The Black Church vs. Marijuana

For some, abusing marijuana may be the doorway through which they delve into more deadly addictions. For others, a marijuana drug conviction will be the doorway through which they embark upon a life of crime.
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It didn't surprise me when the late C. Delores Tucker and a bevy of Christian leaders mounted a campaign against gangster rap in the mid 1990's. Gangster rap was ascending on the music charts just as the genre's sexually explicit and violent lyrics were deteriorating hip-hop culture. It wasn't the viewpoint of C. Delores Tucker and her supporters which disappointed me, but the "us against them" strategy she employed to get their message across. I thought to myself, those boys you're vilifying are your sons, grandsons, cousins and brothers.

Not much has changed in the black church since the 1990's. Christians still prefer to paint, with broad strokes, a picture of their enemy standing squarely in Satan's camp, and then bully said enemy into submission with vivid threats of fire and brimstone.

The latest evangelist to pick up the torch and pitchfork is Reverend Ron Allen of the International Faith Based Coalition in California. He and his ministerial posse have embarked on a campaign to oppose a California initiative which would tax and regulate marijuana. And wouldn't you just know it, they are also demonizing NAACP California Branch President Alice Huffman for her support of the ballot measure.

It is not hard to understand why Reverend Allen might be a bit disinclined to acknowledge the need for California lawmakers to relax the penalties against marijuana possession. Rev. Allen's a recovering crack addict. He views all drugs through the prism of his addiction.

Rev. Allen has said, "Drugs have no religious preferences." True. Drugs are neutral, but the addiction which robs so many addicts of their will, does have a personality preference. According to the National Academy of Sciences, addicts are more likely to be impulsive, alienated, stressed and nonconformist.

And just as there are a variety of social pressures and personality traits which drive people to addiction, there are also numerous levels of substance abuse. Why? Well, to put it quite simply: Not all drugs are created equal.

Although I've seen many crack addicts devolve to the point of non-recognition to both family and friends, I've yet to hear a doctor speak of crack as a natural cure. Marijuana, on the other hand, is often used by cancer patients to provide temporary relief from nausea and by AIDS patients to stimulate hunger. Cannabis is cure. Crack is whack.

Many marijuana smokers are casual users who smoke to relax or socialize. However, you are much more likely to see a crack addict moving heaven and earth to mount a refrigerator atop his back in hopes of selling it for $15 in order to get closer to that next high than you are to see him or her relaxing outside while smoking a "rock" after work.

California's Proposition 19 would acknowledge this dissimilarity and allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess an ounce of marijuana whereas currently, an ounce of marijuana is punishable by up to six months in jail or a $500 dollar fine.

Reverend Allen's argument, though flawed, is not void of all merit. For some, abusing marijuana may very well be the doorway through which they delve into other, much more deadly addictions. For others though, a marijuana drug conviction will be the doorway through which they embark upon a life of crime.

The question Rev. Allen must ask himself is not whether marijuana use is inconsequential, but whether or not any substance abuse should be punishable with jail time. I would ask the reverend, where's the mercy in such heavy-handed judgment?

He should also consider whether his personal experience provides enough empirical evidence for California to use it as a premise for crafting policy. If Rev. Allen chose to graduate from marijuana to crack, that was his choice (albeit a poor one). And his choice probably had more to do with his personality and circumstances than it did the intrinsically nefarious nature of marijuana.

It is time for Rev. Allen and his zealots to step down from their high horse long enough to realize that not all Californians are Christians, and therefore need not abide by Christian principles. It is also true that those who are Christian have vowed to let Jesus be their guide, not Rev. Allen.

In the 1990's, Christians smashed hip-hop CD's to prove their point. Now, in 2010, ministers are vilifying proponents of the legalization of marijuana to have their way. Isn't it time that black, well-meaning Christians asked, what would Jesus do?

Yvette Carnell is a political analyst for the African-American business and political news site,

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