I used to tell my theology students that I could explain every concept we would encounter by using analogies from either baseball or marriage. Today I’ll add a third explanatory source—forests. As of today, cannabis is legal in Canada, making this the second country in the world (after Uruguay) and first major economy to take the step. Not far from where I work in Ottawa, one Ontario town, Smiths Falls, is already finding new life as a major center for pot production. The industry has created new jobs and given the town international visibility that it’s previous chief product (chocolate) never did. This all seems very new and very mundane at the same time. But in Christian communities the question still bounces around: Do we need some particular Christian response to these high times?
I don’t think so. The most relevant biblical passages that come to mind are the words of Saint Paul from I Corinthians 6. There he quotes an unknown interlocutor who says “‘all things are lawful for me’” and then offers his own rejoinder, “but I will not be dominated by anything.” With respect to food, habits or ingestible substances that seems like sage advice. At least for individuals. When it comes to the future of the cannabis industry two passages seem relevant. First, the pastoral wisdom offered to Timothy “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” Ask anyone who has ever worked in an office tower or on an oil rig if you need examples of these “many pains.” Second, there is the thread that is pulled into view throughout the scriptures with the phrase “principalities and powers” (or various other related terms). Let’s not have any illusions: cannabis companies will run people over; they will downplay risks to maximize profits. These are not altruistic hippies trying to help us find our place in the universe. These companies will become a force bigger than individual choices. That said, it seems hard to argue with the mounting evidence that cannabis has proven useful for treating a variety of ailments.
So, do we need a particular Christian response to the legalization of pot? I don’t think we do. None of these dynamics are new. We and our neighbors have always been vulnerable to addictions and we have always been seeking relief from our stress. Sometimes we use shortcuts. But here’s the forest analogy. This morning as I walked Rhubarb (the dog) through a small woodlot I was impressed the dynamism of the place. Forests are always changing, always finding a new balance, always responding to one stress or another. What looks like a traumatic blowdown this year, will be the fruitful rot of the next decade. Christians, it seems to me, can thrive in just about any cultural reality. History shows this to be true. At their best, Christians are the squirrels or the field mice of natural ecosystems—adaptable, creative and hard to remove. The legalization of cannabis will ease some social stresses in our communities and probably create new ones. This doesn’t mean that public policy isn’t important. It just means that this particular issue will probably do little to change the basics of the forest.