I am an Episcopal priest. I have worked for more than 25 years in Santa Barbara County, and throughout the state, as a chaplain in detention centers, as a drug/alcohol counselor, a mental health clinician, and a rape crisis advocate. I have worked in jails, and I have represented juveniles. With my extensive experience I have seen the obscene abuse on the poor and people of color in our courts and jails because of the war on cannabis.
At Central Juvenile Hall, I heard the stories of so many children who were taken from their parents because of cannabis, resulting in families that were permanently broken. Heartbreakingly, some children, to this day, never heard from their parents again. I’ve seen the bias of drug policies that fuel mass incarceration for generations of communities of color. I’ve dealt with sexual assault cases of minors whose rapist only received a slap on the wrist, maybe six months in jail, while cannabis cases are sentenced to years and years.
The effects of Reefer Madness on our society never cease to amaze me. Most of us are survivors of the insanity from the criminalization of cannabis. How many have had to hide their use of cannabis because of the fear of “losing it all” or being arrested for something with less effect than alcohol, and which can be used for medical issues and anxiety? Something that helps untold numbers of people with the pain of cancer and other serious diseases.
People ask, “But, what about the children?” Criminalization does not protect our children. No one wants children to use drugs or alcohol, but if you were to send me (a 67-year-old woman) to a public park with a 14-year-old teenage girl, guess who would be offered the free joint? Not me. And that “joint” may very well be full of mold and pesticides and drugs that are actually dangerous. We are so lucky to be now monitoring the growth and the quality of cannabis.
Legal and compliant cannabis cultivators are heavily restricted. Santa Barbara County has responsible farmers cultivating an organic crop for sale in a strictly regulated market, not dealers disbursing questionable products and influencing our children.
Now that cannabis is legal in California and growers have passed every requirement, with unbelievable restrictions, growing an organic pesticide-free crop, we have an anti-cannabis groups coming after every grower in our county. These anti-cannabis groups are sabotaging the new, heavily monitored, cleaner product.
We know all too well how much we need support for programs and services in our community. Our cannabis growers are eager to help, and many have a passion for our veterans and providing mental health services. They are here to be a part of our community and its needs. Plus, they have funds to share with the community.
In some cases, naysayers have said, “But it’s so close to a church.” Yes, but we serve alcohol in many churches, as part of a Mass, communion service, dinners, and parties.
Alcohol, in my long experience in community service, is the most violent drug in our society. I’ve taught court mandated domestic violence classes for abusers. Alcohol was the major cause of the violence. But we serve alcohol in church and offer it to children in a chalice. That is acceptable. Twenty years ago, residents complained about the wine encroaching on the Santa Ynez Valley. Fear of drunk drivers was one reason. Now the wine industry is an accepted part of the landscape.
This is a call to action to support legal and compliant cannabis in Santa Barbara County. The positive opportunities for our county include keeping our rich agricultural heritage vibrant, good paying jobs, and a tax base for public services.
In closing, I’d like to add, Jesus may have changed water into wine, but God created cannabis. Amen.
Rev. Mary Moreno Richardson is community outreach coordinator for KopSun LLC, a cannabis health and wellness education company.