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.
Two influential faith leaders from the south and west sides joined forces last Wednesday to build a base of support in Chicago for harm reduction rather than arrests and jail as the response to drug abuse and addiction. Chief Apostle William McCoy and Bishop Claude Porter, with Congressman Danny Davis, hosted a symposium on “Challenges and Options” for a new drug policy featuring the voices of diverse individuals from law enforcement, government, healthcare, and policy advocacy. Over 50 community residents were present.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp It’s not surprising that one of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s first acts upon taking office almost a year ago was to create a special commission to help him reduce Illinois’ prison population by 25% within the next ten years. Reducing prison costs has become a national issue transcending the deep divisions between political parties. In a politically gridlocked state, it is an area in which he might achieve something. With a $4 billion current-year budget deficit looming, the potential savings in reduced costs of incarceration could come in handy. What are the prospects for real reform? Recent actions by the Governor raise serious doubts. Six months before the Commission is scheduled to produce his final report, he is blocking the kinds of changes essential to achieving its stated goals.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp There is a quiet but growing revolution in how we respond to drug addiction in this country.And it is starting in some places – would you believe it – with elected law enforcement officials and the police. “Diversion” is the technical word. The idea is to keep people out of the criminal justice system whenever possible. It makes no sense to recycle low-level, non-violent drug users off the streets, into jail, and back to the streets again, at huge public cost. This is foolish. When the user has serious mental health issues, it is downright immoral.
By Rev. Alexander E. Sharp s we launch the website for Clergy for a New Drug Policy, perhaps I might be permitted a personal note. What do we intend with this project? Why do we think it is necessary? The main purpose would seem to end the so-called War on Drugs. We have spent over $1 trillion since 1970 to fight a failed war that has turned us into a prisoner nation, divided us by race, and failed to reduce drug use or availability. So, yes, ending the War on Drugs is what we are about. But there is a more fundamental purpose. We need to transform the culture of punishment that has afflicted our nation since its earliest days.