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Spiritual leaders discuss marijuana in the church
By Brittany K. Jackson (Contributing Writer)
Published August 20, 2015
 (l-r) Karen Evans, Anthony Netwon, Rev. Cathy Shelton, Rev. Cecil "Chip" Murray, Johnni Matthews, and Rev. Benjamin Hollins.  (photo by Brittan Jackson)

(l-r) Karen Evans, Anthony Netwon, Rev. Cathy Shelton, Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, Johnni Matthews, and Rev. Benjamin Hollins. (photo by Brittan Jackson)

On Friday, August 14, spiritual leaders led an intense discussion about marijuana at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles. As part of the web series, “Cannabis Talk with Johnni Matthews,” the panel discussed whether or not marijuana should be accepted in the church.

The panelists included the Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, the Rev. Cathy Shelton, the Rev. Benjamin Hollins, and medical marijuana practitioner, Dr. Sean Aldridge.

Dr. Murray opened the discussion, stating that a “nuclear group” is needed to bring clarity to the topic.

“We will have to get the information, which will bring the confirmation. You know the scripture, and you know the truth, and the truth shall set you free,” he added.

Hollins, pastor of Price Chapel A.M.E Church, noted, “We have a long way to go. The church has to become enlightened about the subject because those who are in the pews often have access.”

Panelists also covered marijuana’s legalization in several states, regulation, its’ profitability and the many community, health and social implications. According to Governing.com, “Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form.”

Moderator Johnni Matthews spoke about “The Green Rush,” a wave of investors who are capitalizing on the legalization of both medical and recreational use of marijuana.

“The movement isn’t to have people become addicted. This is a revenue situation,” declared Matthews.

“There are silent investors in the industry that we may not be aware of. It’s a billion dollar industry that is growing everyday. While the “Green RUSH” may be beneficial for investors, great socioeconomic implications still exist for people of color.”

The stark reality is that minorities are still criminalized, ostracized, and desensitized due to marijuana’s sale, use and glorification in mainstream society.

Regarding the decriminalization of minorities with Proposition 47, Murray observed, “It takes anywhere from $25K – $50K to keep them [inmates] in prison.” He added that these funds would be better used to support rehabilitation and community engagement.

Dr. Shawn Aldridge, owner of Aldridge Medical Inc. in Sherman Oaks, conducts medical marijuana evaluations for clients that may or may not suffer from conditions requiring the use of the drug.

According to Aldridge, medical studies show that the herb has helped patients with anxiety, sleep disorders, seizures, epilepsy, and more. The discussion became increasingly heated, as Aldridge argued that the use of medical marijuana is technically excusable since God created everything on earth, including plants.

A more important question raised was that if faith-based communities entrust God as a healer and provider, why is so much faith placed in marijuana and its ability to generate revenue at the expense of community livelihood and soul salvation?

Shelton definitively spoke out against the use of medical or recreational marijuana in the church with conviction. “We are bending and compromising. We better seek God first. We are accountable for lives and souls,” Shelton passionately commented. “I’m not a supporter, this [marijuana] is just a band-aid. What’s the core problem and root of it? It doesn’t solve anything,” she said.

“Just because a law is passed, doesn’t mean you pass out spliffs in the pews.”

When posed a question regarding reliance on God as opposed to marijuana, Hollins, who gave up marijuana almost 40 years ago after accepting his call to ministry, shared, “We’ve gotten out of deliverance. It’s up to us to help them to get their deliverance.

“There are people who have no idea what deliverance means. There are a lot of people who have never been in a deliverance service,” he said. “God called me to ministry and my ministry was to help them find Jesus,” he stated.

While moderator Matthews backs the legalization of marijuana, noting that its effects have been scientifically shown to be less severe than that of alcohol, she plans to continue the discussion on marijuana in the church to bring greater awareness to the topic as it relates to faith-based communities.

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