A two-year study to discern how to advocate for “effective drug policies grounded in science, compassion and human rights” has been proposed to the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by San Francisco Presbytery.
Overture 029’s rationale states that the denomination “has clearly recognized the moral mandate to reexamine our nation’s current approach to substance abuse and drug-related crime with all its consequences. However, we have not yet dealt directly with our policy of prohibition of, and criminalization for, drug use. … The issues are complex, and serious change pushes us into unknown territory. Therefore, we call for a broad-based, all-church study that explores what is practically possible while holding up that which still needs the light of the Gospel.”
The overture asks the 2014 GA to set up a task force to study and discuss the issue with the PCUSA and to develop a plan of “concrete” actions and policy recommendations to present to the 2016 General Assembly.
The task force should include “volunteer members representing the following stakeholders/disciplines: policy analyst/advocate; subject matter specialists in addiction science, criminal justice, and international relations; law enforcement; judicial representative; formerly incarcerated drug offender/drug user activist; defense counsel/community litigator and a theologian.”
Along with several other actions, the overture asks that congregations, church councils and the task force consider the following questions:
- “What are the roles, responsibilities and limits of the state and citizenry in relation to our bodies, particularly with respect to what we market and sell for consumption and what we consume? What does Christian theology suggest about current drug policies, and our social responsibility to ensure health for members of our communities? What are the spiritual and ethical implications of: massive and disproportionate incarceration of drug offenders, especially people of color, and of the militarization of relations with the nations involved in illicit drug cultivation and/or trafficking?
- “Does current U.S. drug policy achieve its stated goal to reduce production and consumption of illegal drugs, or does it serve other policy goals, institutional interests, societal norms, or systemic forces? If so, how do we define those other goals, interests, norms, and forces?
- “What laws, policies, programs, and treaties currently govern our nation’s responses to the production, transit, and use of illicit drugs?
- What are the consequences of maintaining current punitive drug policies? …”
The rationale asserts that the “proclamation of restoration, liberation and new beginnings” lies at the heart of Jesus’ mission and following that mission “entails participation in very concrete actions of social renewal.”
It claims that drug prohibition has “disproportionate impact” on what the overture calls the “most vulnerable members of society, particularly poor blacks and Hispanics.”
“Even though whites outnumber blacks five to one and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, African Americans comprise 35 percent of those arrested for drug possession; 55 percent of those convicted for drug possession; and 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession. … Our recognition of the institutional racism in how our drug laws are written, administrated, enforced is a continuation of the need for racial reconciliation identified in the Confession of 1967.”