Why I Grow Cabbage and Not Cannabis
Nathan Rittenhouse talks about the question, “How does God feel about weed?”
A question growing in popularity at our youth events is about the morality of smoking weed. With the ongoing buzz about weed in the news, it’s not surprising that this is becoming a popular topic to mull over. Given the current (and likely increasing) availability of marijuana, let’s look at the question, “How does God feel about weed?”
The first response that you may have heard is, “Don’t smoke weed because it is illegal.” That could be an okay reason not to do it, but chances are weed is either now legal where you live, it will be soon, or it isn’t really prosecuted. On the other hand, maybe you don’t care whether it is legal or not. For the sake of argument, let’s set the “legal” category aside.
The second reason people suggest not using marijuana is because of scientific recommendations. But, it seems that people often don’t really care what science says unless it supports their conclusions. Now, just because some people play loose with the facts shouldn’t change how you handle them. As a Christian, what science says actually is a serious issue for me because I believe truth is a serious issue and that science is one of the key ways that we make sense of the world around us. As a Christian, I have an epistemic foundation for believing in the rationality of the human mind and believe in correspondence theories (which science is mighty helpful for) as an element of discerning the truth.
In the Judeo-Christian framework there is a Creator who transcends the human creature, which means that there is an objective reality that actually exists outside of my mind. This means that my mind is the result of a higher mind and that there is a real world that can be accessed in real ways by multiple people through a combination of our senses and reason. I have reason for believing that my mind is capable of reason, that you actually exist, and that our senses can help us analyze ideas to determine if they functionally correspond to reality (aka, science).
Science in its truest sense should be neutral on many ought questions; it should just tell us what is. However, due to the way that science is often co-opted for political and commercial gain, it is always worth asking ourselves, “Whose science is supporting this, who is supporting those scientists, and who has the most to gain from this research being published?” For example, scientific health studies sponsored by food corporations have a massive influence on what you eat. Of course, all types of companies try to influence your decision-making. It’s called advertising. This isn’t illegal, it is just the way the market works. Companies need to make money, but if you don’t want them to beat you up, take your lunch money, and leave you coughing, you need to be an informed and educated customer with a clear mind.
Surprisingly, there isn’t a ton of research on the long-term impact of marijuana use due to the fact that it has been illegal, and (thankfully) experimenting on humans long-term with known harmful substances is frowned upon. What we do know is that frequent use leads to lower life satisfaction, poorer mental health, poorer physical health, more relationship problems, lower academic performance, higher school dropout rates. Additionally, frequent use is also linked to increased job absences, accidents, and injuries.
“But,” you may say, “What about all the health benefits? Surely anything that helps manage pain is good, isn’t it?” Well, there seems to be a bit of exaggeration on some of these claims. Much of the evidence for the effectiveness of this is anecdotal and, if anecdotes count, I personally know people who would claim that it doesn’t work. If you look at the US National Library of Medicine-National Institutes of Health, you will see that there has only been one properly scientific study done on this. The results showed that medical marijuana had better results than a placebo, but wasn’t as effective as other medication.
In short, it is better than nothing, but not the best option for pain and nausea management. The paper, written by a professor at Yale, concludes this section by saying, “This does not mean, of course, that components of marijuana do not have potential therapeutic effects to alleviate onerous symptoms of these diseases; but, given the unfavorable side effect profile of marijuana, the evidence to justify use in these conditions is still lacking.” Yes, this is science from a government website, and if you don’t want to believe it there are all sorts of theories and bandwagons you can jump on about why the federal government has been anti-cannabis, ranging from economics to systemic racism. However, it seems to me that that the simplest take is that it’s in the best interest of our government to caution against behaviors and substances that don’t contribute to a stable society.
