Reverend Tom Capo On Cannabis Legalization

Reverend Tom Capo - DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church
Reverend Tom Capo –
DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church – Supporter of Legalized Cannabis

I had the pleasure of interviewing Reverend Tom Capo of DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville, Illinois. Reverend Capo and I spoke for nearly forty minutes about cannabis legalization, his support for recreational and medicinal use. He believes the focus should be on the medicinal side versus recreational. He also stressed the consequences of use. He made it a point to say if a person is negatively affected by cannabis the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church would help those in need.

He believes marijuana should be removed from the Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act and he also stressed his opinions reflect his own beliefs and not DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church.

I’m sure everyone can agree with being an outsider and going against the fray is never easy.  Supporting legalization when a lot of other religious leaders wouldn’t take guts. I believe this has a lot to do with the churches progressive principals and beliefs.

I learned about Reverend Capo’s church during our talk. He talked about how the church encourages all different points of view and how the long and intricate the process is for a church to choose their minister. I learned Unitarian Universalism got its start in America.

I look forward to talking with Reverend Capo in the future.

Cannabis and Religion with Reverend Tom Capo

  • The below statements are a summary of the interview.
  • Press ‘Play’ to listen to the interview


Shane: Hello, everybody. This is Shane, from I am going to be interviewing Reverend Tom Capo, and his church is called-

Rev. Tom Capo: DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church.

Shane: All right. Well, thank you, Reverend, for being on the show.

Rev. Tom Capo: These are my opinions and not my church’s. Within Unitarian Universalism, we believe that each person is on their own individual, spiritual, ethical journey, so I’m speaking for myself today. So that’s an important piece for me to say at the very beginning. And I also think that it’s important, as we begin this discussion, to say that I think, more than anything else, removing cannabis from Schedule 1 of the controlled substance act is essential in anything that we do because we don’t have any collective information, research that can help us have a clearer understanding of the uses for medical purposes, and the consequences of use. As we talk about legalization, and I certainly am supportive of that, we also need to begin doing some adequate research on how this chemical works. So I just wanted to put that out there before we got started.

Shane: Tell my audience, how did you become a Reverend, and just give them a brief history of who you are and what your church is all about.

Rev. Tom Capo: So I am a Unitarian Universalist minister. I had to go through seminary, as well as additional classwork and training, and internship, and clinical pastoral education, and then go through the denominational vetting process we call the Ministerial Fellowshipping Committee that vets many of our ministers.

Rev. Tom Capo: Becoming a minister is a long process. It’s not unlike becoming a lawyer; it is an end degree so that you could be able to do a certain profession. And any minister, within Unitarian Universalism, or many in the Protestant faith, or all the Protestant faith, I think, you have to have a seminary degree. It’s an M.Div, Master of Divinity degree. And so the process then becomes, once you have the degree, once you have the additional training, clinical pastoral education, internship, then, within our denomination, churches choose their ministers.

Rev. Tom Capo: So we have an ongoing process, where churches are putting themselves out … “We need ministers.” Right now, we have a process that’s all on the internet where we have the churches that are interested in getting a minister, and we have the ministers saying they would be interested. And then it takes a year-long process for those two to decide if the minister and the church fit together through a series of conversations, and a weekend of observing the minister in the pulpit, and interviews, and then a week-long, about eight-day long process where the vetted minister comes to the congregations, spends time with all the members of the congregations and significant groups in the church. And at the end of that eight days, the congregation votes and there has to be near 90 something percent agreement for that minister to really accept the call to that church. So it’s an ongoing process that takes this year of really being sure that the minister and the church fit together.

Shane: Oh, really? Okay. Just to tell you a little bit about myself, I went to Catholic High School in Rhode Island. I wouldn’t really consider myself somebody that is incredibly religious, but from what you’re telling me in terms of your faith, to me anyway, it does seem a bit unorthodox. Is that entirely accurate?

Rev. Tom Capo: I wouldn’t say its unorthodox. One of the things that we don’t do, we don’t do a lot of evangelizing. Unitarian Universalism, Unitarianism and Universalism, and then it came together in 1961, I think, they were religions that really started here in America. I mean, there were Unitarians and Universalists going back to the beginnings of the Christian faith. After Jesus was around, there were various groups that were exploring what he said and what he did, and when the Unitarians and Universalists started here in the United States, they started as a Christological, non-Trinitarian faith. In other words, they believe that Jesus was a man, a prophetic man, a spiritual man, but not a divine man, a divine being.

