These Devout Christians Are Using The Bible To Argue That Pot Is God’s “Perfect Medicine”
The Deep South is the nation’s most religious region and the least open to legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. To those who say marijuana is a sin, though, devout Christians are using the Bible to argue that it is God’s “perfect medicine.”
Posted on May 15, 2017, at 5:27 p.m. ET
Lydia Decker couldn’t miss the man in the motorized wheelchair as he whirred down the aisles of a West Texas grocery store. As someone with lung problems herself, she noticed his oxygen tank and wondered about his illness and his meds. They got talking, and Decker mentioned Genesis 1:29, the organization she heads that uses religion to preach the value of medical cannabis. This was one conversion that wasn’t going to happen.
“Oh, that trash!” Decker remembered the man saying as she tried to reason with him in the pharmacy aisle. The nurse with the man “politely” asked Decker, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, to leave. She did, but not before handing the nurse a Genesis 1:29 business card, which features a map of Texas covered with a large cannabis leaf and the words “One Mission End Prohibition!”
“Do you know he almost ran over me with the cart?” Decker said, laughing. “My goodness, he flipped a U-ee in the aisle.”
Decker, 49, tells anyone in Texas who will listen why cannabis is, in fact, a permitted therapy for Christians — not a sin. She hopes her openness will help generate support for medical cannabis among state lawmakers, and in April she submitted passionate testimony in hopes of swaying them. She described being rushed to the ER, “gasping for air” on New Year’s Day in 2014, when her COPD was first diagnosed, and the blur of medications and treatments she’s endured since then. “I live 80 miles from a legal state line,” Decker wrote, referring to New Mexico, where medical cannabis is permitted. She questioned why such treatment should be off-limits to her, “just because I choose to live and work in Texas, where I was born?”
Genesis 1:29, which Decker formed in 2010, is named after a Bible verse that’s oft-repeated by Christians in favor of medical marijuana: “And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.” To Decker, a nondenominational Christian who follows the Bible’s verses in a literal way, it means that cannabis is “meant to be eaten, whether in oil, whether in an edible,” she said.
Obviously, not everyone in Texas is receptive to Decker’s interpretation of the Bible — none of the laws covering medical or recreational cannabis were likely to pass before the legislative session ends in late May.
“People in the Bible Belt say, ‘You’re using the Bible to promote drugs,’” she said, drawing out the word “drugs” for emphasis. Decker disagrees. “We’re using the Bible to promote what God gave us. We say that God made the perfect medicine. Man is the one that made it illegal.”
The South is the last frontier for cannabis law reform. And it is no coincidence that it is also the most religious region in the country, according to Pew Research. It’s a place where interpretations of God’s word can be as powerful as law, and where preachers have long proclaimed the evils of marijuana. So as pot takes hold for medical use in more than half the country, and for recreational use in eight states and Washington, DC, both are nonstarters in much of the South. Only Arkansas, Florida, and West Virginia have full medical marijuana programs, and recreational use is not even on the horizon.
The president of the organization that represents the largest evangelical group in the US won’t budge on calling marijuana a sin.
“The scripture speaks against drunkenness, and marijuana is a mind-altering substance with the purpose of achieving, essentially, what the Bible would describe as drunkenness,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To get the votes they need, pro-legalization groups can’t just preach to nonbelievers; they also need to court people of faith, says Morgan Fox of Marijuana Policy Project, a lobbying group that is behind most of the cannabis laws in the country. Support from religious groups has become as key as support from law enforcement groups, addiction specialists, and parent groups. “I know that most of the major policy reform organizations are working on that right now — trying to build coalitions with faith-based groups,” Fox said.
After all, marijuana has never been more popular with young people — recent polls show the 18–34 crowd overwhelmingly in support of legalization. At the same time, young people’s church attendance is dropping. As much as pro-pot groups need religious support, religious leaders need to hold onto their flocks, and sometimes that means loosening opinions on controversial issues.
