The Marijuana Mistake

February 11, 2017 by Paul Chappell

marijuana

It came to my attention several weeks ago that for nearly six months city leaders and planners have been studying and discussing issues regarding cannabis and the effect it would have on our community to grant cultivation permits for medical marijuana. I have been asked by our city leadership to share my opinion on the matter, which I am grateful to do. I am thankful for our city leadership and their commitment to protect and serve our citizens in so many ways. The simple fact that our council meetings begin in prayer encourages me to know our leaders recognize they are under the authority of God ultimately. What follows represents my best understanding, given the limited time parameters, of the city’s proposal and the consequences I am concerned will follow.

I recognize that a majority of Californians approved smoking marijuana for recreational use this past November. I am, however, among the 44 percent of our state who opposed Proposition 64, and I hold to the conviction that just because something is legal or popular doesn’t make it right, healthy, or wise. As the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy said, “Wrong does not cease to be wrong because the majority share in it.” (History can point us to plenty of majority-held positions, which have led to great harm and destruction.[1]) The City of Lancaster has historically identified against the majority of Californians on a number of similar issues.

I, as a pastor, and Lancaster Baptist Church as a ministry, stand opposed to the dissemination of marijuana or any mind-altering substance to the general public.

As I have reviewed the city reports recommending Ordinance No. 1019 and Resolution No. 16-55, I commend the city staff for being proactive in creating codes that would not allow distribution points for marijuana. I do, however, have significant concerns regarding this ordinance and resolution. For the sake of organization, I’ve grouped these concerns into three categories:

General Concerns

Even when initially used with a medical prescription, marijuana is a gateway drug. As a pastor, I often counsel people who have had major life difficulties because of drug use that began with marijuana. Even recently, I have counseled someone who began using medical marijuana that was prescribed by a questionable doctor in Los Angeles. This man became deeply addicted and relationally incapacitated toward his family. For the past year, his life has been out of control. His story is one of many similar I could give.

Part of what makes marijuana a gateway drug is that, despite claims to the contrary, it is highly addictive. In fact, the marijuana grown in the United States is becoming increasingly addictive. The cannabis cultivated here is generally developed to increase its levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive chemical that makes people high). To give context, in the 1990s, the THC levels of US-grown marijuana averaged between 3–4 percent. By 2013 the levels were above 13 percent,[2] and today, the average THC level is over 18 percent, with frequent samples topping 30 percent.[3] In contrast, the levels of CBD (cannabidiol, the element of cannabis thought to have potential medicinal value) are low. A recent study of marijuana grown in Colorado shows the average CBD level across 6,000 samples being as low as 0.1 percent.[4]

With the limited research available on medical marijuana (and most of that is anecdotal rather than academic) and the plenteous evidence on its addictive nature, I am greatly concerned that allowing licensing for medical marijuana facilities will develop into licensing for recreational marijuana facilities—something, in fact, already acknowledged as a possibility by the City Planning Commission.[5]

Social Concerns

Although the City Planning Commission that has been researching this licensing suggests, “There is no direct fiscal impact associated with the cost of administering this ordinance,”[6] I believe this is a short-sighted estimate. While the revenue brought in through licensing fees could cover the direct cost of issuing such licenses, it cannot cover the direct costs that will surely result from making marijuana more accessible to our community.

I would guess that a large percentage of the adult population of California has tried marijuana on occasion. But we must recognize that the legalization of marijuana is different from occasional use. Legalization recommends not a sneak smoke in the back yard a few times, but using it continually. (When Proposition 64 passed in California, the rapper Snoop Dogg, whose criminal record is hardly one we want young people in the Antelope Valley to emulate, tweeted, “We just legalized marijuana in Cali. #smokeweedeveryday.”[7] He has also been in recent news because of his promotional visit to a medical marijuana dispensary in Scottsdale, Arizona.[8]) Because legalization is new, our culture has yet to see the devastating effects across society of such continued use.

