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IDPI: madness in Maryland; going 'all in' in Nevada

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 09, 2006 10:03 pm    Post subject: IDPI: madness in Maryland; going 'all in' in Nevada Reply with quote

A message from my mailbox with information that might be of interest...

TO: supporters of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative
FROM: Charles Thomas, executive director

In this update:
1. So close yet so far in Maryland
2. IDPI makes a big commitment to marijuana regulation and taxation in Nevada
3. IDPI's Work in the News
4. William Martin, M.Div., Ph.D. joins IDPI's Leadership Council
5. Mark Berkson, Ph.D., joins IDPI's Leadership Council
6. Leadership Council makes IDPI a powerhouse


1. So close yet so far in Maryland

IDPI pulled out all the stops this year to help the Maryland Campaign for Treatment Not Incarceration lobby for a bill to repeal mandatory minimum drug sentencing and restore judicial discretion. However, despite the coalition's valiant efforts, the politicians defied reason, morality, and the pressure of their constituents by not allowing the bill to reach the floor. We were one vote short!

IDPI facilitated the active lobbying of almost every influential religious group in the state. The Maryland Catholic Conference, United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church, Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries, and others submitted written testimony and/or generated calls to key legislators.

In addition, IDPI's religious outreach coordinator for Maryland, Rev. Terry Hawkins, persuaded more than 30 clergy in the state to endorse a sign-on letter and testified before both houses. She also got a prominent bishop from the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) to testify. Bishop Adam Richardson's testimony was heart-felt and moving and he has made drug sentencing reform one of his top priorities. You can read his testimony at

In one key legislative district, IDPI generated over a dozen calls from prominent clergy in the district.

In the end, it was the stubbornness of one legislator on a committee that stopped it. Had one more legislator voted yes, the legislation would have likely sailed through both houses and the governor would have probably signed it.

But we are not giving up. Rev. Hawkins spent the remainder of her three-month contract with IDPI reaching out to faith leaders all across the state to build an even stronger force for next year.

Please visit to make a financial contribution to IDPI's important work.

2. IDPI makes a big commitment to marijuana regulation and taxation in Nevada

IDPI Associate Director Troy Dayton has relocated to Nevada to continue his work generating religious support for regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol in Nevada. Voters in Nevada will vote on a ballot initiative in November that, if passed, would make this policy change.

Troy is asking both conservative and liberal religious leaders to sit down with him to discuss "an innovative public policy strategy to address the problem of marijuana use and marijuana laws."

In the meetings he talks to them about how taking marijuana out of the criminal market and regulating access would be a better solution than the current free-for-all that marijuana prohibition ensures.

A couple of months ago, Troy met with 18 religious leaders -- Unitarians, Catholics, conservative evangelical Christians, and everything in between. After meeting with Troy, 16 of them were generally supportive of the idea!

Isn't that remarkable? It went even better than expected.

What this tells us is that regardless of whether religious leaders are conservative or liberal, if they take the time to seriously consider the drug issue with someone they trust, they will come out on our side more often than not.

We initially hoped to find a clergyperson to finish the job from May through November, but we were unable to find someone who was the right fit.

Because this project holds so much promise, we decided to send Troy out there for six months to meet face-to-face with hundreds of religious leaders who can make the difference in this effort.

Outspoken support from the faith community could be the missing ingredient that puts those undecided voters into the "yes" column.

Our work activating religious support for medical marijuana, needle exchange, and sentencing reform is crucial. But garnering enough support from the faith community to pass a marijuana regulation initiative in a red would truly be historic!

It feels so good to officially be part of making history. Make it official by making a generous donation to IDPI at

3. IDPI's Work in the News

Currently, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency, is the only legal grower of marijuana for FDA-approved studies on the drug. This makes it nearly impossible for scientists to obtain a supply to do the kind of research necessary for FDA approval of marijuana for medical uses. NIDA focuses its resources on marijuana's potential harms, not its medical benefits. Dr. Lyle Craker at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has petitioned the DEA for permission to grow a second source of legal marijuana for medical marijuana research, but his efforts are being blocked.

IDPI asked the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to write a letter to the DEA encouraging them to allow for this new marijuana production facility.

