Jamaica's Weekly Gleaner reported last week that at least one prominent church leader has called for legalizing drugs, beginning with marijuana, and that his call is finding support among other prominent Christian churchmen.
The Rev. Oliver Daley of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, a widely respected religious leader, told the Gleaner it is "illogical, hypocritical, and oppressive" to criminally sanction marijuana.
Noting that, in his view, the addictiveness and dangerousness of marijuana remained unproven, Daley said it was certainly not a "natural born killer" like alcohol and tobacco, both of which are legal.
The reverend took pains to point out that his stand does not mean the church endorses drug use and he added that he considered the drug trade to be the single greatest threat to the fabric of Jamaican society.
But, he said, not everything that might be a sin should necessarily be a crime. Rev. Daley took adultery as an example. It is a sin, he said, but it would be impractical to make it illegal, something the church learned long ago. Now, said the reverend, politicians need to learn the same lesson regarding drugs.
Daley's comments build on positions he took in the 1999 Synod Papers of his church, which argued that:
"This situation diminishes the moral authority of many of those employed to wage war against drugs," he said.
Rev. Daley said that while it may be difficult for Jamaica to legalize cocaine, "where ganja is concerned, where we are a major supplier, and where it is a substance bearing cultural and religious relevance to some in our society," legalization would be both right and reasonable.
Daley's comments sparked cautious support from other clergymen. Bishop Robert Foster of the Moravian Church told the Gleaner that the case for legalization should be "carefully considered." Foster added that he would welcome anything that diminished the economic value of black market drugs and the greed it engenders.
The Reverend Stanley Clarke, former president of the Jamaican Council of Churches, offered nuanced support for Daley's position. Clarke told the Gleaner he would be reluctant to legalize hard drugs, but that ganja was different. "In the current Jamaican environment it is senseless to arrest someone for a spliff or for growing a plot of weed for personal use -- making a criminal out of someone for a harmless activity."
The Gleaner did not query the Rastafarians, but the ganja-consuming religionists are presumably in full support of moves to legalize Jah herb.
The call by Rev. Daley comes in the wake of a move by the Jamaican Senate last fall to establish a commission to examine legalization of marijuana. In October, the Senate unanimously passed that resolution.
It was sponsored by Sen. Trevor Monroe (Independent), who also sponsored legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a non-criminal offense and to establish a medical marijuana research center. Those bills died in parliament.
The commission to study legalization will not be the first. In 1977, a parliamentary commission recommended decriminalizing marijuana, mandating a $10 fine for public use and allowing doctors to prescribe it. Despite the conclusions of its commission, parliament refused to enact reform legislation, largely for fear of offending the United States.