U.S. Drug Policy: Growing Accord : Orange County religious leader calls for reform


Mounting dissatisfaction with the drug war is bringing together unusual allies. Last week the Rev. Robert H. Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral lent his name to a petition calling for a re-examination of the federal government’s drug policies. Generously, Schuller, a nationally prominent religious leader and arguably a cultural conservative in every respect, even proposed to make his church available for community discussion of the issue. Other petition signatories include former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, noted economist Milton Friedman and Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke.

A year ago, one of the leaders of this petition drive, Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, unleashed a storm of criticism when he endorsed drug legalization, a position that he refers to today as “a program of regulated distribution.” Schuller does not agree with Gray about legalizing drugs, under whatever name it’s presented. Indeed, many of us don’t. But in this groundswell of disenchantment there lies a message for Washington.

For Gray it has been a long road. His advocacy of allowing adults legal access to drugs makes him hot on the talk-show circuit, but it has brought him the scorn of some in the law enforcement community. There were even demands that the judge be disciplined. Of course, full legalization is a political non-starter. But Gray’s provocative position was a useful catalyst--and led to the discovery of common ground with other opinion leaders, such as Schuller. One need not concur with drug legalization to agree that the nation’s drug strategy needs rethinking.


The criminal justice system is overwhelmed. Gray, who daily witnesses the crushing burden of drug cases on the courts and the inattention to the social and medical aspects of the drug problem, knows that. Many frustrated fellow judges at the federal level are now refusing to preside over drug cases in protest against mandatory drug-sentencing laws that tie their hands and, in their view, clog the jails.

Perhaps the political climate is becoming more receptive to a new approach. Certainly the new Administration in Washington should seize the moment for a fresh and comprehensive look at the drug laws. The White House does have a lot on its plate now. But during the campaign, President Clinton indicated a strong preference for more emphasis on drug treatment and education--and less reliance on traditional law enforcement methods. Judge Gray, and now the Rev. Schuller, are among the many prominent voices also urging a new start.