Rev. Tom Capo: And since that beginning, the Unitarians have moved increasingly to a more pluralistic faith. Part of that comes from the transcendentalist. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a Unitarian, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and they were the first group of people who brought over some of the eastern teachings from Hinduism, Buddhism to the United States. And so they began to incorporate some of their ideas into how they would see a very pluralistic Unitarian faith and as time has passed, our church, the Unitarian Universalism church, has become increasingly pluralistic. We have atheists and Humanists and Buddhists and Christians, and all here, even people that don’t know what they believe, spiritual but not religious people, they’re all here to explore their own spirituality.

Rev. Tom Capo: And the other thing that’s central to our faith, besides exploring your own spiritual journey, is social justice. So we have a long history of working in social justice and for social change. And we had more ministers with Martin Luther King walking across the bridge at Selma than any other denomination.

Rev. Tom Capo: We’ve been around for … Some of our folks started things like the public schools in the United States. So we’ve been around a long time. But we’re a small denomination, and so it’s not a belief system that brings us together, it’s valued, values like the inherent worth of every person, and the interdependent web of all existence, and the democratic process, values that are important to us. And being pluralistic, being able to be in a diverse group and work together to achieve change in the world.

Shane: Right. So basically you are open to everybody, and you want to see everybody’s point of view.

Rev. Tom Capo: Yeah. We want everybody to be able to share their point of view. By sharing your point of view, or your belief system and your values, it enriches each of us. We grow from one another. We grow from being in community with one another.

Shane: Okay. Well, that makes sense. I mean, sure. I can understand where you’re coming from in that regard. But Reverend, the reason why I’m calling you today and when I emailed you, I believe it was last week, or maybe at the beginning of this week, I’m not entirely sure, it was because of your stance on cannabis. Could you please explain to my viewership what is your stance there? Do you support medicinal? Do you support recreational? Give me your thoughts.

Rev. Tom Capo: Sure. I think there are some really important medicinal uses. I’ve certainly known people who had cancer who suffered from the extreme nausea, and it was relieved through the use of cannabis. I think some people with chronic pain who found that their pain was moderated by the use of cannabis. I think there are some legitimate medical uses of marijuana. And children who suffered seizures … I just think there are so many potential uses of it, and we are stymied by this Schedule 1 so that we can even figure out what uses can be helpful to people. I mean most of the work that’s been done unfortunately has been individual discussions, individuals saying, “This helps me” and their doctors supporting them in that. But any conclusive research has been hard to come by, and I think everybody would be clear about that.

Rev. Tom Capo: As far as recreational use, I think that should be a personal choice. Certainly, we have some chemicals, like alcohol and cigarettes, that are an individual choice. I do think that they should, obviously, be adults who make that decision for themselves. And I also think that it’s important for people to remember that any kind of substance that you use can be abused. And as we move into legalization for recreational purposes, which I think our country really supports, most people support in our country, that we also are aware of the risks and consequences. And we certainly have “don’t drink and drive” and not using marijuana and driving is the same thing. We’ve got to do it responsibly. If you want to be able to utilize a recreational chemical of any kind that’s a personal choice, but you have to do it responsibly.

Rev. Tom Capo: So I would support both. I just think that we’re in a position right now where the possibilities are there for us to understand both the medical and recreational uses and how those should be managed. But most recently, Jeff Sessions tried to put a kibosh on even considering how we sell marijuana, how we utilize marijuana, to say that he wants to go back to this war on drugs which has been so unsuccessful. From my perspective, far better would have been, how can we help one another?

Rev. Tom Capo: Most of the things I see coming out of the government right now, the federal government, is a move backwards rather than a move forward. My hope is that, eventually, we get to a place where we can look at marijuana and cannabis and say that this is a substance that has many potential uses and we should gain the information that helps us understand how to use it in a smart and responsible way. If it becomes illegal again, if Sessions is trying to, and make it more difficult for people to sell it responsibly to use it responsibly, for the medical field to explore it responsibly, we’re going to be in the same place we’ve been for the last hundred or so years that it’s been illegal.

Shane: I know you said you support both recreational and medicinal. Tell me if I’m wrong, but primarily, by what it seems to me, your focus is primarily on the medicinal front. Now, is that wrong? Am I right about that?

Rev. Tom Capo: No, I don’t think that it’s primarily on the medicinal, I think that the priority should be on the medicinal because I think that we don’t understand the possibilities there. I think that it probably has more uses than we know, and we need to be aware of how to prescribe it in a way that is really capable of making a difference in a person’s life. But no, I’m also fully supportive of recreational. I don’t know that I would say, again, more than one or the other, but I would say that, even if we do continue to move in the direction of recreational, that we need information on if it becomes a problem for someone, how do we help them?

