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HOLY SMOKE! Legalise the weed, say church officials

AT LEAST one prominent official of the Jamaican Christian community has called for the legalisation of drugs -- starting with marijuana -- and he has received cautious support from other religious leaders.

The widely respected Rev. Oliver Daley of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, says it's illogical, hypocritical, and oppressive to regard ganja as an illegal substance while the jury is still out on whether it's addictive or dangerous.

At the same time, he notes, it is perfectly legal to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, both of which are not only addictive, but "natural born killers".

He emphasises that neither he nor the church is suddenly condoning the use of drugs, and notes that the drug trade is the single greatest threat to the fabric of society.

He argues, however, that we cannot legislate morality. Not everything that is a sin should also logically be a crime, he adds.

Adultery, for example, is a sin but the Reverend says it would be impractical to make it illegal, a lesson that the church has learnt over the years, and a lesson the politicians need to learn now about drugs.

Bishop Robert Foster of the Moravian Church, in a guarded response to Rev. Daley's proposal, concedes that the drug war has failed, and adds that anything that would diminish the value of drugs and the related greed around it would be welcome. He concludes that the case for legalising drugs is one that should be "carefully considered."

"Willing to discuss it," is the response of former Jamaica Council of Churches (JCC) President Rev. Stanley Clarke, who says he would be reluctant to legalise all drugs but would consider ganja. He says "in the current Jamaican environment it is senseless to arrest someone for a spliff or for growing a plot of weed for personal use -- making a criminal out of someone for a harmless activity."

In the 1999 Synod Papers of his church, Rev. Daley states the following, among other points:

In spite of all the draconian laws drugs are available at any street corner in any of our communities.

More people seem to die from the trade than from the use.

All public officials -- courts, customs, law enforcement agencies -- are vulnerable to the corruption of the drug lords, and our society has become more dangerous to live in.

Our prisons and legal system are overtaxed with the consequence of prohibition.

Prohibition did not work at the start of the 20th century, and it surely is not working at the close. When things are prohibited, but retain an economic value, we tend to behave more like the beasts than like the gods.

We are losing the war on drugs and a new approach must be found, one which includes using the billions of dollars being wasted on policing drugs for health, education, and rehabilitation instead. This is not only more logical, but more humane, he figures.

It is also somewhat illogical, he agrees, that the very people employed to stamp out the drug trade are themselves in effect sustained by the trade. "If illegal drugs were to disappear these law enforcement officials would be rendered irrelevant and out of a job."

This situation diminishes the moral authority of many of those employed to wage war against drugs.

Rev. Daley concedes, however, that it might be difficult for Jamaica to legalise cocaine without the collaboration of other countries, since we are only a small part of the trade and the politics around it.

But, "where ganja is concerned, where we are a major supplier, and where it is a substance bearing cultural and religious relevance to some in our society," he believes we would be well within both rights and reason to free up the weed.

­ Tony Morrison

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