In Utah last year, the Church of Latter-day Saints weighed in on competing medical cannabis bills and made the unprecedented move of expressing support for one, albeit by backing the stricter of two pieces of legislation. And a group of Muslim undergraduate students at the University of South Florida, where medical marijuana was on the state ballot, tackled the question of whether cannabis use is haram last year during an event called “Contemporary Issues in Islam: A Discussion on Medical Marijuana.” Some faiths have expressed varying degrees of support for medical marijuana, including the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Unitarian churches. In New York, one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries had the cannabis blessed by a rabbi. And globally, to respect the traditional use of cannabis by Rastafarians, Jamaica legalized cannabis for religious use in 2015.
But to bring cannabis to the region of the US where states are deeply red and religious and where pot is both a social taboo and a ticket to jail, Decker and others are harnessing their devotion to their faiths to evangelize for it.
If the South seems hostile to change, at least when it comes to cannabis, it’s partly because of places like Dothan, Alabama. Leah Graves, 32, lives in Dothan, and grew up in a tiny town about 30 minutes away. Like her neighbors, Graves was a “hardcore” Baptist. It was “basically mainstream to be super religious, go to church all the time,” she said, pouring extra cranberry sauce onto her Cracker Barrel turkey special. “There was something wrong with you if you didn’t.” And you definitely didn’t smoke marijuana.
She has her work cut out for her as executive director of the Alabama chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which pushes for both recreational and medical marijuana. There’s no voter initiative process in Alabama like the ones that put legalization on ballots in other states, so she’s been limited to managing Alabama NORML’s Facebook page and trying to rally support to sway legislators. But religion is getting in the way. Often, friends privately express support for Graves’ efforts on marijuana but then refuse to take a public stance because they fear being judged by fellow churchgoers.
“So many people are afraid to be ostracized. I don’t know what so-and-so is going to think so I won’t say anything. But meanwhile, so-and-so is tokin’ up and he’s not talking and they’re not talking,” Graves said.
Leah Graves before her pink hair days.
Graves stands out in this conservative corner of Alabama as much for her pro-pot attitude as for her shocking pink hair and the two necklaces she wears each day: One is a Star of David, representing her Messianic Jewish faith, and the other is a pendant of the chemical compound for THC. She uses the sparkling baubles as conversation starters to pull people out of what she calls a “cannabis closet” and to show them that one can be both religious and in favor of cannabis. Without exposure to and education about marijuana, she said, “reefer madness” will persist in the Heart of Dixie.
It’s possible that Graves is onto something when she says that more people support cannabis than admit it openly. Local news site al.com launched a project in February called “Marijuana in Alabama,” which included a dozen stories that dove into what cannabis means to Alabamians. The report resonated. A total of 14,000 comments were posted on the site, along with thousands of shares on social media platforms. Readers’ responses to polls were unexpected: A majority didn’t think marijuana was a gateway drug that could lead to future addiction, and favored legalization. And, perhaps most interesting, 89% answered “no” when asked if they thought smoking marijuana was a sin.
Still, religious opposition continues to influence drug policy throughout the region. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention spoke out against the nine legalization initiatives put before voters in November. “I think when it comes to marijuana I’m, of course, for criminal penalties for marijuana use and for continuing criminalization of marijuana,” Moore told BuzzFeed News, specifying, though, that he is not in favor of the “incoherent mass incarceration that we’ve had as a result of the drug war.”
The Catholic Church has also come out against legalization; in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that “drug addiction is an evil” and “attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called ‘recreational drugs,’ are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.” The Catholic diocese in Arizona and Massachusetts came out against legalization in fall 2016.
While this “didn’t swing the pendulum in Massachusetts,” where legalization squeaked through in November, “it very well could have in Arizona,” where legalization failed, Fox said.
Georgia Rep. Allen Peake with Haleigh, who benefits from CBD oil.