Rev. Tom Capo: We have people who are addicted to video games, now, and their iPhones, and you can potentially get addicted to anything and how do we help people who that becomes a problem. I don’t support recreational use without some kind of understanding of how we can help people who it becomes a problem for. I do support it if we incorporate that part of it in there, as well. In my experience over, whatever, 50 some odd years, I guess, have not seen marijuana be a problem for people. I don’t think of it as a gateway drug. I don’t think of it as something people can become addicted to.

Shane: Do you think that it is the same level as smoking? How smoking is not good for you. Do you think marijuana is along those same lines in terms of ingesting smoke?

Rev. Tom Capo: Yeah, I think so. I think certainly some of the consequences of using marijuana, the negative consequences, are related to problems that you get in your longs, from regularly using something that clogs up the pathways to our ability to breathe in a healthy way and does create, not necessarily the same kinds of chemicals as cigarettes, but different chemicals within the respiratory system that we certainly need to learn more about. And I would say that it’s virtually the same as smoking cigarettes, both in the positive and negative way. It’s certainly a chemical that, for some people, it’s very calming and can help them manage the stress that they’re experiencing in the world. But also, as with any chemical that you ingest on a regular basis, whether it’s prescribed or not, you have to be careful and not let it reach a point where it’s done some damage to you that’s irreversible.

Shane: Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s just common sense really.

Rev. Tom Capo: Yeah, I think it is, and that’s the thing. And we don’t have common sense about marijuana. We have this stilted view that’s been fed to us by a lot of different groups, particularly the federal government, that makes it difficult for us to even consider how to move this into a reasonable place within our culture.

Rev. Tom Capo: There are states right now who are finding it very helpful for their financial state, for their budgets, but the people who are selling marijuana can’t use banks, and that seems irrational to me. Because it’s a Schedule 1, they can’t keep their money safe. And also, we have to deal with the issues related to people who still try to sell marijuana who are not regulated by the government, people who grow it in their backyard or in their house. I think we’re in a place right now where people who are still afraid to do those kind of things. I don’t think people would grow tobacco in their backyard, but if a person did grow tobacco in their backyard, the consequences would be far less than if somebody grew marijuana in their backyard. It’s an unregulated system right now, and if we looked at it as a substance that we could regulate reasonable, in a smart way, we could move forward.

Shane: Right. Do you think regulation will, I hate to use the word eradicate, but do you think it will help reduce the black market sales of cannabis?

Rev. Tom Capo: Well, that’s a very good question, and I’ve just recently been reading a little bit about that. I think it does reduce. It doesn’t eradicate. I mean, if people can find a safe place where they can buy marijuana, I think they will be more likely to do that. When I was much younger, the fears were that the marijuana might have some other substance sprinkled on it, or perhaps poisoned from the government poisoning crops. And so with legal ramifications of regulating the legal sale of marijuana, we don’t have those kinds of risks. And if you don’t know who you’re buying it from, what they can do with it, there’s certainly risks that way. Certainly, I remember that with my peers back in the 60s, well, for me more in the 70s, they were afraid they were getting something that would be dangerous.

Shane: And from what I read, there are certain states that have enacted rules and restrictions regarding what type of cannabis can be sold. Like, let’s say, John Doe cannabis shop sells marijuana. Before they actually sell the marijuana itself, it has to be tested by some private company that is hired by the state. So there are safeguards in place, but it’s like anything else, it depends on the state. It depends on whether it legal or not, so I guess there’s a lot of factors there.

Rev. Tom Capo: And, too, I guess I would say that marijuana, the potency of it is unregulated in the black market. But if you walk into a shop, I think they should be educated, and I think they probably are, I just haven’t researched that, that you’ll know what you’re getting. If you have a high potency level of marijuana, they’ll tell you that’s what that is, and you can trust that that’s what it’s going to be, and that helps people make reasonable, rational choices about what they do. It’s the same thing we do with alcohol. We say this has this much alcohol, like beer has a certain amount of alcohol in it, bourbon has a certain amount. You see it on the label, so you know what you’re getting and how it’s going to effect you.

Shane: Right. Tell me if I’m wrong, but you’re advocating your own personal responsibility, your own personal control. That’s essentially what you believe regarding cannabis.

Rev. Tom Capo: Yeah. I think that’s certainly true and from an educated and safe point of view. We don’t want to just say, and I don’t think this is happening … In the states where it has been legalized, as you said, they’re testing, they’re making sure that what’s being sold is safe and that people know what they’re getting. That’s not the case on the black market.

