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Religious leaders unite on marijuana initiative

The following religious leaders in Northern Nevada support Question 7 on the ballot, taxing and regulating marijuana:
The Rev. Jerry Smith, district superintendent, United Methodist Church, Reno
The Rev. William C. Webb, senior pastor, Second Baptist Church, Southern Baptist, Reno
The Rev. Gene Savoy, International Community of Christ Church, Reno
The Rev. William G. Chrystal, senior pastor, First Congregational Church, Reno
Rabbi Myra Soifer, Temple Sinai, Reno
The Rev. John Auer, senior pastor, First United Methodist, Reno
The Rev. Carol Rudisill, interim minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada, Reno
The Rev. Deborah Grundman, former minister of music, Sparks United Methodist Church, current executive assistant to the bishop of the California-Nevada Conference, and deacon
Rabbi Oren Postrel, North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich, Temple Bat Yam, Stateline
The Rev. Ruth Hanusa, ELCA chaplain, Campus Christian Association, University of Nevada, Reno
Rabbi ElizaBeth Webb Beyer, ethics professor, UNR

A dozen Northern Nevada religious leaders plan to announce today they support the initiative to legalize marijuana.

"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, associate director of the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative.

The Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative addresses drug policies issues nationwide and is working with the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana. Dayton said he called many religious leaders to get their support on the initiative.

The list of 32 churches, mostly in Las Vegas and Reno, includes Christians and Jews, mainline denominations and several black churches.

Question 7 on the November ballot would allow those 21 and older to legally possess, use and transfer 1 ounce or less of marijuana. It also would regulate the sale of marijuana and increase criminal penalties for causing death or substantial bodily harm when driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The marijuana ballot question has drawn support and opposition by religious leaders.

"General moral concern about drugs plays in the hands of those opposed to this question," said Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Sinai. "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."

Marijuana should join alcohol and tobacco as a drug that the government regulates to prevent excess, Soifer said.

"So with regulation there would be a limit on the amount of marijuana that would be legal and hopefully a limit on the amount that would be easily available," she said.

The initiative also would allow law enforcement to focus on "real crimes rather than the use of small amounts of marijuana by adults," she said.

The Rev. William Webb of Second Baptist Church, the largest black church in Reno, said he does not want to see drugs dealt on neighborhood streets.

"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," he said.

Protestants believe that laws should curb "gross outburst of sin," said the Rev. Ruth Hanusa, minister of the Campus Christian Association at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Instead of curbing use, she said, marijuana laws are causing more problems.

"We don't live in a perfect world, and often we don't have ideal choices, but we look to find the lesser evil," Hanusa said. "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."