“Decriminalization” refers to enforcement that regards the possession of a drug as a civil, but not a criminal offense, much like a minor traffic violation. The sale or trafficking of drugs remains a criminal offense.
Seventeen states and Washington D.C have decriminalized marijuana, including Vermont, Maryland, and Missouri within the last two years.
Support for decriminalization with religious communities is growing. On June 20, 2014, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference and the Drug Policy Alliance in Nashville held a convening of civil rights and religious leaders. Together, they called for the “repealing of laws that criminalize drug possession and replacing them with policies that expand access to effective health approaches to drug use, including evidence-based drug treatment, eliminating policies that result in racially disproportionate arrest and incarceration rates, and policies that unjustly exclude people with a record of arrest or conviction from key rights and opportunities.”
It is significant that African-American pastors played the lead role in crafting this declaration. It is primarily African-American communities that are being devastated by the War on Drugs. Patterns of law enforcement in mostly white, suburban neighborhoods result in very different arrest figures despite the fact that drug use is the same across ethnic groups.
States targeted for decriminalization in 2015 and 2016 include Delaware, Illinois, New Hampshire and Texas. Clergy for a New Drug Policy will conduct on-the-ground organizing in Illinois, Delaware, and New Hampshire towards this effort.
Decriminalization In the News
Will Hawaii be the first state to decriminalize all drugs?
Sun Times – April 1, 2016
Which States are Eyeing Cannabis Decriminalization in 2016?
Leafly – January 4, 2016
Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Filed in Illinois, Faith Leaders Voice Support
Daily Chronic – December 10, 2015
Decriminalise drugs to meet users’ right to good health, says UN adviser
The Guardian – December 9, 2015
Decriminalizing Drugs: When Treatment Replaces Prison
The New York Times – December 8, 2015
Blog Posts on Decriminalization
Marijuana: Are Religious Values at Stake?March 23, 2017
Testimony in MarylandFebruary 22, 2017
Symposium Calls for Harm Reduction and TreatmentAugust 30, 2016
No More “Marked for Life”August 9, 2016