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The FAQs What You Should Know About Recent Ballot Initiatives

Written by Joe Carter on . Posted in The Gospel Coalition Blog

Article by: Joe Carter

While the nation was focused primarily on the presidential election, several states were voting on ballot initiatives that will have significant ramifications on society. 

Here is what you should know about the ballot initiatives concerning assisted suicide, recreational marijuana legalization, and medical marijuana legalization.

Assisted Suicide

Which states voted on assisted suicide?

Colorado, where voters overwhelmingly (64.5 percent) approved a measure to allow residents to take their own lives, in consultation with two doctors.

In which states is physician-assisted suicide currently legal?

Five states—California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, and Vermont—had previously legalized physician-assisted suicide in some form. PAS remains illegal by statute in Montana, but a 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision shields doctors from prosecution so long as they have the patient's request in writing. New Mexico's statutes continue to list assisted suicide as a fourth-degree felony, but the courts briefly made the practice legal in 2014 before the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled against it.

Currently, one in six Americans lives in a state where a doctor can prescribe a lethal dose of drugs to a patient.

What is physician-assisted suicide?

Physician-assisted suicide (PAS) (also known as physician-assisted death, or PAD) occurs when a physician facilitates a patient’s death by providing the necessary means and/or information to enable the patient to perform the life-ending act (e.g,. the physician provides sleeping pills and information about the lethal dose, while aware that the patient may commit suicide). The distinction between PAS and euthanasia is that in the latter, the lethal dose is administered by someone other than the patient. So if a physician directly administered a lethal drug it would be euthanasia, either voluntary or non-voluntary (i.e., against the will of the patient).

What is the federal government’s position on physician-assisted suicide ?

In the case of Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), the Supreme Court ruled that the Due Process clause of the 14th Amendment does not guarantee an individual the right to PAS. The Court ruled that the individual states can have a legitimate interest in prohibiting PAS. The ruling made it clear that legalizing or criminalizing PAS is a matter of states' rights.

Is there a demand for physician-assisted suicide ?

Many Americans think it should be a option: According to a Gallup survey taken in 2015, nearly seven in ten Americans (68 percent) say doctors should be legally allowed to assist terminally ill patients in committing suicide. Support for PAS has risen nearly 20 points since 2013 and stands at the highest level in more than a decade.

But even in states where it is legal, there is not much demand for PAS. In 2015, 132 people died by PAS. Similarly, in Washington in 2015 there were 166 deaths due to PAS. Only 24 PAS-related deaths were recorded by Vermont from 2013 to 2016. (If PAS was legal in all 50 states and accounted for 0.25 percent of deaths in 2014 (2,596,993), there would have been 6,492 physician assisted suicides.)

Why do people seek physician-assisted suicide ?

A report by the National Institute of Health notes that in published studies, pain is not a dominant motivating factor in patients seeking PAS. The reasons for seeking to die are usually depression, hopelessness, issues of dependency, and loss of control or autonomy.

Medical Marijuana

Which states voted on medical marijuana?

Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana all voted in favor of medical marijuana.

Where is the use of medical marijuana currently legal?

The following 25 states (and the District of Columbia) had previously legalized medical marijuana: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

What is medical marijuana?

The terms marijuana and cannabis refer to all parts of the plant Cannabis sativa L.,whether growing or not; the seeds thereof; the resin extracted from any part of such plant; and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of such plant, its seeds or resin.

The term “medical marijuana” (or medical cannabis) refers to the use of the unprocessed plant or its basic extracts to treat a disease or symptom. However, the use of the term “medical marijuana” is controversial since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not recognized or approved the marijuana plant as medicine, and its efficacy for medicinal use is disputed.

Is medical marijuana a form of “medication”?

No. A medication is a substance used in treating disease or relieving pain. The term “medical marijuana” refers to treating a disease or symptom with the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts. Neither the unprocessed plant nor its extracts is medication, though each may contain substances (specifically cannabinoids) that do have medicinal value.

As Dr. Greg Bledsoe, the surgeon general of Arkansas, explains,

Unequivocally, the plant is not medicine. The plant cannot go through the FDA-approval process because you don’t know the dose, you don’t the other compounds that are in there, you can’t control the amount you are giving to patients. So a plant can never be FDA-approved. . . The compounds are so potent in the marijuana plant that if you do it with anything less than an FDA approval process with strict confines on it, it could be dangerous to people.

If the plant (cannabis) contains medicine, why shouldn’t it be considered a form of medication?

To understand why there is a distinction, it helps to compare cannabis to other plants that contain compounds of medicinal value. As Dr. Bledsoe says,

One of the best drugs we have for malaria still today is a drug that was developed from a tree in Peru. We get the tree bark from this tree and isolate a compound from it and make the drug quinine. Quinine is used all over the world to fight malaria. That’s the correct way of doing this. We don’t go around prescribing tree bark to patients who have malaria. We proscribe the compound within the tree bark. It’s the same thing with marijuana. We take the plant, isolate the compounds that have therapeutic value, study those and put them through the FDA approval process, and offer those to patients.

For more on this issue, see here.

Recreational Marijuana

Which states voted on recreational marijuana?

Recreational marijuana initiatives were on the ballots in five states. California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada approved recreational legalization, while Arizona voters rejected the measure.

In which states is recreational marijuana already legal?

Colorado and Washington previously had ballot measures that legalized the drug for non-medical uses.

Is recreational marijuana use a sin?

Although many Christians consider the answer to the question to be rather straightforward, it can be helpful to examine the reasoning process that allows us to determine how biblical principles can be applied to this issue.

Like abortion, nuclear weapons, and many other modern controversies, the Bible does not specifically mention marijuana. However, some defenders of marijuana do appeal to the Bible—indeed, to the very first chapter—to make their case:

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29)

Since marijuana is indeed a seed-bearing plant we can legitimately consider whether God gave it to us for “food.” Before we do that, though, we should note how this claim undercuts the most popular form of recreational marijuana use: smoking. There are no other foods—even smoked salmon—that we consume by smoking them. So this defense can only apply to using marijuana that can be constituted as food and consumed in an edible.

Presumably, no one adds marijuana to brownies because it improves their flavor. The reason to add this particular plant to foodstuffs is because of its effect on senses other than taste. However, let's assume that someone really does enjoy and gain some nourishment from eating marijuana leaves. Would that be a sin?

To read more on this issue, click here.

Joe Carter is an editor for The Gospel Coalition, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. You can follow him on Twitter.

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