By Justin Horey
Marijuana laws in North America have been changing for more than five decades. In 1966, California was the first state to legalize the medical use of marijuana. But the pace of change has clearly accelerated in recent years. Today, marijuana is considered “fully illegal” in less than 10 states.
These changing laws, and the public’s changing views of the drug, have led many Christian colleges and universities to closely evaluate their policies and regulations regarding the use of cannabis. Three of the colleges interviewed for this article are located in places where marijuana usage has been legalized in some form. Four others are not. Some schools have updated their policies to allow for legal, medicinal use. But most have made no changes or have strengthened anti-drug rules.
WHERE USE IS LEGAL IN SOME FORM
While the United States has not changed federal laws regarding the use of marijuana, Canada became the second nation in the world to legalize the use of cannabis in October 2018. Canada’s new law caused colleges north of the border to respond before many of their counterparts in the United States.
“As we prepared for the legalization of cannabis in Canada back in 2018,” said Cory Pytlarz, student development dean at Alberta Bible College, “we knew we needed to create policies to help us navigate this shift on our cultural landscape. But at the same time, we wanted to have a different kind of conversation—one that was less about laws and more about Christian community and caring for the human bodies God has given us.
“With this in mind,” Pytlarz continued, “our policy makes space for ABC community members who need to use cannabis for medical purposes to do so within the limits prescribed by their doctor. For the rest, we simply say that recreational cannabis use is inconsistent with our Community Rule of Life, which describes who we are as we relate to God, creation, other people, and ourselves. Perhaps most relevant in this case, our Rule of Life says we ‘honour God with our bodies’ and therefore do not ‘misuse drugs.’”
Shortly after the nationwide legalization in Canada, voters in the state of Missouri approved a ballot measure to allow the medical use of marijuana. Since then, Central Christian College of the Bible in Moberly, Mo., has updated its policies regarding use of the drug.
“Our new employee handbook allows those with a medical marijuana card in Missouri to utilize it under a doctor’s orders,” CCCB president Dr. David B. Fincher explained. “However, they may not possess marijuana on campus or use it while traveling on college business or working from home.”
As for students, CCCB does not allow drug or alcohol use in any form.
“We now require random drug testing of student athletes through an outside company and utilize occasional drug sweeps of the residence halls with the local police,” Fincher said. “This is both seen as a deterrent of student usage and as a way to provide intervention and help if needed.”
The neighboring state of Illinois legalized both medical marijuana and recreational use in May 2019. But Lincoln Christian University has not changed its stance on the use of the drug in any way.
“Our campus has always been drug-free and remains so—even with the changing state laws,” said Jill M. Dicken, vice president of student development.
“Any conversation about the use of cannabis is a part of a larger conversation about our drug-free campus policy,” she added. “I have yet to have a student insist on their right to use marijuana due to the legalization in Illinois or claim a medical need.”
WHERE USE IS CURRENTLY ILLEGAL
More than half of the colleges and universities surveyed for this article are located in the decreasing number of states that have not made recent changes to cannabis laws. Most of those colleges anticipate some future change in local laws, but only one has modified its drug use policies.
Carolina Christian College (CCC) is located in North Carolina, where marijuana is still illegal. Neighboring states, including Virginia, have begun relaxing restrictions, which motivated the college to strengthen and clarify its anti-drug policies.
“Prior to the changes in laws, our policy on drugs was non-existent, though we did have a no-cigarette-smoking policy,” said Dr. LaTanya Tyson, CCC’s president. “The change in the laws and the recruitment of students from different states led us to set a zero-tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol.”
In order to enforce the new restrictions, CCC recently implemented a new policy that allows for student drug testing as well.
Mid-Atlantic Christian University (MACU) is also located in North Carolina. Like Carolina Christian College, MACU prohibits drug use on and off campus. MACU president John W. Maurice shared the university’s policy, which states in part, “Mid-Atlantic Christian University is dedicated to providing a campus environment free of the illegal and/or abusive use of alcohol and/or drugs. . . . [It] is prohibited on University property or as part of University activities.”
MACU relies on the local police department to enforce its policy. Anyone—student or employee—found to be in violation, either on or off campus, may be subjected to suspension, expulsion, or termination of employment. Like Carolina Christian College, MACU also reserves the right to conduct random drug testing.
In the Midwest, Kansas hasn’t changed its laws, but it borders two states that have either decriminalized marijuana or are in the process of doing so.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” said Kevin Ingram, president of Manhattan Christian College. Still, he said, “Even if legalized marijuana comes to Kansas, we won’t change our policies at MCC.” When the time comes, Ingram expects the college will treat legalized marijuana the same way it already treats alcohol, which is prohibited at MCC.
Manhattan Christian College’s code of student conduct is clear on the matter. Ingram shared this excerpt: “No student who is enrolled at Manhattan Christian College may use tobacco in any form. Additionally, the use of alcoholic beverages, narcotics, and drugs (unless prescribed by a physician) is not permitted.” Violation of the policy by any student is cause for dismissal from the college.
ONE SCHOOL, TWO STATES, ONE HANDBOOK
Johnson University maintains campus locations in two states. The university’s original campus is in Tennessee, one of 14 states that has not legalized medical use of cannabis. Johnson’s second campus is in Florida, where medical marijuana is legal. The Sunshine State’s changes to cannabis laws from 2014 to 2017 have not caused Johnson leadership to change the university’s policies.
Dr. Gregory Linton, Johnson’s vice president for academic affairs, said the student handbook states, “The use of alcoholic beverages, marijuana, narcotics, or tobacco (in any form), abuse of legal substances, or smoking any substance in any form is strictly prohibited both on-campus and off-campus.”
Quoting from the handbook,
Yes, tobacco is lawful for all university-age students, marijuana is legal in some states, and alcoholic beverages are lawful for some. However, the apostle Paul wrote, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12, NKJV). Sobriety and self-control are the Biblical norm, not drunkenness and addiction. Johnson University teaches that abstinence is the best way to achieve the Biblical norm.
Despite the changing laws and potential ease of access, Christian colleges are maintaining prohibitions on the use of marijuana/cannabis with very few exceptions. Johnson University, which is in the unique position of operating campuses in two states with differing laws on the use of cannabis, adheres to the most common stance among Christian colleges today. Linton provided this explanation from the student handbook: “The pleasures of drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking or chewing tobacco, and sniffing, smoking or injecting illegal drugs are outweighed by their destructiveness.”
Such is the prevailing position of Christian colleges today.
Justin Horey is a writer, musician, and the founder of Livingstone Marketing. He lives in Southern California.
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See our article from last week, “Surveys Share Opinions on Morality, Legality of Marijuana by Faith Group,” by Kent Fillinger.