Religious groups say vote yes on Prop 205

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Clergy letter to voters (Source: KPHO/KTVK) Clergy letter to voters (Source: KPHO/KTVK)
MESA, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

Some religious organizations in Arizona are getting political. In an open letter to voters, they are throwing their support behind Proposition 205, which would legalize recreational marijuana in Arizona.

"While Judaism does not promote the use of marijuana, it also does not prohibit the use for responsible adults in a form of moderation," said Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. He is the president of Valley Beit Midrash, an outreach organization that works in partnership with Temple Chai in North Phoenix.

Yanklowitz is one of just under a dozen religious groups in Arizona that say the legalization of recreational marijuana would lead to a better Arizona.

"The Jewish community in America understands the crucial need for criminal justice reform," Yanklowitz said.

Religious groups from Jewish, Christian and Unitarian Universalist faiths came together to write the letter that claims current marijuana laws hurt Arizona families by putting people in jail for minor drug offenses, which can ruin people's lives. It claims it wastes taxpayer dollars to incarcerate people. The letter also claims that minorities in America are disproportionately affected. You can read the letter in its entirety below.

"People forget that an arrest can destroy somebody's life," said the Rev. Alexander Sharp. Sharp is from Clergy for A New Drug Policy, a national organization aimed at improving lives by decriminalizing marijuana.

"The tagline of our organization is healing not punishment and I think that applies to marijuana," he said.

The organization's mission is to mobilize clergy on behalf of an agenda that ends the war on drugs by allocating resources to education, treatment and public safety.

"This is a matter of faith for me," Sharp continued. "The Jesus that I know didn't go around arresting people, he went around reaching people's hearts and minds through mercy and compassion. The god I know loves us all and wants us to flourish and you can't flourish in jail."

While some religious leaders support Proposition 205, others do not. The No on Prop 205 campaign released this statement:

"The No on Prop 205 campaign is proud to have the strong support of many Arizona and national faith-based communities, including the Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the LDS Church and organizations such as the Center for Arizona Policy. These leaders are among a broad coalition of businesses, educators, elected officials, law enforcement officials and health care professionals who understand the disastrous unintended and inevitable ramifications of passing Prop 205. Whether from a family and faith-driven perspective, an economic perspective or a public health and safety perspective, Prop 205 is just bad policy - plain and simple. All Arizonans have a role to play in 'working to make our communities safe.' Prop 205 is a giant leap in the wrong direction." - Annie Vogt, No on Prop 205

Here is the open letter to Arizona voters:

Clergy Letter to Arizona Voters:

We are clergy in Arizona united in our support of Proposition 205. This measure will regulate, tax, and control marijuana like alcohol. It will limit legal use to adults 21 years of age or older and generate tens of millions of dollars for public schools and education programs annually.

As clergy, we have the responsibility and the credibility to talk about what policies serve our community best. One does not have to use marijuana or even approve of marijuana to see that our current laws are not working, nor are they, in our view, just.

In Arizona, taxpayers spend millions of dollars annually to arrest, prosecute, cite and process thousands of people disproportionately Latinos and African-Americans for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Over 150,000 adults have been arrested for marijuana possession in Arizona since 2005. These arrests, even when they do not lead to incarceration, ruin lives. 

For decades, marijuana prohibition has been inefficient, wasteful, and counterproductive. By all measures, Arizona's marijuana laws have failed. In addition to the millions of dollars spent on enforcement, our police waste precious time enforcing these policies. This is time that could be directed toward preventing violent crimes. Despite all these efforts, about three-quarters of teenagers in national surveys consistently report that marijuana is "fairly or very easy to get."

As we seek to teach compassion and love, it seems inconsistent to support, in cases of private personal adult marijuana possession, the use of police, guns, and courts. The faith community, parents, peers, counselors, and educators are the appropriate means to address this kind of personal behavior.

We should work to make our communities safer. Illegal marijuana sales are the foundation for criminal markets that operate in every community in our state. When people, both old and young, seek to purchase marijuana in the underground market, they are often exposed to and are encouraged to purchase far more dangerous substances.

We need to break the link between marijuana and more dangerous drugs. And we can do so by shifting sales of marijuana out of the criminal market and into regulated businesses that check ID's for age and generate tax revenue for needed services.

How we punish people and what we punish them for are central moral questions. If a punishment policy fails to meet its objectives and causes harm to humans, we have a moral obligation to support change. Our laws punishing marijuana use continue to cause significant harm to individuals, families, and society. In response to that harm, we support replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of strict regulation and sensible safeguards.

We urge all voters in Arizona to support Proposition 205. 

Rev. Sherman Fort
Senior Pastor, Canaan Missionary Baptist Church
Mesa, AZ

Rev. Terry Sims
Minister, Unitarian Universalist Church of Sunrise
Sunrise, AZ

Rev. Bart Smith
Pastor, St. Mark's Presbyterian Church
Tucson, AZ

Rev. Warren Stewart, Jr.
Lead Pastor, Church of the Remnant
Phoenix, AZ

Rabbi Dr. Schmuly Yanklowitz
President and Dean, Valley Beit Midrash
Phoenix, AZ

Rev. Jim Wiltbank
Pastor, St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church
Tucson, AZ

Rev. Alexander E. Sharp
Executive Director
Clergy for a New Drug Policy

Copyright 2016 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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