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Connecticut Clergy Push Pot Legalization at State Capitol

PHOTO Mark Mirko / Hartford Courant


Connecticut Clergy Push Pot Legalization at State Capitol

Religious leaders gather to support ending the War on Drugs.

Faith leaders from across Connecticut converged on the state capitol recently to show their support for legalization efforts this year. The move comes on the heels of Connecticut’s legislative session starting last week. Also prompting the Feb. 18 press conference, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz are both filing cannabis legalization bills backed by Governor Ned Lamont during the new session. 

In light of the bills, a coalition of clergy gathered at the State Capitol for a news conference in support of the legislation to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. The festivities included the leadership of nearly a dozen congregations around the state, with a performance from the gospel choir “Brothers in Christ” of Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown.

At the gathering, the religious leaders spoke to the failure of the state’s current marijuana policies one by one. Rev. Alexander Sharp, executive director of Clergy for a New Drug Policy, spoke of the status quo saying that, “prohibition does not work.”

“Legalization will regulate the market and bring sorely needed revenue to the state budget, reduce needless arrests, especially for people of color, and provide jobs in communities ravaged by the failed War on Drugs,” Sharp said.

Clergy for a New Drug Policy’s mission is to mobilize clergy nationally on behalf of an agenda that ends the War on Drugs by allocating resources to education, treatment, and public safety. Their vision is, “a society in which values of compassion, mercy, and healing, especially concerning drug use, replace our nation’s culture of punishment.”

The organization currently has 14 partner organizations under their umbrella including the American Civil Liberties Union, Community of Congregations, Drug Policy Alliance, and Marijuana Policy Project.

The local clergy in attendance echoed Sharp’s sentiments.

“Connecticut can’t afford to wait any longer before addressing this urgent issue,” Bishop Robert L. Middleton said. “ It’s time to right the many wrongs associated with the prohibition of marijuana, and Connecticut can and should be a leader in this process.”

Middleton is the senior pastor of New Beginnings Ministry, Inc.

”I urge our legislators to pass legislation to regulate and tax cannabis for adults and end the harmful and failed policy of prohibition in our state,” he said.

Rev. Charlie Stallworth of East End Baptist Church in Bridgeport said he believes the results of legalization will be similar to what occurred when alcohol prohibition ended.

“Much like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, our efforts to deal with cannabis using law enforcement and the criminal justice system have been a total failure,” Stallworth said. “Regulation will free up resources so that police can focus on more serious crimes and will also help improve police/ community relationships. And, instead of continuing to fuel organized crime, the money spent on cannabis in our state can and should be used to help revitalize communities that have been disproportionately harmed by enforcement of laws against cannabis.”

Rev. Tommie Jackson of Rehoboth Fellowship Church in Stamford noted on the scale of the movement they had put together. “Our group represents more than 100 congregations across the state.”

Jackson said he believes there is a real need to make things happen sooner than later, and that it is critically important to make lawmakers act during this legislative session.

“Connecticut needs to send a strong message that the public safety and public health of its residents is a top priority,” Jackson said. “Regulation will reduce prison sentences, fund much-needed services, and direct revenue to those communities most negatively impacted by the war on cannabis. It’s time to pass it.”

Three different committees in Connecticut advances bills to legalize regulate and tax cannabis. Unfortunately, the legislature adjourned last June without bringing any of them to a vote. The Marijuana Policy Project says that the governor and legislative leaders have made it clear that they will be working a lot harder to legalize cannabis in Connecticut in 2020.

Jason Ortiz, president of the Minority Cannabis Business Association’s board, has been involved in Connecticut’s cannabis politics for over a decade. He believes the progress on cannabis started in the Governor’s Mansion years ago. 

“Governor Dan Malloy made it a priority for his administration to pass both decrim and medical and he did. So I would say cannabis policy started becoming a mainstream issue in 2011,” Ortiz told Cannabis Now. “I was there to work on both efforts as a college student through Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Malloy came through UConn multiple times and would always address criminal justice reform and drug policy specifically.”

We asked Ortiz how helpful is it having clergy on the pro-cannabis side of the debate?

“It’s incredibly helpful as they can appeal to the older generations in ways I and other young progressives just can’t,” he said. “There are thousands of older Latinos and African Americans that take their faith very seriously and will not support an issue their church does not support. This event means houses of worship across the state who are supportive of reducing suffering can feel supported if they want to come forward and support ending the war on cannabis users.”

Ortiz believes the leadership shown by these clergy will have incalculable ripple effects and change the way the conversation is discussed at Sunday dinner in homes across the state. 

The effort to legalize cannabis in Connecticut is being led by the Connecticut Coalition to Regulate Marijuana.

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