So why would a state be interested in legalizing marijuana? Two reasons: 1) Most people want it to be legal and will therefore vote for people who enact policy to make it legal. Representatives represent the people–that’s how it works. 2) Your state might make a ton of money from legalizing marijuana. To see how this will play out, we need to shift from the medical to the financial world. Articles like this one in Forbes Magazine point out that Colorado is gaining $2.40 for every dollar they invest in the pot industry. That’s a pretty good return on investment, except for the fact that there are other reports that show they are spending about $4.50 on public health and safety issues for every dollar that they spend on legal weed. But if this went federal, it could generate $131 billion in tax revenue. If we are only losing twice as much as we are gaining, is that a great idea? You do the math. Is it a good idea? Well… at least a few folks are going to get wealthy.
What about the argument, “Pot can’t be bad because it is natural?” You know what I find interesting? When we had our recent national uproar over lead being in the drinking water in Flint Michigan and its potential impact on the cognitive health and general well-being of the city, I didn’t see many articles saying that it wasn’t a big deal because “lead is a natural element” (Pb atomic number 82, to be specific). Just because something occurs in nature doesn’t mean that it is good for you in unnatural quantities.
We know that marijuana isn’t great for your mind, specifically your memory, and use as an adolescent has a long-term impact on your IQ. So, yes, it is a natural substance, but it is a natural substance that doesn’t do your brain any favors. It is clear that if God wants me to worship him with my mind (see Mark 12:30), then taking care of my mind is an issue of stewardship that matters for my Christian walk. In order to be consistent here, that also means that I need to steward my sleep and nutrition as well, because those categories also influence my mind.
Now to the cabbage mentioned in the title of this article. I have a friend who is going to college to study horticulture. His economic future looks pretty good because there is currently a shortage of people in his program interested in growing food. The majority is there to learn to grow legal marijuana/industrial hemp. If you want to see this growing shift in interest, glance at the gardening section next time you’re in a bookstore. I can guarantee you’ll quickly find more information on cannabis than carrots. I’m not making some sort of alarmist claim that there is going to be a food shortage because all we want to do is grow pot. That isn’t going to happen. What I am asking you to consider is this: What does it say about us if depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens are more interesting than the beauty of the things that give us sustenance? It likely means that our lives may be more out of joint than a joint can solve.
Our lives may be more out of joint than a joint can solve.
Avoiding pain is not the same as finding purpose; making money is not the same as making meaning; chemically altering your mind is not the same as joy. To metaphysically echo the Yale professor’s physical assessment, cannabis can certainly give you a sensation that is different from nothing, but it really isn’t the best alternative for satisfaction in life.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t produce luxuries—things and products beyond the necessities. Rather, it’s to suggest that seeking a salvific cure-all beyond our daily bread may leave us in a posture that results in a lot of kinks in our lives. If our lives become more focused on pleasure, escaping pain, and making money than on the necessities and beauty of life, that isn’t an attractive future. For Christians, I’m suggesting participatory caution in the cannabis hype, because all of our actions, smoking weed included, shape and form us. It is well worth considering the motivations for our habits because they can cumulatively conform us to the distortions of our own minds, rather than conform us to the likeness of Christ.
If our lives become more focused on pleasure, escaping pain, and making money than on the necessities and beauty of life, that isn’t an attractive future.
I like growing things. My wife and I planted about ninety cabbage, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower plants in our greenhouse last spring. There is no way we will be able to eat all of that by ourselves, but it isn’t just for us; it is for our broader family and community. When I think about cannabis, I want to make decisions that are also about my broader family and community, not just about me. Given what I currently know, cabbage has a greater positive net impact on my community than cannabis. Is that a Christian perspective or just pragmatism? It’s both; those aren’t mutually exclusive categories.
In response to the question “How does God feel about weed?” I didn’t use the phrase “Well, the Bible says…” because the Bible doesn’t specifically say anything about our version of weed. Nevertheless, the life and the teachings of Jesus remain applicable to our daily habits. With Jesus as my model, the one who came that we might have life to the full, I want to be a part of the world where I am contributing to nutrition, fullness, abundance, health, and long-term deep and sustainable joy. Anything (not just weed) that is contrary or deleterious to the direction that Christ is trying to grow me needs to be rooted out of my life. That’s why I grow cabbage and not cannabis.
 Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health by Marion Nestle.