Religious Declaration for New Drug Policy

New Drug PolicyAs voices of faith, we call for an end to the War on Drugs which the United States has waged, at home and abroad, for over 40 years. This War has failed to achieve its stated objectives; deepened divisions between rich and poor, black, white, and brown; squandered over one trillion dollars; and turned our country into a “prisoner” nation.

Over 2.3 million people are now incarcerated in the US, more than any other nation on the planet, including Russia, South Africa, and China.

The U.S. to an alarming degree manifests as Theologian Richard Snyder reminds us, a “culture of punishment.”

The U.S. to an alarming degree manifests as a “culture of punishment.”Theologian Richard Snyder

Weapons of punishment include a federal budget of over $215 billion for prisons, police and courts; mandatory minimum sentencing; seizures of property by law enforcement without due process; indiscriminate, and highly discriminatory, police sweeps as attempts to tamp down entire neighborhoods; and the privatizing of prisons. The ideology of this War is now embedded in our institutions of law enforcement and abetted politicians who fear being labeled soft on crime.

The War on Drugs when it was conceived in 1971 sought to conflate race and crime in the public mind for political purposes. This has worked. Even though drug use is roughly equivalent across ethnic groups, the vast proportion of those in jail are people of color. In 2006, one in every 15 black men was behind bars and one in every 34 Latino men, compared to one in 104 white men. As a result, young black men in most states are more likely to go to prison than college.


A spirit of punishment has been embedded in the national psyche since the earliest days of our nation. This theology of punishment is wrong and must be reversed.

Law serves many important functions. It keeps us from harming each other. But punishment in the hands of the criminal justice system to instruct personal morality results in arrests that brand people for life, even for minor possible offenses. It separates us from each other, and marginalizes individuals, most often people of color.

As clergy who oppose institutional racism, we have more than ample reason to seek alternatives to this Drug War on grounds of injustice. But our faith should take us even deeper. It should cause us to reject its very premise, based on our religious principles of compassion, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and love.


Specifically, we urge adoption of the following recommendations and next steps:

  • Expand diversion programs that offer education and treatment rather than jail for those possessing drugs who have not harmed others and require such services.
  • Promote harm reduction programs that protect individuals as they use drugs and assist them in becoming drug free.
  • Reduce collateral consequences, including restoration of eligibility for housing, food stamps, education grants, and other supports for those seeking to rebuild their lives after a conviction for low-level drug use.
  • Eliminate at the state and federal levels mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession.
  • Support clemency for individuals sentenced under prior drug laws that would not be found guilty under present law.
  • Pass medical cannabis in those states beyond the 23 that have already done so.
  • Review at the national level models in other countries, including Portugal, that have decriminalized the possession of all drugs; and develop pilot projects to test this model.
  • Revise forfeiture laws that enable police to seize property of those accused but not convicted of drug law violation.

We declare our support for these recommendations and next steps, with the collective purpose of seeking an end to the failed War on Drugs and advancing a paradigm of “health not punishment” in our society.


Please sign here if you’d like to add your name in support of the Religious Declaration.

Al Sharp, Illinois
Director, Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Rachel Foran, Illinois
Project Coordinator, Clergy for a New Drug Policy 

Nancy Brandt, Illinois
Lay Leader, St. Pauls UCC – Chicago

Kaia Stern, Massachusetts
Director, Prison Studies Project – Harvard University

Rev. Dr. Kwame Abayomi, Washington D.C.
CEO, UMOJA Village, Inc.

Rev. Jim Conn, California
Retired Minister, United Methodist Church

Rev. Clare L. Petersberger, Maryland
Minister, The Towson Unitarian Universalist Church

Gaylon Alcaraz, Illinois

Pastor Leslie K. Ritter-Jenkins, Illinois
Pastor, St. John UCC

Bernard S. Dyme, Illinois
President & CEO, Perspectives Ltd.

