For Rev. Alexander Sharp, claiming to be a person of faith while supporting the War on Drugs is inherently contradictory.
“If you really take the [Christian] faith seriously, you’re trying to heal and forgive and enable people to flourish; that’s what a God of love does,” Sharp, a Chicago-born ordained minister in the United Church, told Civilized. “These drug laws that are locking people up are simply inimical to the faith unless there’s a burden of proof that says they are hurting other people.”
This is one of the pillars of Clergy for a New Drug Policy. Spearheaded by Sharp, the multi-faith advocacy group mobilizes clergy nationally in the interest of ending the War on Drugs “by allocating resources to education, treatment and public safety”, according to their website.
Driven by their vision of a society in which “values of compassion, mercy and healing – especially concerning drug use – replace our nation’s culture of punishment”, the group advocates on behalf of issues like clemency, collateral consequences, decriminalization and medical marijuana – to name a few.
The organization got its footing while Sharp was heading the Illinois-based group, Protestants for the Common Good, which worked to change licensing laws that prevented former prisoners from applying to certain professions and those that allowed their records to be “held against them for the rest of their lives.”
As Sharp put it: “the notion that you pay your debt to society in the United States and probably most places is a myth.”
With these efforts, however, the course of Sharp’s activism gradually began to shift.
“As we worked on those laws, the more we realized that people shouldn’t be in the prison in the first place because they were low-level drug offenders and our judgment shouldn’t require prison offenses,” he said. “The people we were trying to help really took us to the War on Drugs and the ways in which it fills up our prisons and... leads to greater bias against African Africans and Hispanics.”
And thus, Clergy for a New Drug Policy was born. While the group started off by advocating largely for medical marijuana, their agenda today is “much broader”, said Sharp.
“The Jesus I know is a Jesus of mercy and compassion and healing, not a Jesus of punishment ... He helped people. He healed people. He personified faith and compassion and healing, and that’s what we ought to be doing with our criminal justice system in this country,” said Sharp, adding that “we live in a culture of punishment in this country and drug laws are certainly a major manifestation of [that culture].”
“We’re called upon to be a presence and a voice for the least of these. Most of the least of these are sitting in county jails when it comes to marijuana laws.”
It goes without saying that the group has its hands full these days, what with people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions leading a call to squash cannabis programs across the country.
That said, Sharp isn’t particularly concerned about the antiquated efforts of someone like Sessions, simply because “people know the drug war has failed across the board.”
“Consider the fact that over half the population of the U.S. lives in a state where medical marijuana has been approved ... People understand that this is an issue of justice, healing, compassion and mercy,” said Sharp.
“There’s no way Trump and Sessions are going to turn that around. Sessions can rattle the cage and say he’s going to go after states that have legalized marijuana, but what’s he actually going to be able to do? Not much.
“He can make it difficult, he can make some business leaders nervous, but he’s not going to be able to turn back progress and justice and enlightenment.”