Despite criticism from some religious leaders who have called on her to resign her post, Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP's California chapter, said last week that she will not retract her support of an initiative to legalize marijuana in the state, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News. She believes that Proposition 19 would "be a good first step in reforming marijuana laws," especially for African Americans who she feels are targeted, creating a "permanent underclass." What do you, as a religious leader, think about Proposition 19? Do you think it will reform marijuana laws, or do you side with Sacramento preacher Ron Allen, who says the NAACP's support of Proposition 19 "disregards the harm illicit drugs cause to the black community," and to a greater extent, other communities?
One of the things I've learned as a minister is that one must pick one's battles, and maybe picking one's battles is what we all do, anyway.
The point is that nobody can give 100% effort to every single cause, and perhaps each of us has his/her own favorite causes to support. In any case, I am not prepared to go to the mat for or against Proposition. 19. Personally, I believe reforming the marijuana laws is a good idea, and so I am mildly in favor of Proposition 19's passage.
However, I can sympathize with Pastor Allen and his concern for what illicit drugs do to the black community. Also, certain members of my family are very much against Proposition 19, who fear any sort of legalization of marijuana.
So I can see both sides of this issue, and I'm not about to carry the torch for either side.
Rev. Clifford L. "Skip" Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
I am not in favor of Proposition 19. Although, I have to admit that I am not an expert on marijuana, have not used it and have not spent much time researching the implications of its use. Does that mean I shouldn't comment on Proposition 19 or take a position on it? No. So, let me give you a few of my reasons for not supporting Proposition 19.
First, as a general rule, I am not a fan of the California ballot proposition process. It does not lead to well-thought-out legislation. Rather, it is a populist/special interest means to enact legislation with a mere majority vote.
Second, my reading of Proposition 19 leads me to believe that it will be hard to enforce its provisions. Thus, I have to assume that this proposition will, in effect, open the doors on marijuana use.
Third, I believe that legislation of this magnitude will have a number of unintended consequences, both economic and otherwise. For example, the Rand Corporation just published a study on the impact of Proposition 19 and concluded that it could reduce the cost of a "joint" to as low as $1.50, increasing marijuana use.
Will such use increase drug addiction, increase the use of other illegal drugs (assuming marijuana is a gateway drug) or reduce the productivity of workers? Will it reduce or increase drug-related crime?
Fourth, I have personally seen the destructive effect marijuana can have on others. For individuals I know it was a gateway drug that led to harder drugs and to the death of one of them.
Fifth, from a religious perspective, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has what is commonly referred to as the "Word of Wisdom." In it, members are advised to stay away from substances that harm their bodies, which would include illegal or addictive drugs.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Four years after Prohibition was repealed, marijuana became prohibited with the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. Coincidentally, every 37 seconds today in America, someone is arrested for its violation. Most offenders are nabbed for no other crime than possession, but once booked they forever possess criminal records andtheir reputations are tragically marred. That's nearly a million citizens penalized annually over something so personal and hardly different than the aforementioned libation.
Now I'm conservative, and my conservative values center in scripture. I conserve the Bible, championing it as the very words of God, and living according to what God has revealed therein. I take the position that when scripture speaks in black and white, I should do likewise. When it gets fuzzy, I must be fuzzy, and when it remains silent on subjects, I cannot speak with any divine authority. The Bible is silent on marijuana.
What I can do is extrapolate and offer an educated guess based on similarities. That's why I make the connection to alcohol. The Bible doesn't condemn its use, only its abuse. Profligate drunkenness is condemned, while moderate consumption is recognized as that which "gladdens human hearts" (Psalm 104:15). Jesus' first miracle was turning water into alcohol for a wedding (John 2). In America, we have found medical use for alcohol, energy uses for it, and have overwhelmingly found it to be a social pleasure, although it's frequently abused.
"Cannabis" was once a legitimate fiber crop, and today people tout its medicinal benefits, but it's the mild euphoria it produces that fuels argument. Like alcohol, it gets abused, but categorizing it with synthetic laboratory narcotics is overreaching. It's an herb.
The current issue concerns whether free adults may imbibe a natural substance without fearing the law, and statistics justify the NAACP's concern for their constituents. Is legalizing cannabis the answer? We may see, but I do not think criminalizing it is, and that's where we are currently.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Other than the tantalizing prospect of increased profitability for church bake sales if marijuana were legalized, I don't see this as a religious question.
Unlike peyote, marijuana has no vision-inducing properties to promote and deepen spiritual experience. Repeated throughout Leviticus is the instruction to make "an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord," but we've always just used incense for that.
Barring any explicitly religious use of marijuana, the question of its legalization would only fall under the purview of the church as a pastoral matter, for medical use; but that issue has already been decided in California. There may well be nuances of social justice with regard to marijuana and the black community, but I can't pretend to know them, and shouldn't try to speak to them.
I suppose it crosses into theology if you call this a question of free will — our freedom to "pick our poison," versus the government's responsibility to protect the health of its citizens. But I can see both sides of that argument, too.
Anyone with an alcoholic in the family wonders why a substance proven to be genetically addictive is still on the market, as does anyone who has watched a loved one die of lung cancer or emphysema from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. Addiction doesn't look or feel much like "free will." But we all saw how well Prohibition worked out, right? And personally, I find the states that curtail the sale of alcohol to be insultingly oppressive, deciding for me that I can't handle a margarita with my carnitas.
And where is the line to be drawn with marijuana — or with caffeine, sleep aids, untested herbal supplements, and other ingestibles not yet proven to be explicitly harmful? Is it government's job to save us from these gray-area choices, as well as from clearly life-threatening behaviors and substances? I just don't know.
I leave the matter to be sorted out by the medical profession, politicians and pharmaceutical lobbies.
God help us all.
Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
I fail to see the wisdom of legalizing "recreational" marijuana or any other mind-altering substance. Human beings are blessed with a brain more powerful than any computer ever devised. We are given the divinely inspired task of enhancing this world and making our environment more hospitable by harnessing the full power of our minds. Altering our ability to do so by using a foreign substance — even for a limited time — is not a good idea and should be strongly discouraged.
I feel that Alice Huffman's claim that enforcement of current laws against illicit drugs is the cause for the "permanent underclass" of the African American community is a disingenuous attempt to avoid addressing the real causes for the struggles of the black population. Many other figures in the black community strongly disagree with Huffman on this issue, and I hope that the national leadership of the NAACP would also disagree with its California chapter's support of Proposition 19.
Regardless of the arguments for or against legalization of marijuana — and there are some legitimate points on either side — claiming that enforcing anti-drug laws is a root cause of a community's longstanding social ills is simply ridiculous. Communities disintegrate and its members turn to drugs when their leaders fail to inspire, when their families crumble and when their opportunities shrink. This is true of all failing communities — not just African American ones — and nobody gains when the blame for social problems is shifted onto an illusory straw man.
If Huffman truly wanted to help the black community — especially its youth — she should stop worrying about easing marijuana laws and instead focus on meeting genuine needs such as better education, stronger family values, more responsible parenting and a real reduction in crime. This approach requires a committed effort, unyielding optimism and a coherent plan. It also requires a candid assessment of roles and responsibilities, and a hard look about why this part of our American family has faced such hardships.
There are many factors contributing to the struggles of African Americans, and they come from many different places — but enforcement of anti-marijuana laws is not among them.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills