Religion’s role in the marijuana debate

Cannabis plant blooming in a commercial grow facility in Denver. (Photo by Cannabis Tours)

Recreational marijuana became legal in Canada last week, the latest development in a decades-long push to decriminalize the drug around the world. Medical marijuana is now allowed in more than 30 U.S. states.

Religious groups have played conflicting roles in these policy shifts. People of faith are among the drug’s strongest supporters and strongest detractors. More conservative believers often say marijuana use is immoral because it pollutes the body and mind, but even some evangelical Christian pastors have come out in favor of medical marijuana as an effective treatment for long-term pain. These complex views are rarely discussed in the quirky stories about “cannabis churches” that spring up after legalization.

Ahead of Election Day on Nov. 6, when voters in Michigan, North Dakota, Missouri and Utah will vote on recreational or medical marijuana initiatives, here are resources to help you write about how faith communities respond to marijuana legalization.

Background reading

Religious statements

Related research

National sources

  • Steve Berke

    Steve Berke is the founder of Elevation Ministries, which operates the International Church of Cannabis in Denver.

    Contact: 303-800-5644.
  • Amy Burdette

    Amy Burdette, a sociologist at Florida State University, has conducted research into whether infidelity, marijuana use and other behaviors are more or less common among churchgoers.

  • Danny Daniels

    The Rev. Danny Daniels is lead pastor of Better Life Community Church in Lindsay, Okla. When Oklahoma voters considered a ballot initiative on medical marijuana in 2018, Daniels spoke out in favor of the policy, explaining that his work with hospice patients helped him recognize the value of marijuana use. 

  • Bobby Griffith

    Bobby Griffith is co-pastor of City Pres Church in Oklahoma City. In 2018, he supported Oklahoma’s ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana.

  • Scott Hayashi

    The Right Rev. Scott Hayashi is the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. He supports medical marijuana but advocated against Utah’s 2018 ballot initiative because of concerns about its structure.

  • Hannah Hetzer

    Hannah Hetzer serves as the Drug Policy Alliance’s senior international policy manager. She worked on the campaign that led to marijuana legalization in Uruguay and continues to research related policies around the world.

  • Shaul Magid

    Shaul Magid is a professor of Jewish studies and religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. Among his specialties are Jewish ethics, and contemporary conceptions of Jewish religiosity, renewal and fundamentalism.

  • Jeffrey Howard Mahan

    Jeffrey Howard Mahan is a professor of religion and communication at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He is the author of Media, Religion and Culture: An Introduction and Religion and Popular Culture in America.

    He has compared marijuana use in faith communities to other forms of spiritual searching.

  • Abdul Malik Mujahid

    Abdul Malik Mujahid is a leader in Chicago’s Muslim community and chairman of Soundvision.com, a web-based resource for Muslims with a teen section and multimedia products. He has written and spoken about the Islamic perspective on various political issues, including drug policy.

  • Allen Peake

    Rep. Allen Peake is a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives. He sponsored the 2015 bill that legalized medical cannabis in the state and has said that his Christian faith inspires his activism around the issue.

  • Samuel Rodriguez

    The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has criticized conservative evangelicals who have spoken against or have remained silent on immigration.

    Rodriguez has also spoken about how people of color are disproportionately affected by current drug laws.

  • Matthew Schweich

    Matthew Schweich is the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project. This organization is working to change marijuana laws across the country by lobbying legislators and coordinating state campaigns. In 2018, Schweich worked on the Utah ballot initiative.

  • Al Sharp

    The Rev. Al Sharp is the executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.

  • Darren E. Sherkat

    Darren E. Sherkat is a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He studies the intersection of religion, family and politics, and he’s working on a book about marijuana legalization.

  • Robert Sirico

    The Rev. Robert Sirico is president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s also a Catholic priest. He has argued that marijuana legalization could lead to some social benefits, like a reduction in illegal drug trafficking.

  • Eric E. Sterling

    Eric E. Sterling is the executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, which advocates for drug policy reforms. From 2013 to 2017, he served on the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission and helped author the state’s medical marijuana regulations. Sterling has written about Quaker teachings and drug law.

  • Shmuly Yanklowitz

    Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz is the president of Valley Beit Midrash in Phoenix. In 2016, he joined with an interfaith group of Arizona leaders to support a ballot initiative seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

International sources

  • Julio Calzada

    Julio Calzada is the director of social politics for the city of Montevideo, Uruguay. He previously served as secretary-general of the country’s National Drug Council and oversaw marijuana legalization there.

    Contact: +598 1950 2037.
  • Maziyar Ghiabi

    Maziyar Ghiabi is a lecturer in modern Iranian history at the University of Oxford. He studies politics, social history and the history of drug laws, and he is one of the co-authors of a 2018 study on Islam and cannabis.

  • Alison Mather

    Alison Mather is the director of Quaker Action on Alcohol & Drugs, a British organization dedicated to addressing alcohol and drug abuse, as well as related policies, from within the Quaker tradition.

  • Syed Soharwardy

    Imam Syed Soharwardy is the founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, which aims to help Canadians understand Islamic teachings and culture. In the lead-up to Canada’s vote on recreational marijuana, he took part in community discussions on drug use. He supports medical marijuana, but he believes Muslims should not use the drug recreationally.

  • Gerry Taillon

    The Rev. Gerry Taillon is the national ministry leader for the Canadian National Baptist Convention. After Canada legalized recreational marijuana, he called for churches to be more vocal about the dangers of drug use.