Marijuana – Illegal No More?

A grandmotherly figure pleadingly looked into the doctor’s eyes and stated, “All I want to know is this: Is it legal?” Questions like this, regarding substances such as CBD oil, have become more common in recent times due to the head-spinning pace of changes in the law. Glossy brochures from natural food and supplement stores are beginning to flood our mailboxes with all sorts of health benefit claims. How do we sort out what to do? First a little background.

What Is It?
CBD (Cannabidiol) is one of over 60 cannabinoid compounds (that is, chemicals that are generally unique to Cannabis plants). This is the compound that claims multiple health benefits. It is found in the two most common Cannabis plants: Hemp and Marijuana. It (CBD) is not known for its mind-altering qualities—that would be primarily another cannabinoid compound, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). As you can see in the following diagram, at a molecular level, CBD and THC are structurally very similar: 
Hemp (high in CBD, low in THC) has been known in the past as an industrial plant—grown widely in the Midwest—mainly used for making rope, especially during the war effort in the 1940s. In modern times, though, hemp rope has been made obsolete by synthetic materials, which are far superior in strength and durability.  Thus, the cultivation of the hemp plant fell out of favor. Fields were planted with alternate crops, but farmers discovered that volunteer plants quickly went wild—it was very hardy, hard to get rid of, and could damage or jam equipment. This is how it got its name, “weed.” By the time the 1960s rolled around, the name had stuck. However, the drug of that era, Marijuana, was a somewhat different variety (high in THC, low in CBD).  
There are two main species of Cannabis. Hemp only comes from Cannabis sativa, a taller plant with thinner leaves. Marijuana comes from Cannabis indica, a shorter plant with wider leaves… but Marijuana can also come from Cannabis sativa, as well as a myriad of hybrids. So even to the trained eye, unless the plant is obviously Cannabis indica, there is no way to tell the difference visually! Law enforcement officials do not yet even have a roadside test to tell the difference. In Idaho last year, in one stop, state police mistakenly confiscated 6,701 pounds of hemp, thinking it was marijuana. The cultivators of that hemp are suing the police, the county, and an attorney.  
The government defines Hemp as containing less than 0.3% THC; anything more is automatically designated as marijuana. However, even usual Hemp plant varieties can have more than 0.3% THC, so growers sometimes monitor (and harvest) the plant before it passes this threshold. In other words, the exact same plant can legally start out as Hemp, and finish as Marijuana (albeit a very weak variety).
The marijuana of the 1960s contained less than 2% THC. Due to intensive selective growing practices, by the mid-1990s the average percent increased to 4%. By 2014, the average was 12%. Today there are varieties that can reach 35%! These incredibly high levels of THC may well be responsible for a relatively new emergence of previously unseen marijuana-linked psychosis and schizophrenia cases.
Is It Illegal?
Before the drug culture took off in the 1960s, authorities began to recognize the potential for abuse. Because of this, in 1952, the Boggs Act was passed, which stipulated that first-time marijuana-related offenders would be imprisoned with a minimum sentence of 2-10 years and a fine of up to $20,000.  However, by the mid-1990s, many members of the generation that had been steeped in the drug culture came to an age of political influence. So, starting in 1996, medical marijuana laws started to appear on the state level, claiming to meet an unmet medical need such as medicine for severe nausea, for severe weight loss, and for wasting-away conditions such as AIDS and cancer.
In reality, synthetic THC in the form of Marinol (dronabinol) had been FDA approved for nausea since the 1970s and Cesamet (nabilone) for nausea and wasting conditions since the 1980s. The difference is that these highly purified medicines were (and still are) controlled drugs (and so thus illegal to possess) - inaccessible for casual use.  So, the social and political push was on for greater access to THC in its rawest form—marijuana. (The highly purified and CBD-based Epidiolex, also FDA approved for certain seizures, is now available as a prescribed medicine.)
Since that time, in a little over 20 years, cultural morals have shifted dramatically, and as of June 2019, 14 states now allow recreational marijuana (given the misnomer “adult marijuana”), 19 additional states allow medical marijuana, and 13 more allow CBD products. Of the remaining four states, three have pilot programs, or are in the process of legalizing CBD products or medical marijuana.  The last state, Idaho, has a ballot initiative planned for 2020. So in almost every state, cannabis products, in one form or another, are legal…
However, the Federal government still regards marijuana, and its products, as illegal drugs (if the THC is more than 0.3%).  Yet, in 2009, the president promised he would not use federal resources to enforce federal marijuana control laws. In 2013, the office of the attorney general established this as policy (the Cole Memorandum). However, in 2018, with a change in leadership in Washington, the Department of Justice rescinded this policy, once more reserving the right to prosecute anyone in violation of federal law. This is where it stands today.: legal in one form or another in the vast majority of the states, federally legal if the THC is less than 0.3%, and federally illegal but generally unenforced if it complies with state law (but no promise to stay that way).
