I speak in response to an article in the Pentecostal Evangel dated a few days from now. I get them as a courtesy of AGWM Communications where I work. I am entirely sympathetic with the goals and aims of the Assemblies of God World Missions team and their claim to be founded on the Bible as the Word of God. This denomination is one of the most progressive and vigorous groups aimed in this world at the propagation of the good news of Christ non-prejudicially to the whole world. There is complete and sincere concern for the welfare of people and a flourishing future for individuals. I happily subscribe to their missions philosophy, the leadership, and working people engaged in this ministry.
That said, I do not always subscribe to the less than clear thinking of the magazine they put out, though for the most part it is well researched and carefully produced. The Evangel this time, focussing on Convoy of Hope has a distracting little article near the end called “The Problem With Pot.”
Let me start with a good part of the article. Andrew Carpentieri’s story is that he first became acquainted with illegal drugs through marijuana. This is not an unusual story. The good part of his story is that he found salvation in Christ and was released from the bondage of addiction to much stronger drugs into a life of liberty in Christ. I applaud him and God for this transformation. I do not dispute the facts of this story.
Now, to the bad part… Andrew’s story is woven into a fabric of half truths and misinformation that makes it look like marijuana is at fault for his downfall. Information is offered in the article that blames marijuana for Andrew’s inevitable decline into a criminal underworld, captive to addictive substances and contrary to all good sense. The chief argument used is that marijuana is a gateway drug.
In case you haven’t been listening for the last 43 years since Richard Nixon started the war on drugs, marijuana is a gateway drug that leads into the inevitable decline and further drug abuse of anyone who uses it. Dr. Mitch Earleywine1 asks the question whether marijuana use can be a “cause” of further drug abuse. He concludes that on David Hume’s criteria of causality, marijuana cannot be a cause of further drug abuse because studies do not show that. Instead there is no statistically relevant correlation between marijuana use and, as Earleywine demonstrates, cocaine use. If the gateway theory is to be believed, then there should be a strong correlation between marijuana use and cocaine use. But Earleywine shows good statistical evidence that only about 2% of all marijuana users go on to use powdered cocaine on a monthly basis. (I am condensing the statistical arguments here.) Even fewer have used crack cocaine in the last month.
If then it is statistically improbable that marijuana is the cause of addictive monthly cocaine use, then, what is the reason for calling marijuana a gateway drug? It certainly is a gateway, but not in the way the author John W. Kennedy wants you to think, (as the federal government also wants you to think). Marijuana is a gateway into the criminal underworld of illicit drug use, thievery, robbery, fraud, etc. that permeates the gray areas of modern American life. Once a person uses marijuana, they have entered the underworld economy. Outside the distaste this brings to some of us, and the harm to people it actually causes, what does it mean that marijuana is a gateway to this realm?
The story is fairly simple. It has to do with whether someone in authority is a plausible witness to the truth. (The government claims that it is a plausible witness to the truth. It claims that is knows the truth about currently illicit drugs and can decide for you how to behave when it makes laws to punish you for using them.) There is a moral sense in all of us, atheist and theist alike, that knows when it is being lied to. When the government and those who agree with it about marijuana tell the public that marijuana has no medically redeeming virtue, it is lying. We have 5000 years of evidence that people have been using marijuana for medical purposes. There was even a large section on marijuana in the medical compendium before the 1940s in the USA that described the medical value of marijuana.
Here’s the modern kicker. When a teen tries marijuana, they often say that the D.A.R.E. program has mislead them. Marijuana is not as harmful as is claimed.
[Is marijuana not harmful as the Evangel article says people claim? No, marijuana, as a psychoactive drug has potentially dangerous effects that make it necessary to avoid exposing undeveloped humans. Every group seeking legalization of marijuana, including N.O.R.M.L., Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project insist that any legalization scheme must follow a similar trajectory as lawful alcohol restrictions, preventing underaged persons from purchasing the drug. No considerate adult would recommend allowing the use of marijuana to minors except in cases of medical expediency. The Evangel article states that marijuana may cause the early onset of schizophrenia to minors who use it. That has been attested in statistically relevant ways. But in these cases, schizophrenia would have presented for those cases before the age restrictions on legalized marijuana would have allowed them to use the drug, usually by the age of 18. Here's a bit I know you will like, most high school students find it easier to acquire marijuana (black market) than cigarettes or alcohol (both regulated by law). I digress…]
The young person who tries marijuana and finds that it is not as harmful as they have been told, will believe that they have been lied to. They will believe that they have also been lied to about heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, which they probably were not lied to about. You must see the dilemma this places the users of illicit drugs and the authorities in.
Marijuana has been drafted as the gateway drug. It is certainly not the cause of further drug use if we’re to take the statistics seriously, though it has been claimed to be. But the lie of the authorities leaves young people unprepared to encounter stronger and more dangerous drugs and the criminal element they have been introduced to. The legitimacy of the government message has been diluted by a patent lie and further obfuscation. It has disqualified itself from making claims of the sort it does. The fault here lies with the government not with the drug itself.
In the end of the article, Kennedy almost comes clean. He claims that the only authority that suffices to redeem a person is God, and that other authorities are not efficacious. He also moves people toward self-control. I applaud these remarks. They are correct in the best biblical and moral senses. So, I ask why has he bought the terrible story the federal government tells. Why has he woven his story into theirs, when they have done nothing well concerning this drug. He has told truths and half truths, but obscured the real truths that would cause suspicion on the authority of our government. Agreeing with the naughty government, he therefore waffles when it comes to committing to Christ the power of our own resurrection, our healing and security.
Kennedy recommends trusting Christ, but he damages his claim by siding with the fallible and clearly problematic government view about a drug it has lied about for over sixty years. Is Christ and self-control sufficient for living the life of freedom, or do we need the government to control our behavior?
My suggestion is to stick to the message of Christ and avoid the faulty “conservative” bent that seeks to lord it over people. The war on drugs is in reality a war against people who use drugs, people that we as Christians claim to care about. What a terrible hypocrisy. “The greatest among you is the servant of you all.” The federal government, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is in its own service lately, not yours.
1 Mitch Earleywine, Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific Evidence (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), pps. 50-60.