We can, however, see early problematic glimpses as we look to Colorado, a state that legalized marijuana two years ago. From increased crime (including violent crime)[9] to heightened drugged driving incidents and fatal crashes,[10] to greater homelessness,[11] the side effects of legalizing marijuana have been detrimental throughout the state.

It is not a stretch to suggest that the cost of incarcerating and rehabilitating people who are making wrong decisions while impaired will outweigh the income the city would bring in through taxes. In a recent conversation I had with Sheriff Jim McDonnell, he said that, based on evidence from other states, he believes that for every $1 of revenue a community will bring in through marijuana taxes, there will be $7–$8 of police work required. A coalition of sheriffs from Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas are suing the state of Colorado for problems related to the increased cost of enforcement of Colorado’s law.

I remember when proponents of the gambling industry promised that if we would legalize gambling in California, the resulting revenue would cure fiscal needs for our educational system. That was a total ruse. In reality, lottery dollars fund less than 2 percent of all state K–12 education costs, the perception otherwise has made it more difficult for school administrators to raise funds.[12] In recent years, educational scores have continued to go down,[13] and our school systems still need increased tax-supported finances every year.[14] (I’m, of course, in favor of supporting education. I’m simply noting that taxing unhealthy, addictive habits has not proved to be a helpful solution.)

Less than two hours from my grandparents’ farm in Colorado is the city of Telluride, a city with beautiful homes and restaurants that used to be frequented by Hollywood celebrities and political leaders. Since the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, I have seen an amazing increase of homeless, marijuana-smoking people living in the streets of Telluride. One study reported that across Colorado, homelessness increased by 17–20 percent since the legalization of marijuana.[15] A recent news article quoted Denver authorities saying they are facing a significant influx of homeless adults and juveniles who are coming to Denver specifically because of the availability of marijuana.[16] We do not want similar results in the Antelope Valley, where we are even now struggling to work out solutions to meet the needs of the homeless already in our community.

Marijuana does not help an economy; it hurts it. Poor people will become poorer by using it, and economies with recreational drug users will become less effective. Recent studies have revealed that households in America who make less than $20,000 per year account for 29 percent of all marijuana use.[17] Another study which compared heavy users of marijuana with a control group reported that fewer of the heavy users completed college and most had annual incomes of less than $30,000. The majority reported that marijuana had affected their cognitive abilities and career achievements.[18] According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, several studies have also linked heavy marijuana use to lower income, greater welfare dependence, unemployment, criminal behavior, and lower life satisfaction.[19]

Additionally, marijuana use has a detrimental effect on workplace safety. I believe that specifically in Palmdale, it could impact our national security due to workforce mistakes and drug-addicted people continuing to pursue drugs in ways that would compromise their security clearances. A study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on a pre-employment urine drug test had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and 75 percent greater absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.[20]

Countries like the Netherlands that have taken a relaxed approach to drugs have suffered for it. One article cites that Amsterdam (known as a city where the police do not enforce marijuana laws) “is one of Europe’s most violent cities.…Furthermore, the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has expressed ‘concern about drug and alcohol use among young people and the social consequences, which range from poor school performance and truancy to serious impairment, including brain damage.’”[21]

It is fair to ask, if we were to open the door to marijuana accessibility in our community, what would the economic impact be due to more police services, higher crime, greater social services, and the loss of work force?

Moral Concerns

The greatest concern for our city should be the effect that our making marijuana more accessible would have on the next generation. The damaging effects of marijuana are not theoretical only, nor are they simple “community percentages.” They are life altering to the young people who become addicted.

Adolescent user addiction rates are high—as high as 50 percent.[22] (That exceeds the rate of cocaine addiction.) Additionally, the risk of psychotic episodes is 40 percent greater for marijuana users than for non users, and the risk of schizophrenia is higher among teens who smoke it than those who do not.[23] One study reported that “adolescents who used marijuana regularly were significantly less likely than their non-using peers to finish high school or obtain a degree. They also had a much higher chance of later developing dependence, using other drugs, and attempting suicide.”[24]

Although I am aware that the current topic of discussion for our city relates to cultivating medical marijuana, I believe it is naïve to suggest that even if the conversation regarding marijuana licenses were to stop here, there would be no immediate effect on the young people of our community. Again, in my recent conversation with Sheriff McDonnell, he told me how medical marijuana wrappings have been found in middle schools. People are absolutely buying medical marijuana and reselling for profit—including to teens. I prefer that our city have nothing to do with underage people gaining access to marijuana, even if it’s by our second-hand association through this industry.