While being legal is an important consideration, there are other VERY important questions to ask. First and foremost—is it Biblical? The Apostle Paul makes this observation:
“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (I Cor 10:23)
So, we need to ask:
  1. Is it expedient?  (Is it effective in allowing me to accomplish what I am called to do - to glorify God?)
  2. Is it edifying?  (Is it something that helps me to grow spiritually?) 
A couple more questions would also be pertinent:
  1. Does it work?
  2. What are the complications?
1.  Is it Expedient?
The Apostle Paul is saying that even if things are legal, it doesn’t mean that they are expedient in advancing the cause of God's righteousness. If they are not expedient in such a manner, watch out! 
It should be noted that marijuana use in 1969, the year of Woodstock and the explosion of the drug culture (50 years ago this summer) stood at a rate of 4% of the population. In 2017 it was 45% (an 1,125% increase) almost half the population! In 2013, an estimated 22.7 million Americans (8.6% of the population) needed treatment for drug or alcohol dependence. Look at God’s solution to this: 
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; –Eph 5: 18-20. 
Clearly, being stoned on drugs follows the same dark, mind-altering spirit as being “drunk on wine.” They will both lead to debauchery. They also lead to dependency; being dependent on anyone or anything besides our Lord is idolatry, and certainly not God honoring.
In Montana, medical marijuana was introduced in 2004. It was allowed for a host of easily and clearly diagnosed disease conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, and seizure disorders.  It also allowed use for “debilitating severe chronic pain,” which is very subjective since people have a vast difference in pain tolerance (stoic people could have a great deal of pain and not show it, and others only a little pain and show it a lot).  Therefore, it could also be easily feigned.  Lawmakers were alarmed by the “explosive” growth of users, two thirds of which qualified for the program by citing pain as their primary reason for needing marijuana. It was shown that one fourth of these users were aged 21-30—not the typical age for “debilitating severe chronic pain.” The law has remained essentially unchanged, as the country sets its eyes on the universal legalization of medical marijuana. For some advocates, this was the plan all along—using medical marijuana as a steppingstone to the legalization of “recreational” marijuana.
My state of Ohio had passed a medical marijuana law in 2018. It allowed for CBD oil to be purchased at State regulated marijuana dispensaries only. (Though it was commonly known to be sold in health food stores ‘under the radar’ as well.) The closest marijuana dispensary to us was the “Ohio Cannabis Company,” 30 minutes away.  Since it was only legal to sell through licensed dispensaries, there was great political pressure to allow it to be sold elsewhere, and to expand the market. Just this summer, with great exuberance, this legislative effort was passed unanimously in the Senate (31-0) and nearly so in the House (89-3), and then signed by our conservative governor.  It is now more widely accessible.  In Millersburg, here in Holmes county, I recently saw a roadside  advertisement for it at the Tobacco Hut.
Does medical marijuana actually have its uses clinically? Yes, but there is no evidence that it adds anything to already approved FDA medicines. Does CBD have a clinical use? Yes, but to what extent?  It is possibly no more beneficial than what is already available that is FDA approved.
So back to Paul’s admonition—Is it expedient?
  1. Is it convenient, though possibly immoral? –Ohioans: Before the law changed, you would have had to have bought the CBD oil at dispensaries like The Ohio Cannabis Company, Mad River Remedies, and Clubhouse Dispensary—possibly in the less reputable parts of town. Would that not make a difference? Would you have done without, or would you have gotten it anyway, even if it meant standing in line with some people who were intent on gaming the system, getting Marijuana to get high? (Would those medical alternatives not look a little more appealing?) Or are you OK with supporting a business that not only allows such abuse, but also advocates for such abuse—and more? Does it not matter that the small amounts of THC in CBD oil may well be enough to turn a drug test positive?
  2. Is it governed by self-interest? –Are you OK with supporting an industry that not only allows such abuse, but also advocates for such abuse—and more? Especially when alternatives are available?
If the answers to the above are “Yes," then purchasing medical marijuana or CBD products is not effective, or expedient, in glorifying God — so watch out!  