A component of cannabis called cannabidiol, or CBD, might be the key to bringing cannabis to the South. Unlike traditional cannabis, it comes in oil form and doesn’t give the user a high, so moralistic arguments don’t apply. Laws permitting CBD have spread rapidly since 2014, even in the South. Almost every Bible Belt state has one of these CBD-only laws, which mostly apply to children who have seizures that can’t be controlled with traditional pharmaceuticals. Advocates who pushed the drug below the Mason Dixon argued that passing CBD laws to help sick kids was “compassionate” — perhaps something Jesus himself would’ve done.
Rep. Allen Peake, a self-described conservative Republican and devout Christian, is the man leading the charge in Georgia. His crusade started when a constituent pleaded with Peake to help her daughter, Haleigh, now 7, who had near-constant seizures. Peake’s granddaughter is around the same age as Haleigh, and the situation hit home as he questioned what he would do if his granddaughter was the sick one.
Peake said his faith “compelled” him to push for access to CBD oil. “People who have debilitating illnesses struggle on a daily basis with pain because of their medical condition,” he said. “Why would we not use every effort to help make their life a little better?”
When Peake says every effort, he means it. He has taken the unusual step of obtaining a medical cannabis card himself, to help obtain CBD oil for patients who can’t get it. On a particularly warm and sunny April afternoon, Peake opened a drawer in his Macon, Georgia, office and held one of the bottles of CBD oil destined for a young patient with seizures. A framed news article about Haleigh’s Hope Act — the legislation he spearheaded in 2015 to help patients like Haleigh — was hanging on the wall.
“I feel so strongly about this issue because I have seen the results and the changes in the lives of so many people,” he said.
Peake is up against vocal religious groups that have joined with law enforcement to oppose cannabis cultivation. In his efforts to get Haleigh’s Hope Act passed, those groups argued against allowing in-state growing of marijuana to produce the oil, saying it would put the state on a dangerous and “slippery slope” toward full legalization. So, when the act passed, it didn’t include a provision for growing cannabis to ensure a CBD supply. As a result, Georgia residents may possess and consume CBD, but they’re forced to violate federal law by bringing it in from other states — a legal conundrum that isn’t unique to Georgia. Many of the South’s half-baked CBD medical marijuana programs inadvertently encourage patients to break the law.
In May, Georgia added 16 medical conditions — including AIDS, autism, and Alzheimer’s — to the list of qualifying conditions for CBD. Peake insists that the laws still don’t go far enough. To get to a point where cultivation is permitted in Georgia, he’s going to have to be even more persuasive in the face of religious and moral opposition.
“In the faith-based organizations, it usually comes down to: Is there someone in that church or that organization who has been affected? And when there is someone who has been affected, either with a diagnosis or a medical condition, and has chosen to use cannabis as an option, there is a lot more sympathy and openness to this issue than those who have never been personally affected,” Peake said.
Sometimes, a personal connection is not enough. Faith Bodle, 64, of East Texas, talks about the T-shirt that got her membership to her Seventh-day Adventist church revoked. It says “Cannabis is medicine, make it legal.” Bodle is a retired truck driver who describes her life in periods of pain: She was born with scoliosis and one working lung, she was hit by a drunk driver decades ago, and in 2013 she was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia, which causes pain in her face so severe that all she can do sometimes is scream. Still, she considers the diagnosis a “blessing” because it finally steered her toward cannabis.
“God knew what it would take to get me to step out of the box and try something that was off the grid,” said Bodle, who considers her body a temple of the Holy Spirit. “We should not be defiling that which belongs to God.”
