Marijuana. I don’t know what to think about it.

Question of the Week:

I am one of your devoted listeners from Italy.

A HOT topic I am curious about,
to be seen through the lens of ancient jewish wisdom,
is cannabis, marijuana, weed…

My question about cannabis is:
From a moral and religious perspective,
what is the issue with cannabis?

It is a natural plant that has always been with men.
If used properly, it’s a medicine;
Under prohibitionism, cannabis has been diffused everywhere.
Common sense tells us that prohibitionism is a gift to criminal markets.
The abuse of everything is bad. The abuse of alcohol is probably more dangerous than the abuse of cannabis.

Could it be that prohibitionism is just a Nimrod strategy?
After all, it creates a lot of work for the state departments.

Manuele O.

Dear Manuele,

Ciao! We’re delighted that you join us from Italy. We had an amazing trip there a few years ago and would love to go back.

We are unfamiliar with legislation about marijuana outside of the United States, but the questions you are asking are important ones. You are right that outlawing something often leads to a black market in that commodity and results in more criminal behavior. You are also correct that government bureaucracy thrives on legislation. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everything should be legal and that there should be no government oversight over anything. As in most areas of life, it is a delicate balance.

A few years back, one of us (Susan) wrote a Susan’s Musing about marijuana. It stimulated a lot of comments on different sides of the issue. Rather than repeat what was said in that Musing or in the comments (you can read those here) we’d like to modify your question slightly to discuss what might govern the approach of a Happy Warrior to all mood and mind-altering substances and activities.

One main goal of a Happy Warrior is to live in reality. Life is often troubling and scary for everyone. Worry and fear can eat away at our tranquility. It is entirely understandable that many of us feel a strong urge to disconnect in order to block out the pain. Perhaps the most common means of disconnecting from reality is what we call entertainment or amusement. The word amusement itself means ‘not-thinking,’ as the word muse refers to thinking and the letter ‘a’ before a word can have the connotation of ‘not’ (think of the word amoral). When we avail ourselves of various amusements including movies, Tik Tok videos, the shopping network, crossword puzzles and the like, we are distracting ourselves from other more concerning parts of our lives. Clearly, there is an important role for changing pace and relaxing, but most of us probably err on the side of spending too much time in this mode. If we look at a range of options from listening to music, to doing a puzzle with pen and paper, to electronic devices carrying fast moving and seductive images, we should be aware of the addictive properties of electronic options. This makes these distractions potentially more harmful. Anything that is hard to stop doing when you want to stop doing it, can be problematic.

There is a distinction between items we employ to restore a normal baseline, for instance exercise, reading and socializing with friends and family, and items that we use to change the baseline such as alcohol or psychotropic drugs. For example, many of us need glasses to have normal 20/20 vision. Glasses that would give us X-ray vision would go beyond normal. Some medications offer tremendous help in allowing certain people to function in a customary way. Those same or similar medications can be abused by those who don’t need them to give an added boost of adrenaline or other hormone beyond what the human body ordinarily produces.

You mention another important point, Manuele. It is one often used to justify all kinds of behavior including the morally deviant. This is the argument that claims the behavior under consideration, “is natural.” After all, cannabis is a plant. Cocaine is directly derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Alcohol is also perfectly natural derived from fermenting grapes, wheat, or even potatoes. The point is not whether or not it is natural but whether its use is intended to dull us to the lives we’re living. Our minds and consciences need to be always sharp and focused enough to constantly be monitoring whether we are making the very best use of our time all the time. There are so many things and so many behaviors that can diminish our connection to our lives and the point is not the substance but the use to which we put it. Cannabis has really important applications in pain control and cocaine has equally important applications in the field of anesthesia. But using psychotropic substances in the way often misleadingly described as ‘recreational’ is another matter altogether.

All this is to say, that whatever the potential for abuse of any stimulant, we think it important to ask whether it is being used to help one deal with reality or to enable one to avoid reality. As Happy Warriors, we would be wary of anything that distances us from making conscious, responsible and thoughtful decisions at all times.

Ti auguro ogni bene,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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