Jamaica Church Leaders Say "Legalize It" 7/14/00

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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:

  • In spite of all the draconian laws drugs are available at any street corner in any of our communities.
  • More people seem to die from the trade than from the use.
  • All public officials -- courts, customs, law enforcement agencies -- are vulnerable to the corruption of the drug lords, and our society has become more dangerous to live in.
  • Our prisons and legal system are overtaxed with the consequence of prohibition.
  • Prohibition did not work at the start of the 20th century, and it surely is not working at the close. When things are prohibited, but retain an economic value, we tend to behave more like the beasts than like the gods.
In other comments to the Gleaner, Rev. Daley remarked on the irony that the very people employed to suppress the drug trade themselves live off of it. "If illegal drugs were to disappear," he said, "these law enforcement officials would be rendered irrelevant and out of a job."

"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.

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Issue #145, 7/14/00 Clinton Grants Commutations to Five Federal Drug War Prisoners, Four Women, One Man Go Free, 90,000 Remain Behind Bars on Federal Drug Charges | SET THEM FREE: What You Can Do to Help the Jubilee and Related Campaigns | "Mad Mark" or "Sour Souder?" Indiana Congressman Introduces Bill to Preempt State Level Drug Law Reforms | Asset Forfeiture: Florida Task Force So Out of Control Even the Feds are Embarrassed | District of Columbia: City Council Leaps Backward, Heightens Marijuana Penalties | Jamaica Church Leaders Say "Legalize It" | Portugal Decriminalizes Drug Use and Possession, Prescription Heroin and Injection Rooms Coming Next? | Michigan Initiative Effort Fails to Obtain Necessary Signatures | Drug Czar Seeks Deal With Hollywood to Include Anti-Drug Messages in Films | FBI's New Toy Spies on E-Mail, Has Bob Barr Frightened | AlertS: Mandatory Minimums, Free Speech, California, New York, Washington State | HEA Campaign | Event Calendar | Attorney Position Opening at ACLU National Drug Policy Litigation Project | Editorial: Set Our People Free
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