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An Adventist Case Against Marijuana Legalization

In November, California voters will have the opportunity to decide whether various marijuana-related activities are a legal (read “protected”) activity. Whether the new state law, emphasizing local control, would be recognized by the Federal Government is a separate matter. However, it looks like Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, has a reasonable chance of passing. The latest polls show the yes/no vote in a virtual dead heat.

The arguments on both sides are primarily financial in nature, and having reviewed the proposition in detail I can tell you that there’s more to this story. Viewed logically from a financial perspective, if the marijuana market will remain at $14 billion then the drug cartels would still be interested in the California marijuana market, after what will have changed? If it is no longer a $14 billion market due to increasing availability (i.e. supply and demand), then the tax base would begin to get smaller.

According to a 2010 study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the national average shows 41 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Twenty years ago, only 16 percent said the use of marijuana should be legal, according to the study. Fifty-eight percent of people 30 years old or younger believe marijuana should be legal.

A Protected Class

Proposition 19, by its very language, would create a protected class of marijuana users.

No person shall be punished, fined, discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this Act or authorized pursuant to Section 11301 of this Act. Provided however, that the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected.

As an attorney familiar with discrimination law, I can foresee a situation in which an employee, let’s say of a daycare, sues his employer claiming wrongful termination because the employee smokes pot off-duty. That is not a right that exists with respect to alcohol, tobacco, or even doughnut consumption.

If this secular concern is not enough to frighten you, and it should be, it should be noted that there is no exception for churches! (This is not meant to be ironic because the threat is real here.) Imagine your pot-smoking church janitor defending his actions in law! So long as he smokes on his own time or doesn’t smoke enough to be anything other than congenial, he will be protected and can file suit under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.

There would be more of a right to smoke pot than to obtain religious accommodation in the workplace.

A Moral Imperative

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has historically gone on the record in a wide range of “temperance” and health and safety, and this is an opportunity for the church to lead the charge again. While the Adventist Church is wise to steer away from topics that impinge the independent rights of other parties, this issue will cross all kinds of societal lines and cannot be ignored. The church in California needs to speak on this public issue, from its pulpits to its hospital rooms.

For those who believe that addressing the issue of Proposition 19 is too political for the church, denominational co-founder Ellen White addressed those concerns in the The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald in 1898, and these words apply just as much today:

While we are in no wise to become involved in political questions, yet it is our privilege to take our stand decidedly on all questions relating to temperance reform. . . . There is a cause for the moral paralysis upon society. Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping their very foundations. Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land, every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and that vote be cast on the side of temperance and virtue?” The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Oct. 15, 1914. (Italics supplied.)

The next two weekends leading up to November 2, 2010 are the church’s opportunity to to speak on an issue while recreational marijuana use is still illegal. After that, it may be too late.


An attorney, Michael Peabody is the editor of Religious where a longer version of this article also appears.

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