05/19/2014 01:39 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2014

My Church Is Calling for the Regulation of Drugs As a Path Towards Peace


El Salvador: a tropical country, full of beautiful beaches, coconuts, and butterflies.

But it is also part of the northern triangle of Central America. It is the smallest country in the American continent and the second most violent. In recent days (weeks, months, years), El Salvador has been immersed in a wave of murders and homicides. Daily life is marked by poverty, assault, abuse, heinous murder, extortion, lack of prospects, and the blood of brothers killing their own brothers for money, technology, drugs or information.

In the midst of such darkness, certain Christian communities, artists, and civil society groups are working to overcome this domestic, social and state violence, which abuses human rights and individual liberties. Some organize awareness campaigns, prayers, or direct intervention. One community is calling the loudest for drug policy reform: the Evangelical Protestant Church of El Salvador (IEPES). As the main spokesperson for our Church, I want to state that our community is convinced that legal regulation of drugs would benefit all parts of El Salvadoran society and has been shown to be a useful tool to reduce violence and crime in a surprising manner.

At IEPES, we believe in harm and risk reduction. We speak for many people that hope to produce their own medicine, to be able to use and plant cannabis without being criminalized, as well as for the people that use drugs problematically and need effective and humane treatment, based on evidence, love and respect. We also represent those that do not use illicit drugs but support the search for alternatives for greater social justice and social welfare.

On May 3, El Salvador held its first March for a New Drug Policy, attended by youth, civil society groups, and public officials that believe it is time to leave the war on drugs behind. International drug policy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance and the International Drug Policy Consortium, as well as El Salvadoran Fundación para el estudio y la aplicación del derecho and Movimiento Nuevo País, among others, supported the march. It is a day in which people in many countries of the world celebrate the Global Marijuana March. In El Salvador, we celebrated with a united call for peace.

Latin America has provided the highest number of deaths in the war on drugs. For that reason, it is Latin America that is leading the debate on drug policy reform because we can no longer leave our health, our safety, and our rights in the hands of criminals. We must get off this path of violent and antiquated drug policies and acknowledge that we can learn from new experiences.

In this small corner of the world, drug policy reform signifies a seed of hope, because through regulation, there will be new opportunities to develop and apply strategies to reduce the violence, risks, and harms of drug prohibition. As followers of Jesus of Nazareth, we are committed to loving our neighbors and this implies accepting and respecting one another even if our desires are different. It also means sustaining, guiding and accompanying those that are in a difficult moment of their lives.

Sending prayers and good wishes from El Salvador.