“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself,'” the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians, echoing the two greatest commandments of Jesus.
Regarding the recent Lewis County Ordinance 1324, which re-criminalizes controlled substances, what does it mean to love my neighbor?
Sadly, there was not a single mention of the real people — our neighbors — Ordinance 1324 would affect during the March 24 Lewis County Board of Commissioners meeting. Instead, the quickly-organized commissioners meeting blocked public input and denied multiple requests for a video recording of the meeting to share with members of the public who couldn’t attend on such short notice. Notably, many questions from commissioners centered on removing the proposed ordinance’s sunset clause to, as stated by one commissioner, avoid any future hearings the public would have a right to attend. Why the fear of more public hearings? And haste? And secrecy?
The commissioners discussed funding, concerns over police enforcement jurisdiction and technical phrases in the statute. Yet, as I watched, all I could think about were the 211 people convicted of drug-related crimes in 2019 who, for various reasons I don’t quite understand, couldn’t access the Drug Court, which only takes 30 to 50 participants. Almost all drug-related crimes end with prison time, not treatment.
211 people in prison or jail. Mothers. Fathers. Soccer coaches. Janitors. Accountants. Unable to work, any debts are piling up interest. Upon release, these people — our neighbors — will be even more behind than when they started. And they were probably already behind. Then, on top of it all, they'll face discrimination in finding employment. Return to drug use, poverty-induced crime, and even suicide await many of them.
Isn’t this at least worth mentioning? Is the criminalization of simple possession of controlled substances worth the trauma?
But, as some briefly pointed out during the meeting, criminalizing drug possession will incentivize addicts to seek treatment. So, it’s tough love. But research shows criminalization of drugs doesn’t encourage people to seek treatment. In fact, it can have the opposite effect, scaring people into hiding from authorities when healing is what they need.
As a Christian, a Jesus-follower, living in a county of mostly fellow Christians, we have the God-required duty to ask ourselves the same question that pierced Paul’s heart and Jesus’s wrists to a cross: what does it mean to love our neighbor?
It’s time we reframe the debate around criminalizing controlled substances.