by Miranda on 18/10/2017 | Cultural

Cannabis: A Priest and a Rabbi United for a Just Cause

Amen There are louder voices in the world in favor of cannabis regulation. Now 2 religious leaders have joined the cause, a rabbi and a priest from Connecticut, who in a letter request the comprehensive regulation of the plant and the reform of the national drug policy. Cannabis finds a way into the North American religious agenda. Keep reading!

Despite the great progress made in the regulation of cannabis in many countries, much remains to be done globally. The cause of cannabis regulation has not only raised the voices of activists and cannabis fans, but also increasingly that of other sectors that favor the regulation of cannabis in some way: politicians of varied affiliations, police forces, businessmen, members of the scientific and medical community, etc. And now, in the United States, two men of faith have joined this just cause. A rabbi and a priest from Connecticut have written and published a letter in the media expressing their support for the comprehensive regulation of the plant and the reformation of the country’s drug policy. Cannabis finds a way into the religious North American agenda.

Cannabis does not understand religious beliefs, nor does it care for political opinions, age or gender. Cannabis regulation is a task that concerns us all, and for our own sake. For this reason, these two spiritual leaders, Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver and Reverend Alexander Sharp, from their respective religious communities have come together to publicly express the same stance in favor of cannabis regulation. They also wanted to condemn, unanimously, the policies of persecution to which many cannabis users in many states are exposed, as well as initiating a debate on the subject.

Prohibition Is Not the Way

In their editorial letter to the media published in the New Haven Register in June of this year, Praver and Sharp stress the importance of receiving a good education on cannabis to encourage responsible consumption, especially among young people. They also bring attention to the need for a regulation that establishes a legal framework for cannabis use and consumption in a thorough way that addresses medical and recreational use.

As both religious leaders expressed in their letter: “Regulation and education — not prohibition — are the best path. We learned this a long time ago concerning alcohol“.

These men of faith do not doubt the data, nor the facts, and are clear about what many rulers, politicians, and lobbyists have been denying for years: that the current laws do not work, and that the ban on cannabis has caused much damage and has not met its objectives.

A photograph of a rabbi sitting on a wall reading the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible
Men of faith commit to just causes (CC. stephen h)

“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”.

The request made by these two religious men of different doctrines refers to the state in which they are leaders of their congregations, Connecticut. However, it is clear that their thoughts on the subject can be fully extrapolated to any other place on the planet where cannabis is still illegal and/or its use is punished harshly and unjustly.

From the beginning, they make it clear that it is in the spirit of the service they owe to their parishioners that motivated them to take this step: “It may seem counterintuitive for a rabbi and a minister to adopt this view. We believe, however, that people of faith have a special responsibility to speak about what policies serve our communities best“.

Good Examples to Follow

These two men have not arrived at their conclusion without good arguments, but have used the data available from the US states that have already regulated cannabis, as well as the rest of the world. And the data show that, where cannabis has been legalized, there has been a reduction in crime levels and no increase in cannabis consumption by young people.

As Praver and Sharp explain in their letter: “legalization would not, as some fear, facilitate the use of cannabis by minors, but limit it“.

Both believe that legalization would make their communities safer, by ending the black market that causes much of the violence in urban centers. Crime would decrease thanks to legalization just as it happened when the alcohol ban was lifted.

They are also convinced that the best way to protect the health of medical patients or recreational users who are forced to resort to black-market cannabis – often adulterated or of very poor quality – is “to allow the sale of products that are tested, labeled, and properly packaged” by licensed companies that generate tax revenue that benefits the community.

A photograph of a Christian priest in an elaborately decorated cathedral
Education on drugs also depends on religious communities (CC. Thomas Hawk)

According to the rabbi and the priest, we have to “break the link between marijuana and more dangerous drugs“. Cannabis continues to be classified at the federal level as a dangerous substance and it is included in List I of Controlled Substances, even though there is scientific and medical evidence accumulated over the years about its medical benefits. An unfortunate fact that may not be long in changing, once the WHO officially evaluates the medical value of the cannabis plant for the first time in 82 years.

Education Is Always Key

Praver and Sharp believe that the most effective way to respond to the possibility of abusive consumption of any substance, regardless of the age of the consumer, is not to prohibit all forms of use, whether recreational or medical, but to educate people.

It is up to our faith communities, families, and friends to persuade and educate ourselves and our children about drugs. The proposal before us makes it more likely that we can create and offer education programs, just as we have nationally with alcohol and cigarettes”.

At this stage, the most unanimous view at the international level is that prevention and treatment are much more effective than aggressive measures or harsh punishments to reduce substance abuse – although it seems that some, who are less and less, refuse to acknowledge these facts.

Punishment Is Immoral

As we recalled earlier, the war on drugs and the prohibition of cannabis have caused much harm and left many victims not only in the United States. Nearly fifty years later, this war against “certain drugs” has failed, since it has not achieved the supposed objectives it pursued.

However, it has been successful in one thing, namely, the criminalization of drug users, who in most cases, are the most disadvantaged classes in society. Specifically, during the last 30 years both in the US and in the rest of the world, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people imprisoned for cannabis-related offenses, people who have witnessed their lives destroyed.

For this reason, Rabbi Praver and Reverend Sharp explain in the letter that punishment cannot serve as a means of suppressing people’s behavior, since punishing someone for breaking the law is a moral issue.

A photograph of a bud of Jack Herer cannabis, still ripening on the plant
Cannabis regulation is an issue that concerns us all (CC. Steffen Geyer)

If prohibition fails to meet its objectives and causes harm, we have an obligation to support change. This is why we support the replacement of marijuana prohibition with a system of strict controls and sensible safeguards”.

These two individuals understand that the use of punitive measures cannot be used to help those in need, something that goes against their religious mores. They believe that the time has come to abandon punishment of substance users and to change drug laws, a change that must include the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis use.

United for a Just Cause

However shocking it may seem to some that a rabbi and a priest come together to defend the cannabis cause in their communities, their initiative shows that to create an effective and fair cannabis regulation that respects the rights of all we must establish dialogue and agree with one another independently of our cultural baggage, religious beliefs, political affiliation, origin, etc.

Both Praver and Sharp are very committed to the cause of a comprehensive cannabis regulation at the local level, and belong to organizations working to achieve drug policy reform at the national level.

On the one hand, Rabbi Shaul Praver is president and one of the founders of the Global Coalition for Peace and Civility, an organization that, among other things, advocates cannabis legalization. Reverent Alexander E. Sharp, on the other hand, is the executive director and founding member of Clergy for a New Drug Policy – an organization composed of clerics from different religious denominations, whose aim is to educate people about drug use and create new policies that encourage consumption based on self-knowledge and individual responsibility.

A photograph of a yellow and black sign that reads Connecticut State Land Dept. Environmental Protection
Rabbi Praver and Reverend Sharp live in the state of Connecticut (CC. Doug Kerr)

The appeal made by these two men to their fellow clergy of all religions and the entire state should resonate beyond the borders of Connecticut or the United States. We hope that many more voices will join – regardless of their faith – to this just request for cannabis regulation for the sake of all.

And as a funny and anecdotal note, here you can find the link to a video that went viral a few months ago on the Internet, in which a rabbi, a priest and an atheist smoke cannabis together. All united for a just, very just, cause.

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