While I commend the city for proposing distance requirements prohibiting cultivation facilities within one thousand feet of schools, it is unrealistic to think that this alone will keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. The reality is that licensing cultivation will make marijuana more accessible to young people. And it makes me question, beyond the financial concerns to our city, what moral liability comes to us by entering into this trade?

I am, of course, a pastor, and so I am taking the liberty to share biblical principles related to this issue as well.

The Bible references the use of drugs in Revelation 9:21 as it speaks of people involved in “sorceries.” Interestingly the word translated from Greek (the original language of the New Testament) is pharmakeia and relates to “the use or administering of drugs.” In our biblical opinion, people who take recreational drugs are opening their minds to wickedness and the occult. (And I think police reports could substantiate that concern, by volume if not by verbiage.)

Another Scripture verse passes judgment on those who aid in the dissemination of intoxicating substance: “Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink, that puttest thy bottle to him, and makest him drunken also…” (Habakkuk 2:15). Basically, the Bible is saying that when we encourage someone to partake in a substance that brings them under intoxicating influence, we become responsible for what happens in that person’s life as a result of the substance they consume. I believe Governor Jerry Brown and the liberal leadership of our state will be held accountable for their decisions on matters ranging from abortion to releasing violent criminals to legalizing marijuana. I prefer that our city not posture itself similarly by joining in these decisions.

Conclusion

Based on my understanding of these issues and the biblical principles that guide my life, I would urge our city leadership to let this trade go somewhere else.

Our city has been willing in the past to take a stand against prevalent culture where it was harmful to our residents. I am deeply grateful for the way, in the 2000s, our city stood against gangs and gang-related drug dealing. I remember in the 1990s when our city council passed ordinances against “sex shops.” More recently, our city stood to protect the right to open city council meetings in prayer, including praying in Jesus’ name. God has blessed us since we have taken these stands, and I believe He will bless again for choosing to stand against opening our community to marijuana cultivation.

Proponents of these cultivation licenses have asked me, “If you’re concerned about mind-altering drugs, why have you never spoken to the city against the establishments of bars and licenses for the sale of alcohol?” Perhaps we as Christians should be more vocal in our concerns for alcohol licenses due to the millions of people who have died or been the victims of crime because of alcohol.

Currently, however, we are at the baseline of a new beginning. The issue before the city council now—licensing marijuana cultivation—is a precedent-setting issue. We can draw a line around our city and say, “Not here” in regards to a substance that will devastate the lives of young people and damage our community, or we can welcome it in for the sake of immediate financial revenue. I prefer for the sake of my grandchildren and for my community that we choose to say no.

Over the years, there have been other government-passed decisions that our ministry has opposed when these related to moral issues and opposed biblical principles. Should the city pass this ordinance and enter the marijuana trade, our church will continue to teach against using mind-altering substances and will stand against the distribution of such substance outside of a legitimate prescription and medicinal use of truly needed pain medicine. (While there may be a legitimate medical use, I have no assurance that there is a safe and proven process for legal distribution to and through legitimate medical outlets at this time. I think we should also remember that medical marijuana is still not approved by the FDA. Insufficient research and inability for quality control are among their reasons.)

We love our city, pray for our leaders, and are thankful for the ways in which God has blessed our city. I am thankful I was asked to give comments on this issue. For the reasons mentioned in this article, I urge our city leaders to consider the moral obligation we owe to the next generation in discouraging the accessibility of marijuana to them, to consider the economic and workforce complications this would have on our community, and to decide against what would surely be a marijuana mistake.

Endnotes

[1] Interestingly, tobacco smoking itself was once regarded as right because such a large percent of the population practiced it. Doctors who urged otherwise faced a long, uphill battle against popular opinion.

[2] Abigail Sullivan Moore, “This Is Your Brain on Drugs” (New York Times, October 29, 2014), https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/education/edlife/this-is-your-brain-on-drugs-marijuana-adults-teens.html?_r=1.

[3] Bill Briggs, “Colorado Marijuana Study Finds Legal Weed Contains Potent THC Levels” (NBC News, March 23, 2015), http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/legal-pot/legal-weed-surprisingly-strong-dirty-tests-find-n327811.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See the December 13, 2016, City of Lancaster staff report, “Ordinance and Resolution Regarding Cultivation of Medical Cannabis” which lists suggestions made by cannabis industry representatives after planning commission consideration, final page, fifth bullet.

[6] Ibid, page 1.

[7] Maeve McDermott, “Snoop Dogg, celebrities celebrate weed legalization in California” (USA Today, November 9, 2016), http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/entertainthis/2016/11/09/snoop-dogg-celebrities-celebrate-weed-legalization-california-proposition-64/93526766/.

[8] “Snoop Dogg to visit Scottsdale marijuana dispensary” (ABC15, December 27.2016), http://www.abc15.com/news/region-northeast-valley/scottsdale/snoop-dogg-to-visit-scottsdale-marijuana-dispensary.

[9] David Mitchell, “Prosecutors: Colorado sees increase in homicides motivated by marijuana” (FOX31 Denver, May 24, 2016), http://kdvr.com/2016/05/24/prosecutors-colorado-sees-increase-in-murders-motivated-by-marijuana/.

[10] Marjorie Haun, “The Unexpected Side Effects of Legalizing Weed” (Newsweek, June 6, 2016), http://www.newsweek.com/unexpected-side-effects-legalizing-weed-339931.

[11] “Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana and the Impact on Public Safety: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement” (Police Foundation, 2015), https://www.policefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Legalized-Marijuana-Practical-Guide-for-Law-Enforcement_Rev6_18_15_LOW_0.pdf.

[12] Ron Stodghill and Ron Nixon, “For Schools, Lottery Payoffs Fall Short of Promises” (The New York Times, October 7, 2007), http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/business/07lotto.html.

[13] Lauren Parvizi, “California’s school system ranked 9th worst in the nation” (SFGate, July 30, 2015), http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/California-s-school-system-ranked-9th-worst-in-6410633.php.

[14] “Current Expense of Education” (California Department of Education, Accessed December 29, 2016), http://www.cde.ca.gov/ds/fd/ec/currentexpense.asp.

[15] Joel Warner, “Marijuana legalization in Colorado: How Recreational Weed is Attracting People, but Spiking the State’s Homeless Rate” (International Business Times, June 20, 2016), http://www.ibtimes.com/marijuana-legalization-colorado-how-recreational-weed-attracting-people-spiking-2374204.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Christopher Ingraham, “What makes marijuana users different from everyone else” (The Washington Post, August 14, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/08/14/what-makes-marijuana-users-different-from-everyone-else/.

[18] “How does marijuana use affect school, work, and social life?” (National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Updated August 2016), https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-use-affect-school-work-social-life.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Charles “Cully” Stimson, “Legalizing Marijuana: Why Citizens Should Just Say No” (The Heritage Foundation, September 13, 2010), http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/09/legalizing-marijuana-why-citizens-should-just-say-no.

[22] Sue Rusche, “What Dr. Sanjay Gupta Doesn’t Tell Us About Weed“ (The Huffington Post, August 19, 2013), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-rusche/what-dr-sanjay-gupta-does_b_3770496.html.

[23] Marie-josee Lynce, MD, Rachel A. Rabin, MSc, and Tony P George, MD, “The Cannabis-Psychosis Link (Psychiatric Times, June 27, 2012), http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/schizophrenia/cannabis-psychosis-link-0#sthash.pARp70VE.dpuf.

[24] “How does marijuana use affect school, work, and social life?” (National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Updated August 2016), https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/how-does-marijuana-use-affect-school-work-social-life.