Thursday, October 30, 2008

PRESS RELEASE: Thursday, Oct. 30---Faith Leaders on Question 2


To our fellow brothers and sisters in service to God and all of God's children,

Leaders of all faiths are called to certain acts of service: to minister to the poor, to visit the imprisoned, to clothe the needy, feed the hungry and, through God's word, bring peace and comfort to all. Those of us who do this work are often called shepherds. It's an image that is reassuring and captures the great responsibilities that come with this calling – to literally help guide and protect the innocent, the unknowing or the unsuspecting from the dangers that life so often presents. We do this with humility and recognition of our own limitations but also with confidence in God's assistance to help us to see clearly and speak with courage.

Today the people we serve are facing a grave threat and we are reaching out to all of you for help. Next Tuesday, the citizens of Massachusetts are being asked to consider a ballot question that would decriminalize marijuana - a drug surrounded by so much myth that minimizes the risks it poses and the harm that it does. This is an issue that transcends politics. It has a direct bearing on the physical health, the intellectual development, the personal safety and the spiritual growth of thousands and thousands of our young people. Therefore, we have a responsibility to see this issue for what it is and, with one voice, urge all parents, all grown-ups and all people of good will to speak for our children and reject this initiative.

We intend to carry this message to our congregations this weekend. We are respectfully but urgently asking that you also share this message with your congregations and in your communities. We need people to understand that there is no good reason to decriminalize marijuana and very many good reasons not to.

As ministers whose congregations are predominantly people who are poor and of color we look at this threat with the great concern because it is one with which we are already all too familiar. The history of drug and alcohol abuse in society in general, and among the poor and communities of color, is well known and dangerous to ignore or forget. It is a history whose pages are filled with individual and collective stories of pain, violence, loss, exploitation and wasted potential.

For some who do not live in inner city neighborhoods, marijuana use might be regarded as a victimless crime or even a rite of passage. In the communities we serve however, the reality is very different. Marijuana is a common denominator substance used in connection with many other crimes. Marijuana is a big business and its dealers do not hesitate to use violence to protect sales and turf. Finally, marijuana dealers look at our children as their growth market.

The proponents are arguing that possession of less than an ounce of marijuana should be treated as a civil offense and the offender should receive a fine of just $100. What most people fail to recognize is that an ounce of marijuana is no small amount. It's the equivalent of about 60 joints and can fetch up to $600 on the street. In addition, most street sales are being made in "dime" bag, eighth-of-an-ounce or quarter-of-an-ounce quantities. The result is that this ballot initiative doesn't protect kids, but it does create tremendous legal protection for drug dealers!

Proponents have misrepresented the penalties kids suffer from marijuana and CORI records. As ministers, we have and will continue to advocate for CORI reform. We know full well the long-lasting impact of a criminal record. At the same time, we have found no basis in fact for the oft repeated stories about thousands of individuals who have supposedly missed out on job opportunities or college educations because they "got caught just once with a joint."

Finally, proponents have completely ignored the facts around marijuana and its health effects. The increased potency of the drug – it is now 9 times more potent than just a few decades ago – has led to dramatic increases in young people seeking treatment for marijuana dependency. Over the past decade, objective and unassailable medical and scientific evidence are showing that the dangers of marijuana use has been underestimated, including its direct links to cancer, depression, mental illness and other health problems.

Friends, we cannot afford to ignore facts and buy into myths and urban legend. We are ministering to young people who are struggling against significant social and economic obstacles to succeeding in school. Decriminalizing marijuana will only hamper our efforts to close the achievement gap between rich and poor, white and black students. We are ministering to young parents who are struggling against significant social and economic obstacles to hold their families together. Decriminalizing marijuana will not make any family stronger. We are ministering to communities who are yearning and working and striving for social justice and economic opportunity. Decriminalizing marijuana will only bring more crime and destabilization.

We are asking for your help to carry this message forward. Please, in the coming days, share this message with your followers and your friends. May God bless and keep you,

Rev. Jeffrey Brown Pastor William Dickerson

Executive Director Greater Love Tabernacle

Boston Ten Point Coalition Dorchester

Minister Don Muhammad Pastor Ray Hammond

Minister of Muhammad's Mosque Bethel AME Church

of Islam, Mosque # 11 Board Chair, Boston Ten Point Coalition

Board Member, Black Ministerial Alliance

Pastor Bruce Wall Rev. Gregory Groover

Bruce Wall Ministries Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church

Dorchester Vice-president, Black Ministerial Alliance

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