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Nevada Legalization Campaign Gets Religious Backing

Join Together October 6, 2006

A coalition of churches and religious groups in Nevada has come out in support of a ballot item that would legalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use, the Reno Gazette Journal reported Oct. 3.

The group includes 32 churches from various denominations, mostly located in Las Vegas and Reno. Jewish groups and black churches are among those represented. "I know of no place else in the country where a group of religious leaders is coming together to speak with a unified voice with regulating marijuana," said Troy Dayton, the associate director for the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, a national organization for faith groups opposed to the war on drugs.

The Nevada churches are backing Question 7, which asks state voters to allow adults age 21 or older to possess, use and transfer up to one ounce of marijuana; the measure also calls for the state to set up a system for regulating sales of the drug and raises penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

"General moral concern about drugs plays in the hands of those opposed to this question," said Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Sinai in Reno. "But we're also morally concerned about justice and we believe that Question 7 is an appropriate way to regulate a small amount use of marijuana by adults."

Some religious leaders said that regulation of marijuana would prevent street-level dealing. "If there has to be a market in marijuana, I'd rather it be regulated with sensible safeguards than run by violent gangs and dangerous drug dealers," said Rev. William Webb of Reno's Second Baptist Church.

"We don't live in a perfect world, and often we don't have ideal choices, but we look to find the lesser evil," added Rev. Ruth Hanusa, minister of the Campus Christian Association at the University of Nevada at Reno. "Part of our call to be good stewards of our community's resources requires us to recognize that. The current policy is overkill and does not promote the common good. Controlling marijuana through regulations makes more sense."