By Bethany Erb

*Writer’s Note: This article does not argue for or against the legitimacy of medical marijuana and its role in medicine. Medicinal marijuana is a multifaceted emergence in healthcare. It requires further research to clarify its long-term impact on patients.

12:01 a.m. New Year’s Eve

Across the nation, festive partygoers clinked champagne flutes and blearily kissed under a drizzle of confetti. In California, however, the recreational marijuana industry was celebrating more than just a new year.

On Jan. 1, 2018, California became the sixth state to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana. Joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Nevada, and Washington, D.C. (now the “District of Cannabis”) in declaring their state-rights to regulate the multibillion-dollar industry.

As usual, strings are attached. In California, you must be 21 years old to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. You can buy and sell recreational marijuana through licensed dispensaries, but you are not allowed to smoke it publicly. For stuck-in-the-rut gardeners, there’s inspiring news: up to six plants per residence are allowed.

What does this mean for you and me?

Implications of Marijuana on a College Campus

For starters, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And as the singer Pink so sagely warbles, “where there’s a flame, someone’s bound to get burned.” In this case, America’s college students are likely to be singed—academically, mentally, and socially, as increased legalization indirectly lowers cultural awareness of marijuana’s dangers, while boosting access.

Unsurprisingly, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug on American college campuses. Approximately 38 percent of college students use recreational marijuana annually, with 6.7 percent males and 3.4 percent females using it daily. On a consistent basis, around 19.9 percent of college students currently use marijuana. In California, that figure is estimated to increase with marijuana’s legalization.

For Dr. Hans Breiter, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern’s medical school, these statistics are alarming. In a New York Times article, he notes: “If I were to design a substance that is bad for college students, it would be marijuana.” From his research and other studies, THC, marijuana’s psychoactive compound, can inhibit memory, decision-making, focus, and motivation for 24 hours or more. What’s more, “adolescentonset cannabis users” are particularly vulnerable to “marked neuropsychological decline.” Users who smoked marijuana from age 13 to 38 “lost an average of 8 IQ points.” When these users stopped using cannabis persistently, neurological functioning did not entirely recover. Perhaps even more worrisome, impaired motor coordination following marijuana’s ingestion could lead to an increase in vehicle and traffic accidents.

At a point in life where healthy relationships, academic consistency, and psychological stability are needed, researchers are finding it worrisome that America’s “leaders of tomorrow” are so freely using recreational marijuana. A substance that is specifically designed to alter the neurological balance, which is so crucial for internal motivation and purpose.

It seems there is no such thing as a free joint.

Adventist Colleges and Marijuana In case you haven’t smelled the elephant in the room, Pacific Union College is just one of many Adventist campuses affected by recreational marijuana. As part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s larger emphasis on a drug-free lifestyle, PUC is a drug-free campus that acts in harmony with state and federal laws to prohibit illegal substances. As with alcohol and tobacco, the sale, use, or possession of marijuana— even if prescribed—is strictly prohibited on and off Adventist campuses.

Nevertheless, despite meticulous regulations, PUC has not yet curbed the use of marijuana as a (notso) illicit drug-of-choice amongst students. Indeed, from anonymous anecdotes and interviews, it’s clear that marijuana usage is still a social phenomenon blowing smoke in the face of academia.

As one PUC student grouses, “I know my dorm room is always surrounded by a smoky haze at night because the people around me smoke freely all day/ night. It is annoying…especially because I don’t want to smoke stuff myself.”

The legalization of recreational marijuana may increase said clashes between the free-spirited, pizza-loving miscreants and self-defined “respectables.”

Even if it doesn’t, marijuana’s increasing polarizability provokes the question— why might the Seventh day Adventist Church still discourage recreational consumption amongst its members and academic institutions, irrespective of evolving state and national legislation?

