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Published: Saturday, 6/29/2002

Unitarians pass statement calling for radical alternative to drug war

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

The U.S. government's war on drugs has been a failure and Americans have a moral obligation to try a different approach, such as legalizing marijuana and decriminalizing cocaine and heroin, according to the Unitarian Universalists Association.

More than 4,100 delegates approved a “Statement of Conscience” at the denomination's 41st General Assembly calling for a radical alternative to the war on drugs. The four-day convention in Quebec City, Canada, ended Monday night.

“We want to do just like Jesus did,” said Charles Thomas, executive director of Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform. “The people who were the most ostracized in society in Jesus' day were lepers. Today's drug addicts are modern-day lepers. We feel that, according to our Christian heritage, it's important to follow Jesus.”

Among the proposals:

  • Establish a legal, regulated, and taxed market for marijuana. Treat marijuana as we treat alcohol.

  • Remove criminal penalties for possession and use of currently illegal drugs, with drug abusers subject to arrest and imprisonment only if they commit an actual crime (e.g. assault, burglary, impaired driving, vandalism). End sentencing inequities drive by racial profiling.

  • Make all drugs legally available with a prescription by a licensed physician, subject to professional oversight. End the practice of punishing an individual for obtaining, possessing, or using an otherwise illegal substance to treat a medical condition and allow medically administered drug maintenance as a treatment option for drug addiction.

    “We are hopeful that this powerful statement will pave the way for other denominations to join the movement for more just and compassionate drug policies,” Mr. Thomas said.

    He said an earlier, more moderate statement calling for alternatives to current U.S. drug policies was signed by representatives of the Lutheran, Quaker, and United Church of Christ denominations and the National Council of Churches.

    The Statement of Conscience that was approved last weekend had been debated among Unitarian Universalist congregations nationwide before coming to the floor of the General Assembly.

    The denomination plans to lobby government officials and promote education among its members and the general public, Mr. Thomas said.

    Unitarian Universalists for Drug Policy Reform, based in Takoma Park, Md., is an independent affiliate of the UUA. Mr. Thomas said the group studied drug policies in other countries and found that Unitarian Universalist ideals affirming the inherent worth of every person and a commitment to compassion, justice, and equity are found in many of the European nations' drug policies.

    Mr. Thomas said the U.S. system has led to prisons jammed to capacity, rising violent crime, and racial injustices.

    He compared the results of U.S. drug policies to the “bad fruit” Jesus spoke of in a parable in Matthew 7.

    “Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

    It's time to chop down the tree and plant new ones, Mr. Thomas said. He cited Switzerland as an example.

    “Heroin addicts who are unable to quit can obtain the drug from medical clinics and through doctors' prescriptions instead of dealers on the street corners. This has cut down on violent crimes and reduced the risk of disease. “And what they've found is that people who go into the medical clinics are actually more likely to quit,” Mr. Thomas said.

    Dr. Lawrence Anderson-Wong, president of the Toledo District of the Unitarian Universalists, said he voted in favor of the statement.

    “It was not so much the content of what should take the place of the war on drugs, but the fact that the war on drugs has been a complete failure. ... In part, the purpose of such statements is to raise our own consciences as well as get the public's attention.”

    In other action at the assembly in Quebec, delegates approved amendments giving Canadian Unitarians and Universalists independence from the U.S. denomination



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