Time to Bury the Drug War and Envision New Drug Policies Rooted in Mercy and Compassion

As a Christian, this Easter, I am forced to think more deeply about what my Christianity means to me in the age of the global war on drugs. A war that has ravaged poor and Black and Brown communities here in the United States, and abroad has threatened democracies and destabilized states in Central and South America and elsewhere, and costs trillions of dollars and countless innocent lives.

I am now convinced that the war on drugs is simply not about drugs as many policymakers may want me to believe. Too many people are being harmed by our current drug policies. When our solution to a problem is doing more harm than the problem we're trying to fix--we are fighting a losing battle. Forty years of sticking our heads in the sand is just reckless and irresponsible. It's past time for a new approach in U.S and international drug policy.

So, if you're a Christian-practicing or not, or just human, I admonish you to stop and reflect on what we've allowed to happen under our watch and to commit to take action to change these punitive and dehumanizing national and global drug policies.

In the middle of March, I had the opportunity to attend the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna. As world leaders discussed and debated global drug policy, the people impacted by the global drug war were few in numbers, and those of us from "civil" society were relegated to the back of the room to observe a process that would continue punishing and marginalizing millions of people across the globe.

Observing the CND process was both personally frustrating and enlightening. In that grey, lifeless, and overheated room in Vienna, people who use and sell drugs were made invisible, voiceless and stateless--with only a few to represent their interests in a real and meaningful way.

In Vienna, we needed a Jesus moment. An opportunity to speak up for the humanity of those among us that we've cast away based on the gods we've created that judge others based on our own sense of righteousness.

The hypocrisy is deafening. In some of the most religious countries on this planet we've locked up and dehumanized the greatest number of people. I cannot help but think of the southern United States--the Bible Belt--states with some of the highest rates of incarceration and the most punitive drugs laws. States like Louisiana and Oklahoma where compassion, justice, and redemption should be the corner stone of their drug policy-making, and based on their unflinching commitment to Christianity. This is not the time to hide under the cloak of morality. We have an obligation to walk our Christian talk on love, compassion, and mercy; not doing so when it's convenient but when it's necessary.

There is hope. From April 19-21 world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York City at a UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the "world drug problem." The UNGASS is an opportunity to stand up and speak out on behalf of the men and women who are unable to be at the table and, who, like Jesus, are victims of bad government policy. (Yes, Jesus was arrested, prosecuted, and killed by the state for a non-violent crime that he didn't commit).

With all of our Christian-ness, the United States locks up more people than anywhere in the world. According to the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, "one in three African American men will go to prison or jail if current trends continue." This is happening under our watch. The lack of drug treatment for poor people, and people of color in the United States is a major problem and yet, the federal government refuses to fully embrace the term: harm reduction as a public health solution to alleviate the harms of drug use on individuals and families. Again, in all of our Christian-ness, we've allowed our leaders to act recklessly and wantonly with the lives of our brothers and sisters who happen to use drugs.

Surprisingly, Jesus was in the business of reducing harm. A perfect example is the story of the woman who committed adultery and, on the verge of being stoned to death by a group of men, Jesus, admonished them, "all right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" John 8:7. Though adultery was considered a "sin," stoning this woman to death would do more harm than her adulterous behavior. Regardless of your beliefs on drug use--criminalizing and severely punishing a person for simply using drugs is worse.

As Christians and global citizens, we are called to be on the frontline of the struggle for global drug policy reform because it the righteous place to be in this fight for mercy, compassion and justice for those impacted by our very un-Christian and immoral war on drugs.

And, this Easter, a time of rebirth and resurrection is a good time to earnestly begin our advocacy to stop the harm and end the war on people who use and sell drugs in the U.S., and everywhere.