NASHVILLE (BP)—President Obama’s comment that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol has drawn objection from a Southern Baptist seminary president and stands in stark contrast to the arguments of many evangelicals about the personal and societal cost of legalizing the drug. For some, Obama’s comment also provides an opportunity for ministry to marijuana users.
The president was asked about the movement to legalize marijuana amid a lengthy interview with The New Yorker. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid,” Obama responded, “and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
When pressed whether marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, the president said yes, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer.”
Obama said legalization of recreational marijuana use in Colorado and Washington is an important “experiment” and may help remedy the disproportionate number of marijuana-related arrests and incarcerations among minorities in America, where marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and ecstasy.
“We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time,” the president said, “when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
Still, Obama said he has told his daughters that smoking marijuana is “a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr. responded that “any parent who reduces the arguments [to such points] is a parent that better be ready for his children or her children to smoke marijuana or to do whatever he supposedly doesn’t want them to do but can muster only an argument that it is a waste of time, a bad idea and not very healthy.”
Obama’s statement “really doesn’t get at the heart of the issue,” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said Jan. 21 in his daily podcast The Briefing. “It doesn’t even get to the issue of intoxication whatsoever. It doesn’t deal at all with the reality, as has now been well documented, that in the adolescent brain marijuana has a very dangerous and long-lasting, if not permanent effect. It doesn’t deal with the whole issue of impairment. It doesn’t deal with the potential of addiction, which again goes way up when you’re dealing with adolescent smoking.”
Mohler acknowledged that Obama “holds up a pretty good model of fatherhood” and likely said “a great deal more to his daughters than he told The New Yorker” in the mid-January article. But it is troubling that the president did not make a stronger public argument against marijuana use, he said.
When asked about the president’s statements, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Jan. 22 that Obama remains opposed to nationwide decriminalization of marijuana and has not changed his position on the issue. Carney underscored the president’s argument that minority Americans are prosecuted for marijuana use disproportionately.
Mohler agreed that America’s drug laws need to be reformed, but he said it is illogical to imply that no users should be punished because not all users are punished. Obama seems reticent to take a strong stand against marijuana at least in part because of his own drug use growing up, Mohler said, a common mistake among parents in recent generations.
“If only the sinless can talk about the avoidance of sin and the reasons for avoiding sin, then we as a human race are doomed, because as the Bible says emphatically clearly, ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’” Mohler said, referencing Romans 3:23.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, said it sends “mixed signals” to younger Americans when society condemns cigarette smoking but leaders dismiss marijuana use as merely “a vice.”
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