The Deep South is the nation’s most religious region and the least open to legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. To those who say marijuana is a sin, though, devout Christians are using
What the Bible Says About Cannabis
Is cannabis a dangerous, corrupting substance – or a healing gift from God Himself? These questions have driven scholars and laypeople alike to dig into the Bible in search of answers. In recent years, cannabis (alongside its derivative, cannabidiol – better known as CBD) has garnered significant attention for its astounding healing capabilities. Large numbers of people who had written marijuana off as a dangerous drug are re-evaluating their stance. Understandably, many religious people are reluctant to fully accept marijuana without confirmation that it won’t contradict the rules of their faith.
So, what does the Bible say about cannabis?
At first glance, it actually appears that cannabis is never mentioned in the Bible, as there are no specific references to it by name. However, many Biblical scholars agree that cannabis does appear quite a few times, in the Old and New Testaments, and has simply been mistranslated – possibly on purpose. These probable cannabis references in the Bible carry a sense of respect for the potent power of this plant. From the Holy oil of Moses to the healing miracles of Jesus, it’s possible that cannabis played a critically important role in the original versions of some of Jewish and Christian Scripture’s best-known stories.
Q: Is marijuana mentioned in the Bible?
A: Though cannabis by its proper name is never mentioned in the Bible, many Bible scholars believe that numerous references to a plant called calamus are actually mistranslations of cannabis. One of these references is to calamus/cannabis as a primary ingredient in a Holy oil recipe given directly to Moses by God.
Does the Bible approve of cannabis?
The Bible never outright condemns the use of cannabis. There were no laws against using cannabis in the Hebrew or Christian ancient texts. It’s highly likely that at the time the Bible was written, people in the Middle East were well-aware of the existence, usefulness, and potentially intoxicating factors of marijuana. In the original Hebrew Old Testament, the use of hemp, both as an incense for religious celebration and as an intoxicant was mentioned.
Many people interpret the words of Genesis 1:29 to imply that weed is inherently good and approved for human use since, like all plants, it was created for us by God. In this verse, God tells Adam that “Every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit, you shall have them for food.” There is some debate over the hard-and-fastness of this rule, considering that there are a number of earthly plants that are toxic to humans if consumed. Hemp seeds do make a tasty and nutritious addition to the human diet. But many are not convinced that this passage expresses approval for smoking weed.
Something interesting to ponder is the idea that marijuana truly was designed for humans, as a plant of healing and enlightenment. Human bodies come equipped with an “endocannabinoid system” that affects so many essential bodily functions, including movement, mood, memory, and sleep. Our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids – a type of chemical compound that’s also found abundantly in marijuana (THC and CBD are two well-known examples). We easily and effectively assimilate the cannabinoids in weed, and they have the amazing ability to help us “bridge the gap” if our own body is coming up short on cannabinoid production. Some believe this symbiosis is too perfect to be a coincidence.
Union for Reform Judaism’s current stance
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) passed a Resolution on the Medicinal Use of Marijuana in 2003. The URJ is calling for Federal legalization of weed in the United States for medicinal use, as well as to improve researchers’ access to it. The URJ argues that their tradition requires physicians to heal the sick, and cannabis appears to be a potent treatment. However, more research is needed on how to safely use it. Removing the Federal ban on marijuana would make this research far easier to accomplish and bring the healing potential of cannabis to many more people.
Cannabis in the Old Testament
Aside from Genesis 1:29, five other books of the Old Testament contain probable cannabis references.
The Song of Songs
In the Song of Songs, as King Solomon admires and poetically describes his new bride, he compares her qualities to a variety of desirable plants, fruits, and oils. In Song of Songs 4:14, fragrant calamus (believed to be a mistranslation of cannabis) is among these comparisons.
It’s been speculated that Isaiah 18:4-5 references the harvesting of the cannabis plant. In Isaiah 43:24, the people of Israel are chided for their hypocritical worship habits. It is mentioned that the Israelites have not procured “sweet cane” as an offering to God. This “sweet cane” is believed to reference the Holy anointing oil ingredient of the same name, which many researchers believe was cannabis.
Aside from Genesis 1:29, five other books of the Old Testament contain probable cannabis references.
