The Christian Case for Drug Legalization

breaking breadDisclaimer: I have never been involved in any illegal drug use, as such, any case I am making to legalize drugs should be taken on principle.

In an online drug legalization debate, Pastor Bob Enyart argues that drugs should be illegal for several reasons.

First, drugs are immoral:

It’s wrong to get high. For in doing so you reject the counsel of the God who made you. And by intoxication you lose what should be a full control of your mental and moral faculties. You become a threat to yourself and a risk to those around you.

Second, drugs are dangerous:

Many studies show serious problems, for example, with schizoid psychosis while smoking. And marijuana can act as a cancer-causing carcinogen and damaging DNA for pot smoke contains higher levels of certain toxins than tobacco, which is why pot smokers face rapid lung destruction, with the impact on lungs from one joint equaling up to five cigarettes. Pot also opens the door for the virus that causes Kaposi’s Sarcoma. And for pregnant moms, it can harm their unborn child by impairing growth and by causing long-lasting neurobehavioural problems. (And if you’ve read online that marijuana has never caused a single death, just assume you’re reading a pothead’s website.) For habitual use is strongly associated with car crash injuries and smoking marijuana doubles the risk of fatal accidents.

While Enyart won the Huffington Post debate (determined by reader votes), he seems to have fallen short of his goal: to show that drugs should be illegal. Even if it is granted that drugs are both dangerous and immoral (with which sensible people can disagree), how does that translate into a legitimate function for government action? Where has God given the government the right to regulate or ban behavior just because it is immoral and/or could result in harm? Where does God ban possession of substances? What right does the government have to control which substances are bought and sold by individuals for health or pleasure? And, Biblically, who is authorized to make such a determination if the drug is being used for health or pleasure? Does this have precedent in the Bible?

The Proper Role of Government

In the Bible, there are several data points for understanding God’s concept of the proper role of the state. After the Exodus, God sets up His preferred government. In God’s preferred government, a series of unpaid judges presided over disputes. There were no taxes and justice was crowdsourced. Later, when the people demanded a king, God reluctantly allows Israel to establish one (see 1 Sam 8). Rejection of God’s minarchy was a rejection of God, Himself (this, in itself, should heavily influence a Christian perspective of the role of the state). In the proceeding Kingship, taxes were levied and a salaried federal government was established. In both of these governmental systems, legislative directives seem to remain consistent. The Kings really did not make new legislation, but adopted the law of the Pentateuch (supplementing at times with temporary decrees).

In the Bible, God establishes two types of rules: moral code and legal code. Often the two overlap. In God’s moral code, people are told what they should and should not do. There are no punishments attached to these actions (see Joel Hoffman on the issue). These actions function as a moral guide for daily life. In God’s legal code, punishments are prescribed for various acts. Murder results in death. Stealing results in reparations. The legal code functions as a guide to government action.

What are the legal consequences of sloth, envy, being a drunkard, abstaining from leaving a portion of a field to be gleaned by strangers (Deu 24:19)? There are no legal consequences. These are acts that people “should ” or “should not” do. The activity is frowned upon, but otherwise there is no formal punishment.

When the government of Israel morphs from a government of judges to a government by King, the King yet refrains from creating a system which legislates these activities. The Kings just do not believe it is their role (or think it is feasible) to legislate states of mind, especially something as subjective as drunkness or sloth or gluttony. Sure, proverbs abound in the social realm condemned these things, but legislative code does not follow:

Pro 23:21 For the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags.

This proverb is warning people that their gluttony, sloth, and drunkardness will destroy users’ lives due to the cost of those activities. This is a persuasive argument based on attempting to make individuals understand natural consequences of their actions. There is not an idea of government punishment, but one of moral responsibility of the individual. The Israelites used social pressure and logical reasoning to change the behavior of others, not laws imposed by armed enforcers.

Preventative Law v Punitive Law

The entire structure of God’s law is antithetical to drug legislation. God’s legal code is also not overly concerned with preventative legislation. The legal code prescribes punishment after a crime is committed. If a builder builds a dangerous house, he could be guilty for his negligence after anyone dies (Deu 22:8). One can extrapolate that concept in terms the modern world would understand: God would not have a punishment for drunk driving but for any actual manslaughter or property damage that results. If a drunk driver kills someone in negligence, they are punished for the crime of murder (not drunk driving). In God’s government, there was no police state cracking down on dangerous activity. The government’s role was justice, not babysitting. This cannot be emphasized enough.

Overall, God does not make laws peddling some sort of social justice goal. Instead, God’s focus is on punishing crimes and having His people worship Him. God does not spend his time making laws to ward against dangerous activity. In other words, God does not try to save people from themselves. God’s laws are based in objective fact. Either someone has murdered someone or not. Either someone has stolen something or not. There are no laws such as “someone can only drink two glasses of wine per day”, trying to prevent drunkenness. There are no laws such as “no letting your children shepherd in an area with lions and bears”, trying to legislate responsible parenting. God’s laws are not “good ideas” to make society marginally better.

True, there are some prescriptions against certain products. There is a law against the manufacture of certain holy oils, but the reasoning is that the oil is holy (Exo 30:33 ). Interestingly, there is no similar prescription against making, selling, or owning idols, although the worship thereof was a death sentence (Exo 22:20, also see Num 25:4). It is also not a problem to God when righteous Kings purge the land of idols (2Ki 18:3). The focus of these exceptions to God’s general legislation is about worship of the true God. God really cares about holiness, righteousness, and worship of Him. But after that, people are generally free to do their own thing.

