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Area clergy are at best uneasy with the prospect of marijuana growers setting up shop in the Illinois Valley — even if it is for so-called medical marijuana.
The NewsTribune polled local clerics to gauge their churches’ positions on medical cannabis and whether local governments would be justified in attracting growers to meet the expected demand. Opinion was decidedly wary, with most pastors polled expressing doubt about the morality of medicinal cannabis, much less whether the Illinois Valley should profit from it.
“Community leaders should set a high standard and not sacrifice ethics based on a legal loophole in order to bring financial gain to our area,” the Rev. Burl Cole of Valley Community Church in Spring Valley said in one of the more vehement comments.
Cole said the Bible commands that Christians “Be sober” (1 Peter 5:8) and that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and should be kept pure (1 Cor. 6:19-20). For those reasons, he’s approaching with caution the issue whether medical cannabis is licit.
“It is our understanding based on recent studies, that it causes multiple side effects and possible long-term mental impairment,” he said. “Those who are suffering with great pain should be provided with the best possible remedy, not short-term relief with long-term consequences.”
Other pastors harbored questions and misgivings, even on the root issue of whether cannabis is acceptable for palliative care. The Rev. Charlene Belski of Jesus Cares Ministry Inc. said she fully opposed recreational use of cannabis and watches legalization in states such as Colorado with utter dismay. But whether cannabis has legitimate medical uses is a topic that demands more hard information.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag of worms,” Belski said. “Is (medical marijuana) something that would really, truly help someone who’s suffering, or is it just another crutch? I do believe in prolonging life and helping people, but if this is something that will give them false hope is something I’m wondering.”
As for producing it locally, Belski said she’s not less conflicted.
“There again, I’m all for providing employment for everyone,” she said. “But is this the answer? Here again, when you’re working in that factory, smelling it, does the plant make you high? Is this something that’s going to hurt the people who are working there? It’s scary.”
Pastor Betty Delgado of Trinity United Church of Christ in La Salle agreed that medical cannabis is “not something we’ve actually talked about in any detail.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a situation where you’re danged if you do, and you’re danged if you don’t,” she said. “It may help some people, but I see some repercussions at the other end of it.”
As for producing cannabis locally, Delgado sees that as an unwelcome development in an area that already struggles with drug abuse.
“I think it’s very hard to put more temptation in front of people as it is,” she said.
Theirs are by no means the only churches to be struggling with these questions. Pastors from the more hierarchical Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches both said they were unaware of formal statements on medical marijuana from their bishops.
The Rev. Andrew Kishler, pastor of St. George Orthodox Church in Spring Valley, said he personally would not oppose medical cannabis, provided there were substantial evidence it would help the sick and provided its usage would be restricted to the sick — and he harbors doubts about both propositions.
“But I’m also concerned we’re riding a cultural wave toward cannabis being used for medicinal and recreational use,” Kishler said. “I don’t want to wind up with full legalization like you see in Colorado or Washington.”
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.