In Jeremiah 6:20, God expresses displeasure with the material sacrifices His followers have been offering to atone for their sins. “Incense from Sheba and the sweet cane from a far country” are specifically mentioned as unacceptable offerings in this context. It is believed that both the incense and sweet cane mentioned in this verse may have been cannabis.
Ezekiel 34:29 speaks of a “plant of renown,” which some translations have interpreted to be a reference to hemp. However, there is some argument that this passage is actually talking about a fruitful land for planting, not a particular plant.
The most notable cannabis references in the Old Testament are in the book of Exodus. Moses begins conversing with God after he goes to investigate a bush that he observes to be on fire, but not burning up (Exodus 3:2-5). God then instructs Moses to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, where they had been living in oppression. After Moses successfully accomplishes this feat, God continues to come to him with divine information and further instructions. However, it has been speculated that this communion took place under the influence of weed. God is even described throughout Exodus as making His earthly appearances in clouds of smoke.
In Exodus 19:9, God tells Moses, “I will come to you in a dense cloud so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Moses was instructed by God to set up an altar inside his tent for the sole purpose of burning incense (which may have been cannabis) in Exodus 30:1-9. When the cloud of smoke could be observed at the door, his followers would assemble outside the tent in prayer.
Moses begins conversing with God after he goes to investigate a bush that he observes to be on fire, but not burning up.
Was Moses’ Holy anointing oil cannabis-based?
After instructing Moses on how to set up his “tent of meeting,” God then directly gives Moses the recipe for a Holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-25). The oil was to be treated as highly sacred and only be used to consecrate priests or anoint items for use at Moses’ altar, transforming secular items (or people) into Holy ones. Later on, kings were given the authority to also use this Holy oil. Making or using this oil for any other purpose was strictly forbidden. It is believed by many that this oil contained a high concentration of cannabis.
In the Old Testament, a common (and rather ordinary) plant called calamus is credited as a primary ingredient in this Holy anointing oil. However, both the Hebrew and Aramaic translations of the Old Testament instead list this ingredient as “kaneh-bosm,” – which is cannabis. The literal translation of kaneh-bosm (which has also been written as q’aneh-bosm, kaneh, kannabus, kanabos, and kineboisin) is “aromatic reed” or “aromatic hemp.”
Many Biblical scholars, including etymologists at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, have concluded that this reference to calamus was indeed a mistranslation of kaneh-bosm/cannabis. This error of translation first occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, in the 3rd century B.C., and it was replicated in all subsequent translations.
Many Biblical scholars have concluded that this reference to calamus was indeed a mistranslation of kaneh-bosm/cannabis.
What was in the recipe for Holy anointing oil?
The recipe for this Holy anointing oil is directly laid out in Exodus 30:22-23: “500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of kaneh-bosm (or “fragrant calamus”), 500 shekels of cassia, and a hind of olive oil.” Shekels were units of both money and weight in Biblical times. The exact measurement of a shekel has varied a bit over the years and from country to country, but its value typically sat between 7 and 17 grams, or approximately .40 ounces. This means that approximately 2.5 kilograms or 6 pounds of cannabis would have been infused into approximately 6.5 liters or just over 14 pounds of the olive oil base. The result would have been extremely potent!
This oil was applied topically to the skin of Holy men and would have undoubtedly altered their mental state, perhaps opening them up to the ability to communicate with God on an entirely different level than in simple prayer. Another argument that this oil was made with cannabis, not calamus, is that calamus at such a high concentration would have been toxic, capable of causing damage to the liver, kidneys, and heart. However, the same quantity of cannabis would not be toxic – though the psychoactive effects would have been incredibly strong!
Did Jesus use cannabis?
The New Testament offers many likely examples of Jesus Christ using this same Holy cannabis oil. It’s entirely possible that Jesus performed many of his miracles and healings with a little help from highly concentrated weed.