The media has really picked up on this story. As a result, the United Methodist Church is being mentioned in almost every story. Follow the links below to see the media that our work is generating.

4. William Martin, M.Div., Ph.D. joins IDPI's Leadership Council

Dr. William Martin is a sociology professor and a senior fellow for Religion and Public Policy at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, where he has taught since 1968. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School and received a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

His articles, mostly dealing with the intersection of religion and popular culture, have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, Harper's, Esquire, and Texas Monthly, as well as in professional journals. His book, A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story, is regarded as the authoritative biography of Billy Graham. He is also the author of With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, the companion volume to a six-hour documentary PBS mini-series of the same name. He is a frequent guest on national and local news and discussion programs.

In addition to his work in religion, he taught criminology for thirty-five years and is currently exploring ways to reduce the harms associated with drug abuse and U.S. drug policy. Dr. Martin participated in a panel run by IDPI last year at the Drug Policy Alliance's conference where he talked about why conservative evangelicals should not be written off as potential supporters of drug policy reform.

We are honored to have Dr. Martin officially join our efforts.

If you see how valuable the voice of the faith community is garnering support for drug policy reform then we need your help to succeed. Please visit to make the largest gift you will feel good about giving.

5. Mark Berkson, Ph.D., joins IDPI's Leadership Council

Mark Berkson is a professor of religion at Hamline University. He also teaches a seminar on U.S. drug policy. Mark holds a B.A. from Princeton University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University.

Dr. Berkson's scholarly work has addressed topics such as death and dying, the use of entheogens (psychoactive sacraments) in religious ritual, and interfaith dialogue. Mark's work in drug policy began with advocating for the historic 1996 ballot initiative in California to allow medical marijuana.

He is currently chair of the Drug Policy Reform Group of Minnesota and recently gathered signatures from prominent faith leaders in the state to support a legislative effort for medical marijuana.

We are pleased to have this champion of drug policy reform and religious scholar on our team.

Get a free book or DVD when you make your donation to IDPI at

6. Leadership Council makes IDPI a powerhouse

With the addition of Dr. Berkson and Dr. Martin, IDPI's Leadership Council spans the political and theological spectrum, with liberals and conservatives alike.

Charles Thomas, IDPI's executive director, has 15 years of professional experience in the drug policy reform movement. He co-founded the Marijuana Policy Project in 1995, served as director of communications, and left in 2001 to organize the religious community. As a Unitarian, he persuaded his denomination to adopt an official statement calling for an end to drug prohibition. Charles has testified before several federal and state legislative and regulatory bodies and has been quoted in most major news publications, including on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, and he has appeared on most television news networks.

Eric Sterling, J.D. worked as Counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee in the 1980s and currently runs the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. As a Quaker, he convinced his denomination's regional governing body to pass a marijuana decriminalization resolution in the mid-1970s. He also led a religious campaign in 2000, the Coalition for Jubilee Clemency, convincing President Clinton to release 23 prisoners of the Drug War.

Jane Marcus, Ph.D. worked through her congregation and the Women of Reform Judaism to persuade the Union for Reform Judaism to pass a resolution in 2003 calling for legal access to medical marijuana. Jane holds a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University.

Fr. Joseph Ganssle, OFM founded and ran IDPI's predecessor, Religious Leaders for a Moral Drug Policy in the early-1990s. Father Ganssle, a Catholic priest, currently serves on the advisory board of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He also founded a drug treatment program and served as its CEO for 25 years.

Rev. Andrew Gunn founded and ran Clergy for Enlightened Drug Policy, another IDPI predecessor. Earlier in his career Rev. Gunn, a United Methodist minister, was the executive director of the Alliance for the Separation of Church and State.

Rev. Eddie Lopez, Jr. is the former senior pastor of a large congregation in the South Bronx and former director for Human Rights and Racial Justice for the General Board of Global Ministries for the United Methodist Church. As the former director of an Americorps program for the National Council of Churches, he recruited 1600 Latino/a people to volunteer in 800 non-profit organizations that address social needs. His ministry began at the NYC Department of Corrections where he served as the chaplain for adolescents. This is where he saw that the War on Drugs was causing more problems than it was solving.

With a full-time staff of only three people, IDPI does a lot with a little. With an organization this size, your donation can make a singular difference. Please visit to make your contribution today.


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