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Feature: Reefer and Religion -- Nevada Clergy Embrace Marijuana Legalization

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #457)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

It was the press conference heard 'round the world -- or at least around the country and in every corner of Nevada. Last Tuesday, four Nevada clergymen stood side by side with organizers of the Nevada initiative to regulate and control marijuana to publicly endorse the measure. They spoke for at least 33 Nevada clergy who endorsed Question 7, as the initiative is known on the ballot.

The measure would allow adult Nevadans to legally possess small amounts of marijuana and to purchase it at state-regulated stores. Under current Nevada law, possession of less than an ounce is a misdemeanor offense and all sales are illegal.

Preachers for pot legalization -- for the media, that was as good as man bites dog, and the press coverage showed it. According to a list compiled by the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative (IDPI), who spearheaded the effort of bringing the clergy on-board, media hits included CNN, MSNBC, every major newspaper in Nevada, repeated features on Nevada TV stations, and an Associated Press story that was picked up by at least 37 media outlets nationwide.

Across Nevada and the country, readers and viewers heard people like the Rev. Ruth Hanusa, chaplain at the Campus Christian Association at the University of Nevada-Reno, explain why they supported changing the marijuana laws. "Some of us Protestants believe that one of the functions of government is to curb sinful behavior," she said. "But our marijuana laws are not curbing marijuana use and they are causing more harm than good by filling the pockets of dangerous criminals and ensuring that children have the easiest access of anyone," she said.

They also got to hear the Rev. Paul Hansen, senior pastor at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Las Vegas explain why he supported Question 7. "On its face, our current marijuana laws appear to be moral, but it is a cosmetic morality," said Hansen. "Our current laws are causing virtually unfettered access to marijuana. Marijuana is far easier to access than alcohol because drug dealers don't card," he said.

"This became a big story because most people think that the religious community is the last place on earth to find support for ending marijuana prohibition," said IDPI's Troy Dayton, who has spent much of the year in Nevada. "It is making such a difference because by its very nature it reframes the debate. This marijuana issue is up against a lot of cultural baggage, decades of a government misinformation campaign, and a strong puritan ethic which embraces a spirit of punishment. In addition, many voters think they are voting on whether or not they think marijuana is good or not; not what the best policy regarding marijuana best serves the community."

Gaining the support of such respected community leaders is critical for gaining support for the cause, Dayton told Drug War Chronicle. "It doesn't matter if our side has better reasoning if the average voter dismisses the issue without a careful and open-minded inquiry," he said. "When the average voter hears about religious leader support, first his attention is grabbed, and secondly the cognitive dissonance of this reality forces a reframing of the issue in his mind. No one could accuse these religious leaders of being in favor of marijuana use and they are clearly respected moral leaders in the community. So this makes people wonder, 'Why are they supporting this?'"

The faith-based support is providing a boost for a campaign that is in a tight uphill battle to put Nevada over the top as the first state to vote to regulate and control marijuana, said initiative supporters. "To have so many people in the faith-based community who represent so many denominations is a big plus for the campaign," said Patrick Killen, communications director for the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana (CRCM), the group behind the campaign. "Having these people of faith come forward on this shows that creating a sensible alternatives to our state's marijuana laws is an issue that resonates with a diverse array of people in Nevada," he told the Chronicle.

"As far as we know, this is the first time that so many clergy from different denominations have explicitly called for legally regulated sources of access for marijuana," said IDPI executive director Charles Thomas. "And it came about because of a lot of hard work. We had Troy in Nevada for about five months, and our Tyler Smith joined him for a few weeks. They traveled the state and sat down and talked one-on-one with religious leaders, and a number of those people not only took the information and read it, but also took a few days to pray about it. Praying is a way to really reflect on what your deepest values are."

One of those doing some serious reflecting was Pastor Hansen. "Some people from the campaign contacted me this spring, and I was skeptical at first," said Hansen. "I thought it was about a bunch of people who smoked marijuana and wanted a license to do it, but as I began to research the issue, I saw there is a movement in the Western world to rethink our policies toward marijuana, and I thought this was a just position," he told the Chronicle. "When I look at the issue and what they're doing in Holland and all the unforeseen negative consequences of alcohol prohibition, I see a lot of the same things happening in terms of organized crime profiting from an underground criminal marijuana market."

Pastor Hansen made clear he was speaking for himself -- not representing his church or congregation -- as he addressed the issue. While his public stance in favor of Question 7 has won him support, "I've also gotten a few people who expressed their displeasure," he noted wryly. "Lutherans are not all of one mind on lots of issues."

Nor are members of other denominations. But having religious leaders speaking out for marijuana legalization is an advance for the cause. And with Question 7 trailing in some polls and leading narrowly in others, the divine intervention would be most welcome.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

For many years we religious people have condoned by our silence the fact that our government, in our name, has been tearing good, decent people away from their families and locking them in steel cages for using Marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. Their wives and children are often forced into poverty, sometimes their houses and cars confiscated. It is time for us to end our silence.