In the Bible, Jesus introduces Himself simply as “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Christ” was actually a title given by His disciples, taken from the Greek word Christos – a translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Messiah, which means “anointed.”
The New Testament offers many likely examples of Jesus Christ using this same Holy cannabis oil.
Jesus, however, did anoint common people with His healing oil. As described in Mark 6:13, “They cast out many devils and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.” Matthew 4:24 goes on to say: “News about Him spread all over Syria and people brought to Him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”
The types of conditions that Jesus is credited with healing include:
- Severe and painful skin conditions, such as leprosy, dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.
- Muscle conditions such as rheumatism and multiple sclerosis – Jesus is referred to as “the straightener of the crooked limbs” in Acts of Thomas.
- Eye disease, such as glaucoma.
- Issues related to menstruation, such as dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation), menorrhagia (abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding), and uterine hemorrhage related to childbirth.
- Epilepsy, the symptoms of which would have likely been viewed as demonic possession in Biblical times.
Interestingly, all of these conditions have been shown in recent years to respond well to treatment with cannabis. If Jesus were applying highly concentrated cannabis oil to the skin of those suffering from these ailments, it makes sense that quick and dramatic improvements would be seen in their condition. It’s little wonder that Jesus would be hailed as a miracle worker by anyone observing these effects.
Q: Did Jesus use cannabis oil?
A: Some scholars believe that Jesus performed his healing miracles with cannabis oil. If He were using the highly concentrated Holy oil recipe given to Moses (in Exodus 30: 22-23), it’s likely that the ailments Jesus is credited with healing (including skin conditions, muscle conditions, and epilepsy) would have seen quick and dramatic improvements.
What do the skeptics say?
Not all scholars embrace the theory that Biblical references to calamus are merely mistranslations of cannabis. Lytton John Musselman, a professor of botany at Old Dominion University, insists that calamus has strong medicinal properties all on its own. He shares examples of its popularity in Sri Lanka, as well as among the Native Americans who once populated the northeastern United States. Musselman also defends calamus’s status as a healing plant, as it is used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Additionally, many people interpret the many Biblical warnings against getting drunk on alcohol (such as Ephesians 5:18: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit”) to naturally include intoxication by marijuana (or any other substance), though this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the Bible.
Q: What does the Bible say about using weed?
A: The Bible doesn’t outline explicit rules against using weed, though it could be argued that the verses warning against alcohol intoxication apply to any substance capable of producing an intoxicating effect.
Lytton John Musselman, a professor of botany at Old Dominion University, insists that calamus has strong medicinal properties all on its own.
Was cannabis purposely removed from the Bible?
The possibility exists that the ceremony of anointment with Holy oil played a central role in early Christianity. A collection of “lost” Biblical texts (known as the non-canonical texts) was discovered in Egypt in 1945. These books had been sealed in a jar and buried around AD 367 when the church disallowed any tellings of Jesus’ story that were not included in the “official” New Testament. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were actually among many existing accounts of Jesus’ life. These books, in particular, were handpicked by the church for inclusion in the Bible, as they presented uniform accounts of the narrative Christianity’s leaders wished to present.
The non-canonical texts tell of sects that became known as “Gnostics.” This name comes from the Greek word for knowledge. The Gnostics believed that they achieved a higher degree of enlightenment and understanding of their religion through first-hand use of Holy oil, versus relying on the words of the Scriptures and priests. These texts indicate that this sacramental rite of anointment would have indeed been a psychoactive experience.
Cannabis’ role in the Bible remains mysterious
As cannabis use continues to gain acceptance throughout the world, perhaps future Bible scholars will be inspired to dig even deeper and uncover its true significance in Biblical times. But for now, like most of the events described in the Bible, the early role of cannabis in the Hebrew and Christian faiths mostly remains a mystery.
Cannabis’ role in the Bible is debatable, but some scholars suggest that it played a significant role in several Bible stories.