31 Days, 31 Ideas

31 Days, 31 Ideas

31 innovative ideas to transform the Jewish future from Daniel Sieradski, posted over the course of 31 days, beginning January 1, 2010.

January 31, 2010 at 3:58am


29. Jews for Just & Compassionate Drug Policy

Perhaps the most overlooked social justice issue in America today upon which the Jewish community can have a greater impact is the war on drugs.

There are many reasons why Jews should care about the drug war:

  • We have a responsibility to to be merciful towards those less fortunate — to care for the orphan and window, the weak and downtrodden.
  • We are obligated to heal the sick — to treat and prevent illness.
  • As a people, we are committed to medicine and science, a tradition stretching from Maimonides to the Israeli biotech industry.
  • We have a rigorous intellectual tradition that demands accuracy, levelheadedness and reason.
  • We are obligated to create just courts and to actively pursue justice and as such we excel in the practice of law and public service.
  • We are committed to the struggle for civil and human rights for ourselves and others.
  • As an American faith community, we have a vested interest in protecting religious freedom and cognitive liberty — our inalienable human rights.
  • As supporters of Israel, we have a vested interest in cutting off the flow of funds to terrorist organizations.

So did you know:

"The United States leads the world in the number of people incarcerated in federal and state correctional facilities. There are currently more than 2 million people in American prisons or jails. Approximately one-quarter of those people held in U.S. prisons or jails have been convicted of a drug offense. The United States incarcerates more people for drug offenses than any other country. With an estimated 6.8 million Americans struggling with drug abuse or dependence, the growth of the prison population continues to be driven largely by incarceration for drug offenses.”

The U.S. spends approximately $40 billion taxpayer dollars each year prosecuting the drug war, and yet the popularity and availability of drugs has not at all been impacted. All the while the incarceration rate continues to grow and government contractors continue to profit.

Yet anyone with their head on straight, who is not a proponent of anti-drug hysteria, can see that:

  • Drug addiction is a social problem, not a criminal behavior. Drug addiction is an illness that requires treatment, not imprisonment.  Prisons are where addicts learn to become hardened criminals.  Though we cannot forcibly stop people from using drugs, we can help to reduce the harm they pose to themselves and others.
  • The vast majority of those behind bars for drug offenses are black, despite the fact that whites are five times more likely than blacks to use drugs. Discriminatory law enforcement has created a situation wherein black youth are being used as fodder to sustain a prison industrial complex that financially benefits law enforcement agencies and prison contractors. This is a grave civil rights injustice.
  • Regulation would eliminate the black market for illegal drugs, which funds criminal and terrorist activity in Israel and the world over and which necessitates international drug interdiction operations that are costly to taxpayers and which cause grave harm to already-suffering third world civilian populations.
  • Not all drugs are addictive nor personally destructive.  In fact, many drugs that have been outlawed for their recreational potential have verifiable medical applications that are being withheld from those whom they can genuinely benefit. Medical marijuana is effective in treating the symptoms of AIDS, cancer, MS, arthritis and various other diseases. Psilocybin and LSD have proven to be effective treatments for migraine and cluster headaches. MDMA therapy is without question the single most effective treatment for PTSD and anxiety. All of this has been discovered in only the last decade, as the U.S. and Israeli governments have slowly and painfully begun to open up provincially to this kind of research. The list will only grow, and these treatments will only come to market, if we stop obstructing psychedelics research and allow our doctors to treat sick patients.
  • Consensual crimes are an offense to the notion of freedom, and cognitive liberty — that is, the right to experiment with your own consciousness — is an inalienable human right and the fundamental basis of religious freedom.  The use of psychedelics by spiritual communities, religious denominations and individuals (under the observation of licensed practitioners) should be adamantly defended, as we would defend our right to engage in any Jewish religious ritual. So long as one takes precautions so as not to harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, he should be free to go as deep in or as far out as he wishes to go, "without anyone to oppress or disturb" him.
  • The war on drugs is an immense waste of taxpayer dollars — all the more so at a time when our government is planning to implement an across-the-board spending freeze.  Ending the war on drugs and taxing and regulating the sale of marijuana would help tilt the balance sheet back in Americans’ favor. Marijuana should be regulated similarly to alcohol and tobacco, whereas it has been proven numerous times over to be far less dangerous than either of the two. The California state assembly, the first in the nation, recently voted to legalize marijuana and expects to generate at least $1 billion in tax revenues annually. Imagine how much they’ll save in law enforcement and incarceration costs on top of that.

So, where do we, the Jews, come in?

  • The Jewish community, through FEGS and other efforts, has helped to provide treatment programs for addicts around the country.  These programs can benefit even more people with a coordinated legislative effort to promote a reduction in wasteful drug war spending and a further expansion of federal support for faith-based treatment programs.
  • Israelis and American Jews lead the world in the field of psychedelic medicine but are constantly obstructed in their research by bad drug policy. We must support and defend their research and the rights of patients to have access to all available methods of treatment. We need more legislators and attorneys working to repeal restrictions on psychedelic research and access to medical marijuana.
  • We must defend the rights and fight for the care of the sick and dying. There is a wealth of rabbinic knowledge that can be brought to bear on this issue, and it is encouraging to see that our community is beginning to make traction in this area, from the Reform movement to the Orthodox community. An informed Jewish take on caring for the sick can have a tremendous impact if, once a concretized platform, we can use it to engage the Christian community in ecumenical dialogue about the drug war. If we can get Rick Warren with us on this issue, we can start turning it around.
  • The leading drug policy reform organizations in America today are staffed, led and funded by Jews. Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is funded by George Soros, is the son of a Recon rabbi. David Borden of StopTheDrugWar.org is an affiliated progressive Conservative Jew. Rick Doblin, of the MAPS, is the grandson of one of Tel Aviv’s forefathers.  In addition to being cofounded by two prominent Jewish academics — Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan — since 1970, NORML has had at least five Jewish executive directors. Many of these individuals specifically connect their work in drug policy reform to their Jewishly-imbued commitment to social justice (I have them on tape saying so). These individuals should be celebrated as social justice heroes in our community, just as we regard the likes of our great civil rights leaders, feminists, anti-genocide activists, and so on.
  • Jewish legislators, prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys have a wealth of knowledge and experience to bring to the table on this issue and could, together, help draft legal challenges to our more egregiously unjust drug laws.  Constitutional attorneys can help protect and expand individual cognitive liberty and religious freedom. In some cases, via the ACLU for example, this is already happening. We should highlight and support the work of those leading the charge.

Jews for Just & Compassionate Drug Policy would:

  • Bring a Jewish social justice voice to bear on the drug war
  • Mobilize Jewish clergy, professionals, layleaders and communities towards Jewish action against the drug war
  • Honor and support the work of Jewish drug policy reform advocates with awards and grants
  • Aid in the coordination of drug policy reform efforts in and between Israel and the United States
  • Petition and lobby legislators for policy reform and in defense of the unjustly prosecuted
  • Engage faith communities in ecumenical dialogue
  • Convene Jewish legislators, attorneys and rabbis to discuss reform initiatives and to coordinate strategy


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