Despite what some may think, marijuana reform is not a rallying cry for simply one side of the political spectrum.
In response to a comment from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on "Fox News Sunday" that marijuana use wasn't worth throwing people in jail for, Bryan Fischer, the director of issues analysis for the socially conservative American Family Association, tweeted: “Sen. Paul doesn't want [to] send folks to jail for marijuana beef. Fine. Make 'em pay a fine, like we do for speeding tickets.”
Last Monday, the State Policies department at MPP eagerly awaited the arrival of our new intern, who was slated to begin her semester-long internship with us that morning. We were puzzled when she didn’t show up and shocked when we learned the reason why — the deans of the internship program at Pepperdine University, where she is a student, would not approve an internship at MPP for academic credit because it was “not in keeping with the university mission and the student handbook.”
According to its website, the university’s mission is detailed as follows: “Pepperdine is a Christian university committed to the highest standards of academic excellence and Christian values, where students are strengthened for lives of purpose, service, and leadership.” The university’s affirmation statement goes on to say that, “As a Christian university, Pepperdine affirms that truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.”
In reading Pepperdine’s mission and vision statements, we at MPP considered our mission and that of Pepperdine as not only compatible but also complementary. MPP believes that the greatest harm associated with marijuana is prison, and we seek to reduce penalties for both the medical and non-medical use of marijuana in order to reduce that harm. We firmly believe that there is a disconnect between what the science says about marijuana use and what policies stand as law — laws which create far greater harms than those inflicted by the substance itself. In sum, an internship with MPP means engaging in very challenging and controversial work, undertaken for the greater good and the pursuit of truth.
Many prominent religious leaders and organizations support marijuana policy reform, along the spectrum of medical marijuana, decriminalization, and taxation and regulation. Seemingly, the Christian message is, or should be, one of mercy, humanity, and stopping the nation’s failed war on marijuana users.
In the spring of 2012, conservative Christian televangelist and founder of the Christian Coalition Pat Robertson spoke out in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, citing concerns about prison overpopulation and harsh sentences for non-violent offenders:
We’re locking up people that take a couple puffs of marijuana and, and the next thing they know they got ten years, they got mandatory sentences. And these judges they say, they throw up their hands and say ‘there’s nothing we can do there’s mandatory sentences.’ We got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes and that’s, that’s one of them. I mean I’m, I’m not exactly for the use of drugs, don’t, don’t get me wrong, but I just believe that criminalizing marijuana – criminalizing the possession of a few ounces of, of pot and that kind of thing – I mean it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people! Young people go into prisons . . . as youths and they come out as hardened criminals. It’s not a good thing.
Robertson went on to endorse taxation and regulation initiatives that will appear on two states’ November 2012 ballots, Amendment 64 in Colorado* and I-502 in Washington, both of which would end criminal penalties for adult marijuana use and treat marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. More recently, several African-American clergy members endorsed Washington’s I-502, noting the harms of marijuana prohibition and the racially disproportionate nature of its enforcement.
When MPP led a taxation and regulation ballot initiative in Nevada in 2006, at least 33 clergy members endorsed the measure. In fact, many religious leaders oppose our current marijuana policies specifically for faith-related reasons. As the Rev. David Scheuneman, a Unitarian Universalist community minister in Las Vegas, noted: “One of the roles of religion is to point out hypocrisy in society. By any means, marijuana is less dangerous to individuals and society than alcohol.”
Supportive voices from the faith community have been (and will continue to be) crucial to efforts to reform our nation’s broken marijuana policies. In their public endorsements of marijuana policy reform, the religious leaders outlined above have demonstrated that their Christian values are very much compatible with MPP’s mission. It’s disappointing that Pepperdine would not allow one of their students to work on this very important issue — an issue so clearly related to values of mercy, compassion, justice, and the pursuit of truth.
* Interestingly, David Campbell, a lecturer in economics from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business, recently signed on to a letter of public support for Colorado’s Amendment 64 featuring over 100 college professors.