Unitarian Universalists fight to end Drug War

By Chuck Thomas, President, UUs for Drug Policy Reform

In June 2000, delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) general assembly voted to increase our religious denomination's involvement in the struggle for more just and compassionate drug policies. In fact, Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have been advocating drug policy reform for more than 30 years.

Unlike most churches, UUs are not bound to any particular religious creed. Instead of rigid rules or dogmas, we affirm and promote several universal principles, including acceptance of one another, the right of conscience, and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Following these principles, our denomination has passed three resolutions since 1970 that advocate treating drug use and abuse as health concerns, rather than crimes. Excerpts include:

UUA Resolution on "Legalization of Marijuana," 1970

"The UUA urges that all local, state or provincial and federal laws in the United States and Canada making the growing, sale, trade and possession of marijuana a criminal offense be immediately repealed; [and] that any effects of the consumption of marijuana that may be found injurious to the user be handled by the proper psychological and medical care and not by criminal law."

UUA Resolution on "Drugs," 1973

"The effort to control heroin addiction by outlawry and strict law enforcement has not reduced heroin addiction, but, by making it extremely profitable, has increased it many times. ...This has led to a disastrous breakdown and corruption of our entire law enforcement and judicial process and to a vast increase in street violence and crime, jeopardizing the future existence of our metropolitan cities themselves.

"The UUA urges . . . counseling, therapy, therapeutic communities, referral services, methadone maintenance, or where necessary, heroin maintenance, all under medical supervision."

UUA Resolution on "Substance Abuse," 1991

"The 'War on Drugs,' which emphasizes the interdiction of supply and criminalization of use, has . . . fostered an illegal market with criminal side effects as harmful as the addictions themselves. Be it resolved . . . that the UUA promote the examination of the ethical and social ramifications of decriminalization and legalization of controlled substances; and . . . develop educational materials for all ages about substance abuse."

While light years ahead of other denominations, the UUA is relatively small (approximately 250,000 members nationwide), and UUs are typically active on a wide variety of social justice issues. As a result, our denomination has not had much time to advocate drug policy reform over the years.

However, in June 2000, we passed an "Alternative to the War on Drugs" Study/Action Issue. The UUA's directive for the next two years is to develop a comprehensive Statement of Conscience on drug policy and to make drug policy reform a high priority for action in the UU congregations.

To facilitate this activity, several UUs formed a new organization called UUs for Drug Policy Reform (UUDPR). We bring not just our passion for the UU principles, but also our extensive experience in the field of drug policy reform. For example, one UUDPR board member, John Chase, is currently the November Coalition's regional leader for central Florida, and I have been director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project since 1995. In October, UUDPR was approved as an Independent Affiliate of the UUA.

Although the UUA is small compared to most religious denominations, UUs have much strength:

  • UUs have a long history of successful advocacy work. Our forebears include Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Clara Barton and Susan B. Anthony. Simply put, we fight for our beliefs, and we do it well.
  • UUs have an average of more than 500 members in each congressional district. If even a fraction of the nation's UUs start lobbying on this issue, we will have a tremendous political influence.
  • UUs bring a voice of morality to the struggle for drug policy reform. Thus far, the prohibitionists have been successful because they argue that drug use is immoral. We can match that: Regardless of whether or not one believes that drug use is immoral, UUDPR asserts that it is immoral to punish people who are involved with drugs. We believe in the "transformative power of love," not coercion. If someone is hurting himself/herself, we intervene with communication - not guns, handcuffs and prison cells.

The drug war is cruel, costly, and counterproductive, and there's finally a religious group ready to say so.

You can help us to help you

  • Contact a local UU church. You can look up "Unitarian Universalist" under the "churches" or "religions" section of the yellow pages, or find a way to access www.uua.org and click on "find a congregation near you." Ask for pastoral care. If you're incarcerated, encourage the minister or another member of the congregation to visit you, or at least correspond via mail. Perhaps arrange for the entire congregation to tour the facility, and show them what the drug war is really like - then urge them to speak out on your behalf.
  • Urge your friends and relatives on the outside to become active UUs and spur their local congregations into action. At the very least, they can participate in drug policy workshops and even set up tables to facilitate letter writing (to public officials, letters-to-the-editor, etc.) during the coffee hour following worship every Sunday morning.
  • Support UUs for Drug Policy Reform. Visit www.uudpr.org, e-mail CharlesThomas@uudpr.org, or write to John Chase, 1620 E Dorchester Dr, Palm Harbor, FL 34684 or email johnc@november.org. If you can make a financial contribution, please do. We need funding to coordinate the drug policy reform activities of nearly 1,000 UU congregations nationwide.

    Thank you - and please don't ever give up hope. Your deep, internal goodness cannot be destroyed, no matter what happens in this world.