Activists and cannabis enthusiasts aren’t the only ones who support legalizing marijuana. As it turns out, drug policy reform is on the religious agenda, too.
In a New Haven Register op-ed, two clergymen, Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver and Reverend Alexander E. Sharp, recently voiced their position in favor of regulating cannabis like alcohol in the state of Connecticut.
“It may seem counterintuitive for a rabbi and a minister to adopt this view,” they wrote. “We believe, however, that people of faith have a special responsibility to speak about what policies serve our communities best.”
Legalization would not, as some fear, facilitate underage use of cannabis, but rather curb it, Praver and Sharp argued. Regulation and education, rather than prohibition, are the best means of ensuring that youth not use cannabis. “We learned that a long time ago concerning alcohol,” they added. “Since the war on drugs was declared over 45 years ago, more than 25 million Americans have been arrested for marijuana violations. Even so, there are more than 30 million Americans today, consuming marijuana on a regular basis.” In states that tax and regulate cannabis for adult use, crime and arrests have decreased, while youth consumption has remained stable, they noted.
“People turn to drugs, for the most part, to ease pain. We must find ways to respond to our youth and others who need our understanding and support,” Praver and Sharp wrote. “The best in our faith traditions call upon us to respond to individuals in trouble with drugs by engaging them, listening to them, offering alternatives, and enriching their lives in all reasonable ways.”
The issue of punishing a person for breaking the law is a moral question, according to the clergy men. Because prohibition causes harm and fails to meet its goals of fostering a safer, healthier society, as clergymen, Praver and Sharp described a moral obligation to support changing the law.
Both Praver and Sharp are members of national drug policy reform organizations. Praver is founding president of Global Coalition for Peace and Civility, while Sharp is the executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy.
Punishment as a means of changing a person’s behavior is immoral, Sharp told Jane Street. Prohibition “others” cannabis users, putting them in the seemingly moral wrong for breaking the law, when really it just fails to support them in achieving ultimate health and safety. Christ didn’t preach retribution, Sharp said, so to support punitive laws that do little to help a person in need goes against religious morality. He advocates for harm reduction over punitive measures. “Trying to transform that culture of punishment in relation to drug use and the war on drugs means changing the drug laws,” Sharp said. And that includes legalizing medical and adult use cannabis.