Lessons from Portugal

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp Diversion

As we celebrate the second year of Clergy for New Drug Policy, this is a good time to bring us all up-to-date on the central issue that lies at the heart of our work. Our mission is to seek a “health not punishment” response to drug policy. We will be successful when all non-violent, low-level drug users are not treated as criminals and steered to treatment if they are struggling with addiction.

One nation does this with great success. Sixteen years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drugs, not just marijuana. Police refer all non-traffickers to “dissuasion commissions”, consisting of a doctor, social worker, and a lawyer. Selling drugs is still against the law. If the user is deemed a recreational user, the commission issues a small fine, or perhaps community service; in other words, a civil sanction.

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Illinois Proposes Legalizing Marijuana

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp IL, Tax and Regulate

At a press conference on April 12, Illinois State Senator Heather Steans (D-7th) describes legislation that would legalize adult use of marijuana in Illinois. She is accompanied by bill co-sponsor Kelly Cassidy (D-14th) and the Coalition for a Safer Illinois.

CNDP staff participated in a press conference Wednesday morning to announce legislation that would legalize marijuana in Illinois. House Bill 2353 and Senate Bill 316 would permit adults to purchase up to one ounce of cannabis from a licensed store. All cannabis would be taxed at the state’s sale tax of 6.25%.

We introduced the newly formed Coalition for a Safer Illinois that will support the bills. Included are: Law Enforcement for Action Partnership (LEAP), Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Illinois Chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), and the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).

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Marijuana: Are Religious Values at Stake?

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp CT, Decriminalization, Legalization, Medical Marijuana, Tax and Regulate

Connecticut State Capitol building. Image Source.

It is good news that Connecticut may become the first state to legalize marijuana through the action of state legislators rather than by ballot initiative. On the morning of March 7, a new state coalition– Regulate Connecticut — held a press conference to launch a campaign to tax and regulate marijuana there. The Public Health Committee of the Connecticut House then held over 14 hours of hearings.

In the press conference, I made the case that legalizing marijuana can, and should, be made on religious, not just secular grounds. This is not immediately obvious. It requires a closer look.

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Medicaid, Drug Treatment Facing Revisions and Cuts

Rev. Saeed Richardson Take Action

The proposed repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act threatens nothing less than the dismantling of our national Medicaid program. Instead of a federal mandate, Medicaid will be passed on to the states.

Under proposed repeal and replacement, the designation of mental health and drug treatment will be eliminated as an essential health benefit for a broad range of very low-income families and individuals. When the must compete for state funds, these services will be the first to go.

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Asset Forfeiture = Theft

Rev. Saeed Richardson Ending Forfeiture Seizure, IL, Protestant Perspectives

Image credit, Tom Wolfe 

In November of 2015, the Washington Post reported that in the previous year law enforcement had taken more property from people – including cash, automobiles, and even homes – than burglars had stolen. Burglary losses amounted to $3.5 billion, while, shockingly, the net asset of police seizures amounted to $4.5 billion. (via The Institute for Justice) More disturbingly, this number reflected only federal statistics, and not seizures by state police and local law enforcement, data that in most cases is extremely difficult to obtain.

Law enforcement utilizes a practice known as civil asset forfeiture to permanently confiscate property they perceive to be involved in criminal activity. This is done without requiring officers to prove the person or the property is guilty and/or connected to criminal activity. The process to reclaim one’s property in the event of seizure is legally complex, expensive, and time-sensitive, making the extreme majority of assets logistically impossible for most people to reclaim. Furthermore, law enforcement is inherently incentivized to persist the practice as all funds obtained through asset forfeiture are re-directed to the operating budgets of their respective departments.

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