Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Thursday, June 4, 2015

"Clergy join push to legalize marijuana in mission of social justice"

DownloadI have noticed that, in the course of robust modern debates over marijujana reform, religious issues and religous-based claims have been relatively absent.  Consequently, this recent Chicago Tribune article, which carries the headline that I used as the title of my post, caught my eye.  Here are excerpts:

The marijuana decriminalization bill that could soon go to Gov. Bruce Rauner's desk has an array of supporters, including civil libertarians, prosecutors and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Its supporters also include clergy. Protestant pastors and Jewish rabbis are lobbying lawmakers in Illinois and in states across the Northeast as part of a push toward legalization, which they see as a moral cause encompassing issues such as race, fair housing and employment.

To that end, the group, called Clergy for a New Drug Policy, is pushing for legislation to tax and regulate cannabis, refer individuals charged with drug-related crimes to treatment, eliminate mandatory minimum sentences and support medical marijuana. "It's a primary change if something is decriminalized," said the Rev. Al Sharp, the Chicago pastor who launched the group this spring. "The goal is to change the culture of punishment in this country, which the war on drugs has contributed so thoroughly and so devastatingly to."

Sharp considers himself just as much a policy wonk as he is a pastor. As the former head of nonprofit agencies such as Protestants for the Common Good and the Community Renewal Society, groups founded as alternatives to the religious right, he has made lobbying for public policies such as more education funding and better housing his ministry.

These days, Sharp, who was ordained by the United Church of Christ, walks the corridors of state capitols preaching redemption. When legislators in Springfield recently approved a bill to remove criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession, replacing the threat of jail time and a criminal record with a sanction similar to a traffic ticket, Sharp and his fellow clergy claimed victory.

If the bill is signed into law, Illinois will join 17 other states in decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, a group that advocates the legal use of marijuana. Nearly half the country, including Illinois, already allows for the use of medical marijuana....

In 2002, the Unitarian Universalist Association became the first religious denomination to adopt a statement of conscience calling for an end to the nation's war on drugs and the legalization and regulation of marijuana. While no other denomination has called for such a radical policy change, many others, including the United Methodist Church, Union for Reform Judaism, Progressive National Baptist Convention and Episcopal Church, support the controlled use of marijuana for medical reasons....

While the precise language of Illinois' marijuana decriminalization bill is still a work in progress before it goes to Rauner's desk, it stipulates that low-level cannabis possession would no longer be a crime with fines of up to $2,500 and up to a year in a jail. Instead, those caught with 15 grams or less could pay a fine of up to $125, but cities like Chicago that already have fines in place for marijuana possession could keep their fee structures.

This website for the groug Clergy for a New Drug Policy is pretty impressive, and I think this might be a group to keep an eye on as marijuana reform and drug policy debates continue to garner attention in Illinois and nationwide.

Religion, Who decides | Permalink


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