What would Jesus toke? Marijuana and Christianity in Colorado

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With medical marijuana taking the state by storm, it was inevitable that Christianity would be added to the mix.

That time will apparently come later today: At a state capitol rally, Reverend James Marks of the THC Ministry church in Boulder is expected to make news by bestowing a pot-themed blessing and prayer upon legislators who'll be taking on the medical marijuana issue this session. Marks, whose church is a branch of the Hawaii-based THC Ministry, uses a holy anointing oil that includes cannabis -- a blend he says comes directly from the Bible, just like how he says Testament terms like "fragrant cane" and "sweet calamus root" actually refer to pot plants.

While Marks and others like him -- some of whom claim the tree of knowledge was a cannabis plant -- seem to be operating at the fringes of Christianity, more traditional versions of the church are tackling marijuana as well.

For example, a Fort Collins evangelical church just announced an upcoming discussion titled, "Can a Christian smoke POT?"

As more and more Coloradans of all stripes procure medical-marijuana licenses, sooner or later local churches may have to face a difficult question: "What would Jesus toke?"

According to Carl Raschke, Religious Studies department chair at the University of Denver, ministries will have a difficult time finding anti-weed Bible passages to fall back on. "There are no hard and fast doctrines I know of against marijuana," he says. "The only hallucinogenic substance mentioned constantly in the Bible is wine. And the general rule of thumb is there is nothing immoral about drinking wine so long as you don't drink it to excess and lose your ability to function."

Many Christians leaders may argue that marijuana goes against the concept argued by Jesus characterizing "the body as a temple of God." But Raschke doesn't expect to witness the sort of Christian-conservative uprising against medical marijuana that we've seen around issues like sexual orientation or even, in the Bible Belt, alcohol. "It's really a second-order problem," he says. "Most people will probably pretty much ignore it. There is huge culture of denial, of looking the other way, particularly in American Christianity."

That could change if marijuana is legalized completely, predicts Raschke: "I think you would see a lot of Christian groups upset about that, because of the idea that you could see an increase in laziness, sloth and a decline of morals. It could be seen as part of a pattern, along the lines of gambling, of the increasing decadence of society."

And what about so-called coded references to pot in the Bible? Could the tree of knowledge have been a marijuana plant?

"I think that's a stretch," says Raschke. "It's not so much the tree that matters, it's the fruit." There is nothing in the story that suggests altered mental states or hallucinogens, notes the professor.

It could be that the "fruit" just symbolized the plant's ingestion, but Raschke is quick to point out that real, physical fruit has been tied in many cultures to temptation, mystery initiations and mental abilities, such as how pomegranates are associated with knowledge in Greek mythology.

The tree of knowledge would much more likely have been a fig tree, says Raschke, since fig trees are common in the Middle East and are mentioned frequently in the Bible.

Which brings up a question: Should we have fig dispensaries, too?

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