Fri, 10/13/2006 - 12:52pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Well informed religous people should realize cannabis oil is a fundamental component of Jesus' healing annointing oil...

The Bible calls it 'canna bos'. This is mistranslated in the King James version as 'calamus'.

Sun, 10/15/2006 - 4:49am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Marijuana use in the U.S. is getting higher each year!! It is about time that a state do something about the fact that one of the most useful plants on the earth is ILLEGAL to obtain, grow, or SMOKE!!! I'd like to thank Rev. Paul Hansen, and hope that Nevada and every other state legalizes the mary jane SOON!!!!

Sun, 02/25/2007 - 4:16am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Here goes: Can you HANDLE the truth? The truth will set us free!

Genesis 1:29 Look at how long it took St. John's Wort to become legal.
All herbs become instantly decriminalized, or else tear up your Bibles.

MJ was just proven to NOT cause cancer, CANNOT as it kills cancer cells!
Cancer won't grow or develop, something like that, someone look it up please.
Therefore why is tobacco so legal?

It was 1937 Friday Late Afternoon court room, where canary seed manufacturers were the only allowed arguers in the room, and they still lost the war, for the
paper and oil industry tycoons quietly ended the jazz musician's delight,
the creative and wonderful incense of the LORD thy God. Or they tried to.
Ask Jack, he knows!

Specific receptors in brain were found to be designed for canna bos,
not so for other common drugs, Hey, why not shut down the DRUG
Stores like Walgreens if drugs are so bad? The $$$ and non-compassion.

In Revelation, it talks about PHARMACEUTICA being in the end times
for evil... Overpriced pharmaceutical companies withholding medicines
at high prices, not compassionate, like God grew his good herbs.
If herbs were the problem, God would be lying, as one place it's good,
and in Revelation it's a problem.. Nope the "drug" companies are the
problem, and kids on ritalin and all those names like cycloplexintaxiliptin
etc!!!! Not like St. John's Worts. And amazon rainforest plants, which
many of the pharms come from, don't they? Quit holding God's herbs hostage!

We told you back in the 60's over VietNam PEACE on EARTH GoodWill
Toward All Men, but Noooooooooooo you had to have your WARS...
God is Love. Anything else is just plain wrong...
And one more shellshocker: TIES are EVIL. Invented as a ROMAN &
Island MEDAL for especially brutal soldier activity. LOOK IT UP I DID.
So crosses remind us of a Roman torture instrument and TIES were actually
the MEDALS given to the soldiers! Probably got big fancy ties for killing Jesus!
Religion needs to do an about face and pull their head out of their traditions.
Thank you for listening. Peace, Love, & Live long and prosper! =
(Beloved, I wish above all things that you would prosper and be in health, even as your soul prospers!)

Sun, 03/11/2007 - 11:23am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It has been proven by scientists that certain parts of your brain only respond to marijuana use. This means that 1.) God made a useless part of your brain 2.) God made a mistake or 3.) God made it so that you could smoke marijuana. I'm sort of leaning towards 3.

Thu, 05/31/2007 - 2:21am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that it's long past time to legalize. How something that does so little harm (less than aspirin) can have such a harsh penalty is unbelievable. This is another page I've found that makes a really good case for legalization:

I hope that helps to add to the good fight.

Thu, 10/09/2008 - 10:17pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

I recently moved to Nevada from California where I was injured at work. they tell me I have tendinitis from the elbow down to my fingers in my dominant arm. I have tried just about everything to get rid of the pain I go through on a daily basis. I have tried morphine, Vicodine, extra strength vicodine, physical therapy, Ibuprofen, Tramadol, and many more things to help cope. so far the only thing that helped was MJ it helped me from having to go to the hospital many times. due to the pain I get very ill and when it gets to bad I suffer from dehydration because I can't keep anything down. Now in this state if I am found with it on me I go to jail. Tendinitis is something I will deal with for the rest of my life and they tell me that there is nothing other then surgery that will help and I am not yet bad enough for surgery. so what is a person in my situation supposed to do. I can't afford to keep going to the hospital. I can't even work at the moment.

Thu, 05/14/2009 - 4:00pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Marijuana is not a drug man labeled it a drug. God said that it was a herb. But man corrupted it and decided to smoke it. That wasn't what god had intended for it says in Genesis 1:29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. Think about it you are suppose to season your meat with it and eat the meat. people made it a drug God made it a seasoning for food. Get a clue you eat not smoke it.

Tue, 08/11/2009 - 4:46pm Permalink
Rev Rod of St. Ools (not verified)

The plant made by God has its uses: paper, clothing, rope, sails and medicinal uses.  This is a natural substance with NO additives that even Queen Victoria used for her menstrual cramps.  Why waste money on creating an artificial/synthetic substance that will chance untold side effects NOT present in the God made plant?

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 12:54am Permalink
Rev Rod of St. Ools (not verified)

If the children of Presidents like Jerry Ford, Ronnie Reagan or George Bush can use this in the privacy of their homes, why can't we?

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 12:57am Permalink

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