Pat Robertson insists that he doesn't smoke weed, and I believe him.
Of all the wacky things the 700 Club televangelist has declared over the years — from the Haiti earthquake being the result of God's retribution for a mythical Voodoo ritual to the recent tornadoes being the result of not enough prayer — he wasn't stoned when he said any of them, and he sounded coherent enough to seem as if he at least took himself seriously.
So this week he stepped out of the box and away from the core middle-aged and elderly white-evangelical demographic he appeals to and said something more radical than he has ever said before: Legalize it.
What!? Robertson, one of the vanguards of the Moral Majority who pretty much believes that doing anything other than watching his show is a sin, is saying that we should decriminalize weed? Never thought I'd see the day when God and Jah agreed, but clearly miracles can happen.
But as we inhale Robertson's wisdom, we get the munchies for what's missing as it relates to the African-American community. The preacher is right. Marijuana and other drug laws have served to incarcerate millions of people over the years of the "war on drugs," but this country has yet to get the monkey off its back and the dope out of its system.
When it comes to African Americans, we are 14 percent of regular drug users but 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. In addition, black males are 6.5 times more likely than white males to be incarcerated, according to a report from Project America.
I don't know of a single black neighborhood in these United States that has actually benefited from drug laws or prisons. Has New York's Rikers Island ever put a kid through college? Has Pelican Bay State Prison in California ever saved a family home from foreclosure?
In fact, it seems that the more drug laws are used to convict people, the worse the black community gets in terms of crime and poverty. So with as many churches as there are in majority-black communities, you would think that ministers, by and large, would have beaten Robertson to the punch years ago in asserting that drug laws are doing far more harm than good, particularly when it comes to black folks.
But I'm really not hearing the Creflo Dollars and T.D. Jakeses of the world from the very loud and popular mega-church sounding board when it comes to this issue. Mass incarceration, especially of black males, is probably the single most important civil rights issue of this generation. Whole communities have gone for generations without fathers to guide young men to manhood. And where are the dads? Locked up on a 20-year bid because they got caught with a dime bag.
To be fair, there are small pockets of church leadership that recognize the problems the drug war has caused in the black community. Pastor Carl Livingston of Kingdom Christian Center in Columbia City, Wash., was cited in a story at the Stranger as a proponent of Proposition 502, which seeks to regulate and tax marijuana in Washington state.
He believes that the laws are causing the problems, even for people who are not involved in the dope game. "They wouldn't be in prison if it weren't for these policies of prohibition," he said. "And we talk about the deaths, the funerals they have in their churches because of the drug trade."
But Livingston's voice is one of the few. Many more are needed to join his and Robertson's in delineating how, at the very least, marijuana laws are affecting America and how detrimental they are to the black community.
In fact, in 2010 African-American clergy in Sacramento attacked Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, for supporting the relaxation of marijuana laws in that state, calling for her resignation. They insisted that she was supporting all that was evil about drugs and "allowing drug pushers" into the black community. News flash: Drug pushers have been in the black community for generations. Apparently the only ones that haven’t noticed are the churches.
If the civil rights leadership of the mid-20th century — a group consisting largely of black clergy — could stand up to discrimination and disenfranchisement when it came to our community, then why can't this new generation of preachers and evangelists, who tout themselves as "spiritual leaders," make a stand against ill-conceived policies that are equally detrimental?
Now, to clarify, this is not to advocate using or selling drugs or to support the illegal drug business at all. Heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine all kill. And even though nobody has ever died of a ganja overdose, no one has proved that the plant is healthy, either. Its use as a non-recreational drug has been primarily medicinal.
But if medical marijuana were legalized — or if marijuana were at least decriminalized, sold through regulated entities and taxed properly — then that would eliminate the weed dealer on the corner selling it out of his car. It would stop people eager to make a buck by putting it in the streets, because there would be no profit in it. Most important, it would greatly reduce the number of people in jail because they were in possession of a simple plant that would be as expensive as parsley if it were legal.
Robertson, despite the crazy things he says, is smart enough to realize this. Maybe it's time for the people who black folks listen to the most — their preachers — to do the same.
Madison Gray is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and Web journalist. Follow him on Twitter.