Is it always wrong? No! But I would recommend being accountable to your health care provider, seeking advice (Are there alternatives?) and accountability (How much and how often should this be used if there are no alternatives?) before considering its use.  
2.  Is It Edifying?
“Edifying” is defined by Webster as “instructive or informative in a way that improves the mind or character.”   Does it provide moral or intellectual instruction?
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First, both THC and CBD have valid medical uses. Just because THC is mind-altering, does not make it invalid. In my practice as a physician, I frequently use mind-altering narcotics for the control of the extreme pain associated with extreme conditions—a legitimate use. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts –Pro 31:6. 
Second, just because medical marijuana and unpurified CBD  contain different proportions of THC and CBD doesn’t make the one more morally right than the other. (Bear in mind that the marijuana of the 1960s contained only 1-2% THC—not far from CBD oil, which can contain nearly 0.3%) So morally, their moral use may be closer, and on the same moral plane, than many may realize.
Not convinced? Let me ask you this: “If marijuana was totally legal for any condition, (as it may well be in the near future), would you use it?” Why, or why not? If you have some reluctancy answering this last question, yet are still OK with other cannabis products like CBD oil, consider the following:  
I advise against our youth purchasing AR-15 rifles for hunting and shooting. Any hunter can tell you that an AR-15 is not significantly better or worse than most other hunting rifles. It can be adapted to calibers and cartridges that may be better or worse than typical hunting rifles. So why do I advise against Christians owning an AR-15? It’s not because of performance! It’s because the AR-15 is a rifle with a past. It is a rifle with an attitude.  AR-15s (commonly called “assault rifles”) don’t need words to convey the idea that they are ready for war - it is readily apparent by their appearance.  Only by affixing a bayonet would it be more obvious.  There are more appropriate rifles for Christian boys to use in hunting.
In like manner, cannabis products (THC and CBD) may well have legitimate medical uses, but we should still exercise caution. It’s not because of performance!  Rather, these are drugs with a past. They are drugs with an attitude. They are drugs with a culture—the culture of rebellion and lasciviousness. They do not need to speak to convey a message of moral relativism: “Use me and buy into the idea that illicit substances have a legitimate use. Don’t find fault with other people who are using illicit substances to self-medicate.” Once cannabis is entrenched in our society as legitimate, LSD, Ecstasy and every other fleshly stimulant are sure to follow!  Only by administering this “medicine” in a pipe would it be more obvious.  As Christians, because we live by the Spirit, and not the flesh, this is not for us!  “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” (Gal 5:24)
Once more let’s ask if it is edifying. Does its use improve mind, morals, and character?
3.  Does It Work?
One would think that this would have been at the top of the article, not near the bottom. The reason is that, as noted above, efficacy in this case, may not be the primary concern.
The truth of the matter is that very little is known about CBD.  
Some claims are likely valid: beneficial treatment for seizures, insomnia, inflammatory pain (arthritis), and neuropathic pain (diabetic neuropathy). Yet there is much we do not know: What is the appropriate dose—exactly how much do you take? (Nonprescription supplement dosages are not standardized.) Is there a toxic level? What are the long-term effects for dementia, schizophrenia, other mental illnesses, and other similar problems?  How does it affect other medicines that people may be taking (like blood thinners)? How does it affect geriatric patients? 
Some claims are not as valid (at this point) such as treating cancer, Alzheimer’s, and so forth.  In fact, the FDA is putting the brakes on any unproven claims.  
4.  Complications and Conclusions
We spoke about some of the medical aspects of CBD above. It is too early to identify significant patterns, as the research has simply not been done. But let us close with some final thoughts on potential spiritual complications. To help in this, let’s look at the full context of I Cor 10:23, (“All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”)  by looking at the text surrounding it:
But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than he? All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. Let no man seek his own, but every man another's wealth –1 Cor 10:20-24. 
So, looking at this verse now in a wider context, Paul is not lackadaisically making a casual suggestion. In all we do, we need to choose a side: Do we partake at the Lord’s table or partake at the devil’s? Do we rely on His strength or rely on ours? Do we make decisions based on a transformed and non-conformed mind, finding edification in God’s Word on ALL things (Rom 12:2), or do we do what is expedient, risking the provocation and jealousy of the Lord?
In choosing the straight and narrow path, we seek the spiritual wealth of our fellow man over our own, personal, ‘best’ interests. We need to make a decision regarding the self-medication of products derived from illicit substances. The decisions we make today, and the message it sends to our youth today, will affect generations in the future. May the Lord give us wisdom!

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