Double Standard for Immorality

Those who want the government to legislate drug use, often do not want the government to legislate other immorality. Should the government legislate sloth, envy, or gluttony? Should the government criminalize drunkenness? How does a government even begin to lay down an objective standard by which to legislate these things? Even in the modern world, alcohol is tested through a secretive formula by which they calculate some sort of blood alcohol level. In other words, the average person has no way of knowing if they are violating the law until after the fact. And the standard is completely arbitrary, ever being lowered by special interest groups. That is an evil law.

God does not legislate wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. God does not legislate drunkenness, or drugs (which have always been readily available). God is not the thought police.

Double Standard for Danger

The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports that the fatality rate on for summit attempts on Mount McKinley is 3 in 1000. One climber described to me watching as a French man desperately grabbed onto his sled as it began slipping down the side of a crevasse. The man plummeted to his death holding onto the equipment he dearly wished to save. Climbing Mount McKinley is dangerous. At those high altitudes, hikers who do not die of exposure or slipping often return with brain damage due to the low oxygen environment.

So the question is: why do Americans allow people to undertake a dangerous activity with almost certain life-altering results? The answer is freedom. People are generally tolerated to engage in dangerous activities if they so wish (from motorcycle driving, to wing suit flying, to base jumping). In a free country, people do not have to justify their activities to some bureaucrat. People are allowed to take risks.

Why the double standard for drugs? Certain drugs do not seem as dangerous as the counterexamples provided. A majority of drug users live very normal lives and are undetectable from non-drug users. An entire 38% of Americans admit to trying marijuana, including the sitting president of the United States. What percent of them are harmed and to what extent? Certainly not 3 in 1000 die due to their actions (the fatality rate for attempting to summit Mount McKinley). Why do the same Christians who wish to legislate drugs based on danger then not wish to legislate mountain climbing based on danger? The double standard is glaring. All their arguments about personal risk should be discarded, and liberty should be the default stance.

Medicine v Drugs

A terrible side effect of the War of Drugs is that now drugs are gated behind bureaucrats with magical pieces of paper that allow them to decide who gets what drug and in what quantity. If I have an ear infection I must first go to a doctor, have them write a prescription, then I must drive to the pharmacy and stand in line for a pharmacist to take my identification, she will then decide if I get the drug that I know will cure my ear infection. Each brigand takes their cut of the spoils. The system is preposterous.

The fear of strangers being allowed to decide what they ingest has led to a system where the government oversees and regulates the distribution of medicine. People cannot fix their illness unless the wish to pay extra money such that the government can then limit their options for treatment. Options are further curtailed for fear that someone might actually enjoy their cure of illness. Two examples:

My wife underwent a C-section. She was in miserable pain, but she used too many pain killers. Although she was crying in extreme pain, the nurses and doctors would not allow any more pain killers because she reached their arbitrary limit. This nonsense is especially terrible for individuals with high natural tolerance to pain killers. Not all human beings are the same. Doctors spend a lot of time figuring out medicines that work and do not work on individual patients. But although every person is different, the government regulates as if everyone’s body operates the same. The government is too incompetent to figure out a system to regulate other than uniform standards.

The second example is my son, who was undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. During this time, he lost all appetite. The doctors attempted to stimulate appetite with synthetic TCP, basically synthetic marijuana. This absolutely did not work. A feeding tube was forced to be installed into his stomach for direct feeding. Using normal marijuana was not an option due to legal reasons, but possibly could have saved a six year old boy from surgery.

When Enyart claims that marijuana can lead to cancer, this fails to take into account that each human being is unique. Each person has a unique situation. Each person has unique risks. Each person’s body functions differently. Some people already have cancer, so the risk of cancer is not in issue or not of concern. If someone dies during surgery, a future cancer is the least of their problems.

The divide between medicine and drugs is impossible to determine. People are allowed to take pain medication for an injury, but not if some guy with a government license tells them a different amount or timeframe. The guy with the government license is not the one experiencing pain or the one who will be hurt in the case of under-prescription. The same guy taking pain medicine, if he later breaks his leg, will be thrown in jail for taking the same medicine as he took for breaking his arm (using the same prescription). What sense does that make? Instead he must perform his dance, and then he can receive his drugs. Why is this acceptable to do to other human beings?

The Unseen Cost of a War on Drugs

The War on Drugs is feeding the Police State and militant criminal elements. SWAT raids are regular against suspected drug dealers, sometimes resulting in innocents being badly hurt. The police state is using the War on Drugs to confiscate private property without any proof of wrong doing. This has led to widespread governmental theft. Police patrol the streets, accosting those under the mere suspicion of possession of drugs, sometimes killing people who attempt to avoid a confrontation with the Police. A huge pharmaceutical bureaucracy has risen, giving permission slips to use certain drugs. The government tells people which drugs are good and which ones are bad. Strict controls are placed to ward against anyone procuring ingredients that could be used to make illegal drugs. The prison system has ballooned. This is what is necessary to legislate drugs.

Does the Bible authorize this level of governance? Would King David have authorized SWAT raids against drunkards or gluttons? Is the death penalty authorized against those who impair themselves? In what way is legislating drugs either practical or feasible? And add in printing of drugs, which signals the end of traditional drug enforcement.

Conclusion

The government’s role is not to babysit our lives (making sure everyone is respectful and does not act more dangerously than a government agent determines is acceptable). Instead, the government’s role is to enforce basic law: Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery. The government does not have a role in regulating commerce. The government does not have a role in becoming thought police. God does not authorize or wish for a police state, which is the only way to enforce drug or alcohol law. There is no Christian precedence for drug legislation. Drug laws are antithetical to God’s government.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
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