By David Holthouse

Birmingham, AL - Calling it an “issue of mercy,” the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Wednesday, June 21 to endorse legalization of medical marijuana. This move by one of America’s largest and most influential Christian denominations came just days before the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a measure that would prevent the Drug Enforcement Administration from arresting medical marijuana patients in the 11 states where medical marijuana is legal.

“As people of faith, we are called to stand up for humans who are suffering needlessly,” said Rev. Lynn Bledsoe, a Presbyterian minister from Alabama who works as a hospice chaplain. It is unconscionable that seriously ill patients can be arrested for making an earnest attempt at healing by using medical marijuana.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has 2.4 million members. Its medical marijuana resolution, passed by consensus, affirms, “the use of cannabis sativa or marijuana for legitimate medical purposes” and urges, “federal legislation that allows for its use and that provides for the production and distribution of the plant for [medical] purposes.”

Rev. Jim McNeil, a representative of the Homestead Presbytery in Nebraska, the regional body that sponsored the resolution, said, “Being seriously ill is stressful enough already without living in fear of arrest for taking doctor-recommended medicine. It is the job of religious denominations to give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. We pray that Congress will have the compassion to stop this war on patients.”

The House of Representatives is poised to vote next week on the Hinchey-Rohrabacher amendment, which would bar the U.S. Department of Justice—including the DEA—from using any funds to interfere with the implementation of medical marijuana laws approved by voters and lawmakers in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

“Legislators who give lip service to moral values had better be consistent on the medical marijuana issue,” said Charles Thomas, executive director of the Interfaith Drug Police Institute. “The Presbyterian Church joins six other major denominations explicitly supporting medical marijuana, while no denominations’ governing bodies have ever taken an official position against it.”

Legalized medical marijuana is also officially supported by: the Episcopal Church; the United Church of Christ; the Unitarian Universalist Association; the Union for Reform Judaism; the Progressive National Baptist Convention; and the United Methodist Church.

“This action by the Presbyterian Church is further proof that protecting medical marijuana is simply not controversial,” said Aaron Houston, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C., who notes that a November 2005 Gallup poll showed 78 percent support for allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana. “A lot of people mistakenly believe that the issue of medical marijuana is incendiary, but that’s simply not true. An overwhelming majority of Americans want cancer and AIDS patients to be able to use medical marijuana, and it’s time for Congress to listen to the voters.”