You, Me and Marijuana

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has, since its origins in the Second Great Awakening, identified as a Christ-centered community passionately committed to living out the teachings of Jesus Christ in its members’ daily words, actions, and habits. It’s meant to be a sola scripture movement—an earnest seeking to get at a cosmic truth. A harmonic truth that can be vibrantly danced to in the daily mundanities. A vocal proponent of a Christ-centered life, according to Jesus’s disciple, Peter, embodied the SDA Church’s commitment to such a Christ imbued lifestyle when he wrote “do you not know that your body is a temple […]? therefore, glorify God with your body.” Not surprisingly, the SDA Church has historically embraced Peter’s premise that humanity’s corporeal and spiritual state are a blurred duality—when Peter emphasizes that “your body is a temple,” the SDA Church nods in agreement— what its members absorb physically, also will reflect in them spiritually.

Consequently, in reference to the SDA Church’s stance on lifestyle-related behavior of its members, its recommendations could appear as coming from a premise that marijuana, or alcohol, or even jewelry, has an inherent sinfulness with which they can be unequivocally indicted. On the other hand, its stance could be seen as simply recognizing the benefits of maintaining consciousness of humanity’s inward struggle between honoring and debasing its spiritual essence. Seemingly arbitrary or legalistic recommendations, like abstinence from psychoactive drugs, may instead reveal the SDA Church’s recognition of what gives or takes away from it’s members’ life-force.

As a conflicted yet devoted member of the SDA Church, I see the church’s recommendations on marijuana consumption, and other lifestyle-related activities, as beautiful guardrails for ensuring its members’ ability to thrive within a perpetually self-destructive world. I see it as a suggestion that perhaps, as a spiritual being, I ought to embrace substances that nourish and protect the God breathed body I inhabit— releasing words, actions, and habits that cloud my ability to spread peace, justice, and kindness. The exchange opens up a higher awareness of God’s presence that is purposeful and entrancing. And though I fail more often than not, the gentle reminders to actively respect and cherish my being’s corporeal-spiritual duality, if acted upon, are a continual catalyst for abundant living.

As the Seventh-day Adventist Church and PUC’s administration appears to realize, when we are filled with raw energy, vitality, and clarity, we can exude a Christ like love that will keep making the world a more beautiful place. The possibilities are alluring.

Wrapping it Up

It is easy lazy to equate legality with morality.

I do not think marijuana is sinful. It is not to be found on the spectrum of morality. It is to be recognized as no more than a biological organism. And whether we consume it or not, whether it is legal or not, might not be the big issue at stake here.

Whether you or I ingest cannabis, or not, marijuana’s legalization serves to remind that the permissible is not equivalent with the helpful. As Breiter noted, marijuana’s effects are appearing to be more and more destructive, neurologically and relationally. But not flossing or stretching before a jog in the Back 40 (unapologetically guilty here) is not really that advantageous to thriving, either.

Perhaps, it is not necessary to demonize specifics to the exclusion of the individual conscience.

Ultimately, California’s legalization of marijuana, juxtaposed with the SDA Church’s conception of the mind-body connection, creates an exercise in self-reflection: are the costs of our daily habits, actions, and words greater than their benefit?

Are we hanging onto, or grasping out for, beliefs, people, and things that numb, deflate, and tranquilize the sacred temples we inhabit—simply because we can?

In a world torn apart by relational alienation, depression, smothering fear, insecurities, and numbed pain, we have the opportunity to continue embracing life over self-sabotage.

For me, that means celebrating marijuana’s legalization— honestly, less government encroachment is something worth celebrating—while respecting what my temple requests to run smoothly and wholeheartedly. For you, it may mean letting go of a toxic relationship, destructive habit, or negative outlook; or actually, none of the above.

Whatever it is, I pray that you and I continue to live consciously.

May we embrace what brings our temples to life and let us release what tears them down.

In the end, it is all about finding our unique balance, is it not? And finding a value-based equilibrium doesn’t come in a Life for Dummies manual (oh, that it did). It seems to take individual responsibility to write and rewrite our nuanced, value-based manual for thriving on our earth. While we’re knee-deep in the process, may we keep being curious, aware, and smart--letting go of the mediocre for the marvelous.

Does this help clear the air?