A Christian Case for Cannabis Legalization
Seven years ago, I became a foster mom. Through serving children and families in the foster care system, I saw that there are times when cannabis use can negatively impact a person’s life. But I also saw firsthand how the criminalization of cannabis produces far more devastation. For the last fifty years, our government’s approach to cannabis has ruined individuals, families, and communities.
As a Christian, I believe every person is made in the image of God and valuable beyond our imaginations. The sanctity of every single human life is one of my deepest values. Because of that, I believe government should enact drug policies that cause the least amount of harm to people. I’ve become convinced that ending cannabis prohibition is the best way to reduce harm.
Near the end of 2021, Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) introduced the States Reform Act to legalize and tax cannabis at the federal level. Less than ten years ago I would have adamantly opposed this kind of legislation, believing it conflicted with my conservative values and my evangelical Christian faith. Today I’m the Founder & President of End It For Good, a conservative Mississippi-based nonprofit inviting people to support approaches to drug policy that prioritize life and the opportunity to thrive. This includes ending cannabis prohibition. My values haven’t changed, but my understanding of the policies best aligned with those values has. And I’m not alone.
In my home state of Mississippi, 83% of us identify as Christian and more than half of Mississippians now support the legalization of cannabis for adult use. As I’ve traveled across Mississippi with End It For Good, leading educational events with well over 1,000 participants, I’ve heard why minds are changing. I’ve also listened to the concerns of many people who still support cannabis prohibition. Their concerns tend to fall into the categories of crime, kids, and moral compromise. I too want safe communities, healthy kids, and a culture with strong morals. Ending cannabis prohibition gets us closer to each of those, for the following reasons.
First, any popular substance that is banned from the legal economy will be supplied by a criminal underground market. In this way, cannabis prohibition creates crime. As long as the cannabis industry is barred from legal operation, criminal activity is financially rewarded and billions of dollars from consumers are funneled directly into the coffers of organized crime every year. The prohibition of cannabis does not fight crime. It funds it.
Second, cannabis legalization does not lead to increased use among youth. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looking at data from 10 states with cannabis programs found youth use either remained the same or decreased in the years after cannabis was legalized. This makes logical sense to me because under a state and federal ban my 13-year-old son can buy cannabis just as easily as a 33-year-old can. Dealers don’t check IDs. Legalization puts most cannabis transactions behind an age-restricted counter, offering at least one layer of protection to our children where prohibition offers none.
Third, many people of faith believe cannabis legalization is a loss of moral ground. I’ve become convinced the opposite is true. On the supply side, thousands of people are killed every year with predictable, preventable violence from the underground drug market. On the demand side, the lives of tens of thousands of consumers are ruined every year through unnecessary arrests. If they are incarcerated, they get disconnected from their work, family, housing, and community. When people come out of incarceration they’re traumatized and have a criminal record, making it immensely more difficult to build a thriving life.
This was brought home to me at one of End It For Good’s educational events. A career law enforcement officer came up to me afterward and said, “In all my years in law enforcement I’ve seen that marijuana is not a gateway drug, but the prosecution of marijuana is a gateway to a destroyed life.”
Even though cannabis prohibition is devastating to individuals and families, many people feel they can’t support legalization because of a personal or religious belief that recreational cannabis use is wrong. We can dialogue about that while agreeing that it shouldn’t be considered a criminal activity. Christians already separate religious belief from police action on a host of issues. Even the vast majority of the 10 Commandments in the Bible are not legally enforced, nor is anyone lobbying to make them so. Morality and legality are not the same things. It’s entirely possible to be against recreational cannabis use while simultaneously against making it a criminal activity.
There is no perfect path forward with cannabis, but I support legalization because it stops prohibition’s devastation from harming even more people who are made in the image of God. Congresswoman Mace has taken a courageous step by introducing the States Reform Act. Our kids, communities, and country are better served by ending cannabis prohibition.
Christina Dent is the Founder & President of End It For Good, a conservative drug policy reform nonprofit based in Mississippi. Her TEDx Talk details the journey that changed her mind on drug policy. Connect with her @ChristinaBDent on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.