘adult use’ of the drug.” Orenstein and Glantz, “Cannabis Legalization,” 1316. Bryant avers that “Marijuana policy at the state level began shifting towards legalization in the mid-1990s.” Bryant, “Taxing Marijuana,” 668. Kreit explains that “throughout the 2000s, more and more states passed medical marijuana laws and marijuana stores started opening faster than the federal government could shut them down.” Alex Kreit, “Marijuana Legalization and Nosy Neighbor States,” Boston College Law Review 58 (2017): 1060.

[23] “Some states, fueled by the lure of an untapped and lucrative tax base, have gone so far as to decriminalize marijuana and impose excise taxes and retail sales taxes on its sale.” Bryant, “Taxing Marijuana,” 661.

[24] Robert A. Mikos, “On the Limits of Supremacy: Medical Marijuana and the States’ Overlooked Power to Legalize Federal Crime,” Vanderbilt Law Review 62 (2009): 1424.

[25] “My results indicate a 10–15 percent increase in marijuana use, likely on both the intensive and extensive margins, after the passage of medical marijuana laws.” Yu-Wei Luke Chu, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Increase Hard-Drug Use?,” Journal of Law & Economics 58.2 (2015): 511. “Marijuana legalization lowers the price and increases access to marijuana: the expectation under classical economic theory is that this will lead to increased consumption.” H. Justin Pace, “The ‘Free Market’ for Marijuana: A Sober, Clear-Eyed Analysis of Marijuana Policy,” Lewis & Clark Law Review 24 (2020): 1225.

[26] United States v. McIntosh, 833 F.3d 1163, 1179 n.5 (9th Cir. 2016).

[27] 21 U.S.C. § 844.

[28] 125 S. Ct. 2195 (2005).

[29] “In this case, to resolve the question presented, we need only recognize that a medical necessity exception for marijuana is at odds with the terms of the Controlled Substances Act. The statute, to be sure, does not explicitly abrogate the defense. But its provisions leave no doubt that the defense is unavailable.” United States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers’ Coop., 532 U.S. 483, 491 (2001). “Because the use of marijuana is unlawful for any purpose under federal law, neither states nor the Court have authority to permit a defendant to use medical marijuana during his or her supervised release.” United States v. Jackson, 388 F. Supp. 3d 505, 510 (E.D. Pa. 2019).

[30] “Recent polls indicate strong public support for legalization—fifty-nine percent of citizens believe recreational marijuana use should be legal; there is also strong public opposition to the enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized recreation or medical marijuana—seventy-one percent of citizens are against federal enforcement in such instances.” Stemen, “Beyond the War,” 406.

[31] “The gaps in our understanding of the health effects and safety of daily marijuana use are extensive, and the public may be underestimating its long-term risks. These national data underscore the need to invest in further research to better understand both the health effects of marijuana use and the public health investment necessary to better communicate potential health risks to the public.” Salomeh Keyhani, Stacey Steigerwald, Julie Ishida, Marzieh Vali, Magdalena Cerdá, Deborah Hasin, Camille Dollinger, Sodahm R. Yoo, and Beth E. Cohen, “Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults,” Annals of Internal Medicine 169.5 (2018): 288. See, e.g., Mahmoud A. ElSohly, Zlatko Mehmedic, Susan Foster, Chandrani Gon, Suman Chandra, James C. Church, “Changes in Cannabis Potency Over the Last 2 Decades (1995–2014): Analysis of Current Data in the United States,” Biological Psychiatry 79.7 (2016): 613–19; Muni Rubens, “Political and Medical Views on Medical Marijuana and Its Future,” Social Work in Public Health 29.2 (2014): 121–31.

[32] The following volumes are helpful contributions to the dialogue: Todd Miles, Cannabis and the Christian: What the Bible Says about Marijuana (Nashville: B&H, 2021); Tom Breeden and Mark L. Ward Jr., Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture (Adelphi, MD: Cruciform, 2016).

Melvin L. Otey

Melvin L. Otey is a professor of Law at Faulkner University’s Jones School of Law and a PhD student in Faulkner University’s Kearley Graduate School of Theology.

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