When someone thinks of religious faith and marijuana, I’d imagine most people get visions of opposition running through their minds. The faith community for the most part has long opposed marijuana reform. ‘It is the devil’s lettuce!’ is a phrase that was common in America for quite some time. Marijuana was promoted as the scourge of mankind, and would ruin society if left unchecked.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been faith believers who support reform, because there certainly has been. But believers who support marijuana reform for the most part are in the small minority of their congregations. The one exception to that of course would be faiths that have marijuana use as a core part of their belief system/structure. There are numerous references to ‘healing oil’ in many of the publications of the most popular religions of the world, and members of religious communities tout their belief in compassion. So I have always found it odd (to say the least) that religious people don’t support marijuana reform at a higher rate.
A recent Gallup poll found that only 2% of weekly churchgoers supports admit to consuming marijuana. I would assume that the number is higher, as many churchgoers wouldn’t want to admit to using marijuana due to stigma and stereotypes. But the fact remains that the number is extremely low. It makes it hard to make inroads in the pews with a number so low. But the need to make those inroads, educate congregations, and change minds is extremely important to reform efforts in my opinion.
So far, most of the reform victories that have been achieved in America have occurred in states that are not in the ‘Bible Belt.’ If reform is going to continue to spread across America, constructive conversations need to begin in congregations of faith centers. I’m not saying that people need to convert to a particular faith, or any faith for that matter. Believing or not believing in a faith is perfectly fine by me. Also, I’m not saying that believers need to start consuming marijuana if they don’t want to.
What I am saying is that marijuana reformers and organizations need to make a focused push to bring faith leaders and believers over to the right side of history. I’m not exactly sure what that looks like, especially considering that I’ve never been to the ‘heartland of America’ before. Most of what I think of religion in the Bible Belt is based upon the movie Footloose to be quite honest. For what it is worth, what seemed to be the key to overcoming the turmoil in that movie was education, and I think the same will be true for marijuana reform.
Religious people claim to believe in compassion. Marijuana has been proven to help the suffering. There are numerous studies and personal stories to back up that claim. Hitting congregations with the facts won’t change everyone’s minds, but it will change some minds. Those minds will then change others, and the butterfly effect will take over. Faith leaders should know first hand that marijuana prohibition ruins lives, and especially impacts minorities. Faith leaders should not only be on board with marijuana reform- they should be leading the way.
I’m happy to highlight an example of that which happened recently. Faith leaders in Arizona sent out a letter to clergy members across Arizona urging them to support Proposition 205, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona. I would love to see more of this, not just during campaign season in states that have initiatives on the ballot, but also as part of an ongoing effort to create a constructive conversation about faith and marijuana reform. Below is the letter that was sent, via Clergy for a New Drug Policy. A hat tip to the signers:
We are writing you today as fellow clergy in Arizona to ask you to join us in publicly supporting a policy reform grounded in a concern for public health, security, and liberty. This November, Arizonans will vote on a ballot initiative which will change the laws in the state in order to regulate, tax and control marijuana like alcohol. It will limit legal use to adults 21 years of age or older and generate tens of millions of dollars for public schools and education programs annually.
A system of control and regulation makes so much more sense than what we have now. For decades, marijuana prohibition has been inefficient, wasteful, and counterproductive. By all measures, Arizona’s marijuana laws have failed. They create unintended consequences that fuel the black market and put young people at risk. Each year, our state spends millions of dollars to arrest adults for possessing marijuana, our police waste precious time enforcing these policies and countless human lives are wasted. Despite all these efforts, about three-quarters of teenagers in national surveys consistently report that marijuana is “fairly or very easy to get.”
As clergy, we have the responsibility and the credibility to talk about what policies serve our community best. One does not have to use marijuana – or even approve of marijuana – to see that our current laws are not working, nor are they, in my view, just.
This is a policy reform long overdue. Prohibiting marijuana has created an out-of-control illicit market that undermines public health and safety. In Arizona, taxpayers spend millions of dollars annually to arrest, prosecute, cite and process thousands of people— disproportionately Latinos and African- Americans — for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
As we seek to teach compassion and love, it seems inconsistent to support, in cases of private personal adult marijuana possession, the use of police, guns and courts. The faith community, parents, peers, counselors and educators are the appropriate means to address this kind of personal behavior.
We should work to make our communities safer. Illegal marijuana sales are the foundation for criminal markets that operate in every community in our state. When people, both old and young, seek to purchase marijuana in the underground market, they are often exposed to – and are encouraged to purchase – far more dangerous substances.
We need to break the link between marijuana and more dangerous drugs. And we can do so by shifting sales of marijuana out of the criminal market and into regulated businesses that check ID’s for age and generate tax revenue for needed services.
How we punish people and what we punish them for are central moral questions. If a punishment policy fails to meet its objectives and causes harm to humans, we have a moral obligation to support change. Our laws punishing marijuana use continue to cause significant harm to individuals, families and society. In response to that harm, we are supporting replacing marijuana prohibition and the resulting arrest and prosecution with a system of strict regulation and sensible safeguards.
Learn more about this measure, including the fact that Prop 205 would generate over $50 million annually from taxation of marijuana that will be directed to public schools, at Regulate Marijuana Arizona (http://www.regulatemarijuanaaz.org).
Thank you for your leadership and support in this important issue.
Lead Pastor, Warren Stewart, Jr.
Pastor, Church of the Remnant
Rabbi Dr. Schmuly Yanklowitz
President and Dean
Valley Beit Midrash
Rev. Terry Sims
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Sunrise
Rev. Alexander Sharp
Clergy for a New Drug Policy
image via Clergy for New Drug Policy