Special report: Legalizing marijuana creates ethical gray area, some say | TheUnion.com

Special report: Legalizing marijuana creates ethical gray area, some say

Every Friday night, a complex network of Xboxes, Nintendo Wiis, Playstation 3s and big screens moves into the gym at the Park Avenue alternative school campus in Grass Valley.

A foosball table, basketballs and board games show up, too, all with the same goal – providing enough entertainment that teens don’t miss the alcohol and illegal substances they’d easily find elsewhere on a Friday night.

Grass Valley’s New Covenant Church and NEO – a youth outreach branch of the Coalition for a Drug-Free Nevada County – teamed up this month to organize the hangout.

But leaders at the gathering worry that if marijuana were legal and widespread under Prop. 19, teens trying to make good decisions would face even more bewildering temptations.

Like alcohol laws, Prop. 19 limits recreational marijuana use to adults 21 and older, and allows cultivation.

But “kids are going to have easier access to it,” said New Covenant Pastor Randy Fields, who has worked as a youth pastor for many of his 25 years in the ministry. “I see the results of it, how it tears families apart. There are long-term effects.”

Students disengage from their studies when they use marijuana, said Anita Bagwell, principal at several alternative schools in the high school district. She suspects it affects physical and social growth at a critical point in teens’ lives.

“They’re in a developmental process, even emotionally,” Bagwell said.

But for teens trying to distinguish between right and wrong, more widely available marijuana would make for a broader gray area.

“The easier we can make it for them to do the right thing, the better,” Fields said. “The compliment is years down the road. They’re going to be leaders of the future.”

Prop. 19 advocates argue that pot is so accessible to high schoolers already that legalizing it won’t make much difference in underage use. Opponents from NEO argue laws against marijuana do deter use.

“There are always the few who don’t care about the distinction” between legal and illegal marijuana, said NEO Outreach Coordinator Lynn Skrukrud. “But there’s definitely a distinction for people who don’t want to get caught.”

Beyond the legal or physical implications, Fields sees a biblical objection to marijuana use.

“The Bible says our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we’re not to put things in that will hurt our bodies,” he said. While some people counter that caffeine or sugar would be barred with that definition, Fields objects.

“Those don’t alter our state of being. They don’t alter who we are,” he said.

If Prop. 19 passes, Fields said, pastors would need to change their tune. Rather than telling their congregants to avoid marijuana out of respect for the law, they’ll have to appeal to a higher, spiritual law.

“Ultimately, it will come down to choices,” Fields said. “What all pastors will have to wrestle with is, ‘Is it a God-honoring choice?'”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.

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