Denny Gallaudet, Maine
Retired School Superintendent

John Shepard, Georgia

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Kahn, Washington D.C.
Rabbi, Takoma Wellness Center

Sokoni Karanja, Illinois
Founder and Senior Advisor, Centers for New Horizons,Inc

Margaret O’Dell, Illinois

Georgia Smith, Illinois
Senior, Church Member, St Paul’s UCC

Thomaas Kenemore, Ph.D., Illinois
Associate Professor, Chicago State University, Master of Social Work Program

Bernard Lacour, Illinois

Janice E. Spraggins, Illinois
Minister, The Congregational Church of Park Manor UCC

Sallie Baker, Colorado
Member, Former Elder, Presbyterian Church USA, South Park Community Church

Rev. Dr. Tasha M. Vinson Brown, Illinois
Pastor, Galewood Community Church UCC

Jane Ramsey, Illinois
President, Just Ventures LLC

Rev. Pat Bumgardner, New York
Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Community Churches

Rev. Nancy Wilson, Florida

Rev. Jason Coulter, Illinois
Pastor, Ravenswood UCC

Betty C. Jacobs, Illinois
Retired Attorney

Drew Rindfleisch, Illinois
Pastor, San Lucas United Church of Christ

E. Garnet Fay, Illinois
Presiding Clerk, Chicago Friends Meeting (Quakers)

Rev. Wendy A. Witt, Illinois
Pastor, 1st UMC at the Chicago Temple

Rev. Kevin J. McLemore,  Illinois
Pastor, Epiphany United Church of Christ

Hope Reyes, Illinois
Program Minister, Irving Park United Methodist Church

Rev. Richard Mosley Jr., Illinois
Reverend, Hemenway United Methodist Church

Rev. Barbara Peter, H.R., Illinois
Honorably Retired, Presbyterian Church USA

Rev. Roger Dart, Illinois
Associate Pastor for Justice and Witness, Congregational Church in Deerfield UCC

Elizabeth Bradner, Illinois

Rev. Dr. Rex E. Piercy, Illinois
Pastor, Congregational United Church of Christ

Rev. Ronnie J. Smith, Illinois
Reverend, Providence Baptist Church

Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks, Illinois
Executive Director and Ordained Minister, A Just Harvest, San Lucas UCC, Namasté UCC

Julie Caise, Illinois

Todd Belcore, Illinois

Rev. Mark Agnini, Illinois
Reverend, Libertarian Party of Illinois

Pastor David W. Watkins, III, Illinois
Senior Pastor, Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church

Reverend Mark Meeks, Colorado
Minister, Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church

Pastor Jeffrey Mullins, Illinois
Pastor and Pastor of Operations

Major Neill Franklin, Maryland
Executive Director, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)

Rev. Laura Bradford Walker, Illinois
Pastoral Counselor, Evergreen Park Ministry

Rev. Avena Ward, Illinois
Associate Pastor, 
St. Pauls UCC

Rev. John Modschiedler, Illinois
Rev. Dr., Retired, Member, University Church, Chicago, IL

Daniel Romero, Illinois
Chaplain Intern

Windsor S. Smyser, Bard OBOD, Illinois
Bard, Order of Bards, Ovaites, & Druids

Tiffany Williams, Illinois

Rev. Daniel Dale, Illinois
Reverend, Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ

John Held, Illinois

Rev. Dr. Douglas R. Sharp, Illinois
Interim Minister, Hyde Park Union Church

Rev. Kara Wagner Sherer, Illinois
Rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church

Rev. Wayne T. Bradley, M.M., Illinois
Pastor Emeritus, Good Shepherd Parish

Michael Nicholas Dovellos, Indiana
Northwest Indiana NORML

Rev. Laura Sumner TruaxIllinois
Senior Pastor, 
LaSalle Street Church

Alli Baker, Illinois
Co-Pastor, Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ

Rev. Erik Christensen, Illinois
Pastor, St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square

Katie Dohr, Illinois

Dan Foran, Illinois

MacEagon Voyce, Massachusetts

Kimetha Dunn, Illinois

Joel Levenson, New York
Rabbi, Midway Jewish Center

Melissa Voyce, Minnesota

Rev. Franklin I. Gamwell, Illinois

Rev. Peter Laarman, California
Coordinator, Justice Not Jails

Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum, Minnesota
Chaplain, Carleton College

Melissa Bartholomew, Massachusetts

Rev. Stuart Barnes Jamieson, Illinois

Paul Rubin, New Jersey

Adam Sunde, Wisconsin

Tommy Rigsby, Texas