It should come as no surprise that when it comes to marijuana use, the only thing the major religions can agree on is that they disagree. And that disagreement echoes throughout the individual religions themselves. When Pope Francis spoke out against marijuana legalization in 2014, he was immediately countered by Catholics pointing out the text of Genesis 1:29 reading “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.’” Likewise, several key figures in Judaism have spoken out against the pitfalls of smoking weed, yet just last month, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, often regarded as the most venerated of Orthodox rabbis still living, determined that weed is kosher for Passover
. Both Kanievsky and Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, after taking a cursory whiff, assessed that cannabis possesses a “healing smell”. While few spiritual leaders are as bold in their declarations as Kanievsky and Zilberstein, arguments among sects and factions of major religions indicate that, overall, the world’s major religions are taking a more relaxed stance on marijuana than they have in the past.
Cannabis and the Five Precepts of Buddhism
Questions of cannabis use in the Buddhist religion typically lead back to the religion’s five precepts: abstinence from killing, refraining from theft, avoiding sexual indiscretions, resisting the temptation to deceive, and shunning intoxicants. However, some translations of the text interpret “intoxicants” as “fermented drink” specifically. The rifts in theological belief often stem from this discrepancy. Speaking to the Medical Marijuana Review
, Buddhist scholar-practitioner Sean Hillman summed it up rather succinctly by explaining, “What people choose to ingest is their private business, not subject to Buddhist religious scrutiny.” Some monks, such as Rev. Dr. Bhante Saranapala, feel that the text clearly bans marijuana use without any room for further interpretation. Other practicing Buddhists see the avoidance of intoxicants as more of a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule with an aim to steering Buddhists away from addiction and other pitfalls that can accompany drug abuse. Still, other communities beneath the umbrella of Buddhism embrace the use of medical marijuana, with the San Francisco Patient and Resource Center dispensary
pointing out that area Buddhists regularly use marijuana as a meditative aid. The Dalai Lama himself spoke out in favor of medical marijuana
Christianity Gives Thanks to God’s Gift of Ganja
With Christianity as America’s most dominant religion, the average American has probably been introduced to at least a few denominations of the Christian faith. Conservative fundamentalist Christians may disagree with marijuana use but this belief doesn’t even come close to spanning the entirety of the religion. In fact, conservative Christian Texas State Rep. David Simpson railed for widespread marijuana legalization
just last year. This comes from Simpson’s interpretation of Biblical text in Timothy 4:4, “For everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” Seeing as marijuana is a naturally occurring herb and not a man-made designer drug, Simpson reasons that God created marijuana for the human race to enjoy. Christianity scholar Stewart Felker took a different approach to a similar conclusion when speaking to HuffPost Live
, explaining that the Bible’s references to moderation in alcohol consumption can be used as a similar guide for cannabis use.
Marijuana Use a Meditative Choice in Hinduism
Hinduism can take a conservative approach to cannabis usage which may come as a surprise considering Lord Shiva was regarded as the guardian of the marijuana plant and was known to sample it often. Some posit that the reason Shiva was paired with the cannabis plant had to do with the herb’s tendency to induce a meditative state and, through that state, a communion with God. But yogis have cautioned that, though the feeling of smoking weed can bring tranquility, it can also present difficulties when attempting to connect to Prithvi (a.k.a. the Earth). In addition, repeatedly depending on a drug for divine access fosters a spiritual weakness as, without the drug, a connection with God is exceedingly difficult. So, when leaders in Hinduism speak out against heavy cannabis use, it has less to do with a concept of morality as it does with a hindrance to meditative spirituality.
A Plant for “People Who Reason” in Islam
Compared to the other religions presented here, Islam’s leaders take a more conservative stance when assessing drug use of any kind, including cannabis. The current Supreme Leader of Iran, Sayyid Ali Khamenai, has declared it haram
(spiritually forbidden) for Muslims to partake of drugs of any kind, including marijuana. He supports his stance by claiming that dependence on such substances will lead to ailment and a fall in social standing. As the leader of a multitude of seminaries in Iraq, Sayyid Ali al-Sistani echoed the sentiment, calling hashish “impermissible.” However, Sayyid Khamenai later clarified his statement when asked directly about drugs for medicinal purposes
. He declared, “There is no objection to it provided that the treatment and the eventual recovery are dependent on their use and it is prescribed by a trustworthy physician.” In fact, many Muslims take a more open approach to medical marijuana, citing that the Quran never expressly forbids cannabis use. On the contrary, in verse 16:67 of the Quran, it is stated “And from the fruits of the palm trees and grapevines you take intoxicant and good provision. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who reason.” In light of this passage, it may come as little surprise that Sunni and Shia scholars were historically known to use medicinal intoxicants
while others refused any psychoactive herbs, including coffee.
Marijuana’s History with Judaism
While Rabbis Kanievsky and Zilberstein may have voiced their consent for medical marijuana, leaders of Judaism haven’t always been so relaxed in their views on cannabis. Several Rabbis have cautioned that the Torah passage “Kedoshim Tihiyu
” (roughly translated to “You shall be holy”) is a caution against seeking to replace spirituality with earthly pleasures such as drugs and alcohol. Again, Judaism examines cannabis not from a perspective of morality but of basic functionality. Rabbis warn that smoking weed can lead to wavering concentration and ineffectual learning of the Torah. Likewise, they caution that harboring a hidden vice can create a rift between an individual and the community, including family. However, geriatrician Yosef Glassman has pointed to Judaism’s storied history with marijuana, including the plant’s industrial applications and its role in ritual
. Glassman hypothesizes that the Ashkenazi Jews consumed cannabis as a food source, citing that the plant was listed as kitnyos, and therefore forbidden, at Passover. But forbidding cannabis at Passover indicates that it was allowed during the rest of the year.
Wiccans on Weed: Do What Ye Will
The Wiccan religion is often used as an umbrella over a myriad of varying pagan religions but most adhere to the mantra “An’ ye harm none, do what ye will” basically meaning “do whatever you want as long as you’re not hurting anyone”. Some may argue that smoking weed is a form of self-harm and, while there are those in the Wiccan community that refrain from ganja for fear of it disrupting their spiritual practices, abstinence from weed is by no means the common Wiccan response. Virtually all (if not all) variations of pagan religions honor the earth and all that comes from it, so it can be assumed that marijuana is viewed as a sacred gift from the Mother Goddess, even by those who don’t partake in it. Of course, this is a shallow cry of a comprehensive list of world religions. There are several religions that are even more accepting of marijuana use, such as the Rastafarian religion which views ganja as an invitation to spiritual communion while disapproving of using the sacred herb to simply get stoned. On the lighter side of the spectrum of acceptance, the First Church of Cannabis also respects marijuana as a sacrament, crowning it the ultimate rule in their Deity Dozen tenants. Of course, when paired alongside other guidelines such as “don’t be an asshole” or “do not be a ‘troll’ on the internet”, the First Church of Cannabis loses some of the spiritual gravity saturating older religions like Rastafari. While there are still fundamentalists and spiritual purists who reject cannabis in favor of a clear mind or in fear of unsupported health concerns, on average it seems that perspectives on marijuana use are becoming much more tolerant in major religions, if not outright accepting. Of course, marijuana will never be universally accepted by all religions because nothing
will ever be universally accepted by all religions. However, this glance across the board shows that we’re the closest we’ve ever been in the modern world.