Legal marijuana sales open ministry door in Nev.

RENO, Nev. (BP) -- The start of legal recreational marijuana sales in Nevada, Baptist leaders in the state say, has provided churches with another ministry opportunity.

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"I don't want churches to get [self-righteous] about condemning those" who purchase marijuana legally, said Kevin White, executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention and an opponent of marijuana legalization. Rather, churches should "minister to them and reach out to them so that their dependency is not on a drug ... What they're lacking is hope in Jesus Christ."

Recreational marijuana sales became legal at authorized dispensaries July 1 following a statewide vote in November, according to media reports. Now Nevada law permits adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of marijuana, though consuming it in public is illegal.

Buying and possessing the drug remains illegal under federal law. Nonetheless, six states and Washington D.C. allow purchase of recreational marijuana.

During the opening weekend of legalized recreational marijuana in Nevada, sales "exceeded expectations" of authorized dispensary owners, the Associated Press reported. Some dispensaries had to turn away customers, and at least one extended its hours of operation to accommodate demand. Wait times to purchase marijuana reached 45 minutes the first day it was legal, AP reported.

White, who served last year on a statewide committee to oppose marijuana legalization, told Baptist Press the new law is likely to exact a high price on Nevada, including traffic fatalities caused by impaired drivers, an increased number of DUI arrests and overdoses by teenagers lured by candy and soft drinks laced with marijuana.

Still, White said, the season for emphasizing political action against marijuana proponents has yielded at least temporarily to a season for Gospel witness "seasoned with grace."

"I've seen too much damage with alcoholism and drug abuse in people's lives -- marriages destroyed, money wasted," White said. "... I hope and pray we would have great grace and mercy in reaching out to people that are trapped in these areas of life."

Nevada Baptist Convention President Ted Angle told BP churches must "be prepared to counsel people" on biblical teaching about drug abuse.

"God wants us to be clear-minded and sober-minded as we serve Him," said Angle, a retired federal government employee and member of Fellowship Community Church in Reno. Marijuana use "is just not a practice that somebody who is seeking after the Lord in His fullness should be involved in."

Those who minister to youth and young adults face heightened challenges in the months ahead, Angle said, as those populations face increased pressure to experiment with marijuana.

Teens and young adults must be taught "that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit," Angle said, referencing 1 Corinthians 6:19. "We should not put into our bodies things that are going to adversely affect its function, including our mind."

People tend to use marijuana "as a substitute for confronting the ... challenges we have in life," Angle said. "It's kind of a coping mechanism. But in the end, you still have the same problems."

Angle noted, "When we're addressing this topic with our teens," believers must stress that "God loves us" and has "given us the mechanism to address" life's problems "without using a drug to basically put off the reality of needing to step up and address [issues] from God's perspective."

Churches "should be ahead of the curve" when it comes to addressing marijuana use, he said.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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