More than 60 religious leaders in Illinois are calling on state senators this week to pass a bill that would allow patients to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation and without criminal consequences.
“Medical marijuana is an issue of mercy and compassion,” said Rev. Bill Pyatt of the First United Methodist Church of Carthage. “We pray that the Illinois legislature will have the compassion to stop this war on patients.”
Many religious leaders also hope the discussion about easing restrictions on marijuana use will widen the conversation about treating illegal drug use as a public health issue instead of a crime.
Religious proponents of the Senate bill, which is expected to be decided before Thursday, say although medical marijuana use and decriminalization of drug use are related, they are separate issues.
Several studies suggest that marijuana can mitigate nausea, pain and anxiety for patients with illnesses such as HIV, cancer, multiple sclerosis and chronic pain. Theological arguments are based on these findings.
“Jesus lived his life healing those where he could,” said Rev. Al Sharp, executive director of Chicago-based Protestants for the Common Good. “This is entirely consistent with that.”
Denominations that officially support medical marijuana include the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Union for Reform Judaism, Unitarian Universalist Association, Episcopal Church, and United Church of Christ.
If passed, the legislation would create a three-year pilot program allowing the state Department of Public Health to give registry identification cards to people with doctors’ recommendations for cannabis. Eligible patients would be entitled to seven dried cannabis plants and 2 ounces of dried usable cannabis.
Illinois State Police oppose the bill, saying there is no way to measure impairment for enforcement of DUI laws, and calling marijuana a gateway drug.
For decades, the “holy war on drugs” has focused less on law enforcement and more on providing havens and recovery.
“There are a lot of folks who are looking at re-entry of folks coming out of prison,” Sharp said. “We need to look at it from the front end called ‘no entry.’ It is very repressive drug laws putting people in prison who should have other alternatives.”
By Manya A. Brachear |Tribune reporter