Shane: No. And do you support home grow choices for people? Let me just say this though. When I say home grow, I don’t mean growing a cannabis plant outside of your home. I’m talking about, say, a contained grow box where people can grow inside of their home, and over the course of x amount of weeks, they can grow a plant, and in turn, they can smoke that plant

Rev. Tom Capo: Oh sure. I would support that. We have people right now, what do we have, all those home brewers that are making their own beers and making their own wines. And if this is the logical move in that direction, as it continues to be legalized, that people should make their own choices about that. I mean, we don’t have somebody going into people’s houses now and saying, “You can’t brew your own beer in your basement.” Shouldn’t that be the same for marijuana as well?

Shane: I can understand that. You don’t want anybody else telling you what you can and cannot do in your own home. Sure.

Rev. Tom Capo: Yeah. But if it’s a Schedule 1, you can’t, and until it gets off that, none of this can happen. And I think, too, we’re just at the beginning stages of all this. Legalization recreational use is something that is just now changing in so many of our states, and eventually, it will come to the federal government, I’m sure of that because, after a certain number of states have passed it, there’s not going to be any way to go backward. But the point that which we get where people can grow it in their own home, I think, is some point in the future. It took a while for us to change laws around home brewing and even small breweries. Laws have changed state to state until it’s something that now most states are allowing people to brew their own and create small micro-breweries, and I think the same thing would happen if they would remove the Schedule 1 from marijuana.

Shane: Do you think that’s going to happen any time soon?

Rev. Tom Capo: Well, that’s the challenge. Things change. Laws, attitudes, things change slowly and quickly. I’m thinking about same-sex marriage. It seemed like it was moving so slowly across the country, a state here or a state there. And then all of a sudden the supreme court ruled on it. So some of these things can seem like it’s taking decades, and then something will happen a change. Well, the change right now, with the women’s campaign against sexual abuse. That just happened in a flash. It was certainly brewing under our consciousness for a long time, but something allowed that to happen, and it moved forward in a month. It was everywhere. And I think those kinds of social and legal changes can happen … It’s not like we shouldn’t continue to work state by state and try to make those changes, but I do think there’ll be a tipping point at some point, and this will happen.

Shane: Now, in terms of changing the laws, do you think there can be an overcorrection, in terms of social change?

Rev. Tom Capo: I need a clearer question there.

Shane: Well, right. This wasn’t part of my questions.

Rev. Tom Capo: Perfectly fine.

Shane: No, no, yeah. Okay. Sorry. Well, let’s just-

Rev. Tom Capo: Well, if you’re saying that you feel like it would reach the point where everybody was using marijuana across the country, and it became overused, and we had people giving it to kids, or whatever.

Shane: Right. Yeah. If it just became so … I’m sorry, go ahead.

Rev. Tom Capo: I just don’t think there’s going to be that. I don’t think there’s going to be an overcorrection. If we did this responsibly, and that’s what the states are doing right now. Every state that has legalized marijuana, either for medicinal purposes or for recreational use, has been very meticulous in how they implemented the process. And I might not agree with all that, for instance, in the state of Illinois, they don’t let people use it for pain management. They have like 400 other things they can use it for, but they can’t use it for that.

Rev. Tom Capo: So I just don’t think we’re going to reach a place where the government isn’t going to be involved, at some level. They’re still involved with cigarettes; they’re still involved with alcohol. There are certain regulations. It’s never going to reach a place where there isn’t going to be some management of how it’s distributed. I just don’t think it’s going to be free and clear that you can do whatever you want. But I think it is going to be; I think you can reach a place where there are smart laws about how people can use marijuana, just as there are smart laws about how people can use alcohol. When there’s a certain level of alcohol in the system, that, if you’re driving, is illegal. And we need to figure out the same kind of thing for marijuana. But it doesn’t mean people can’t utilize it; it just means we do it in a smart way, a safe way.

Shane: And I guess, as a final question here, as a Reverend, I know at the beginning of the interview, you’re like, “Hey, listen, these are my thoughts only.” But what would you say to people in the religious community that take a stance that isn’t the same as yours? I’m not asking you to convince them, but what would you say to “them”? And use this conversation as a microphone.

Rev. Tom Capo: Well, from my point of view as a minister, it would be the issue of morals and ethics. I think there is not in any religious scripture or tradition that says don’t smoke marijuana, or don’t use marijuana. There is not anything there in the Bible or the Koran, or the Dhammapada, or the Rig-Veda, or any of those religious scriptures. And I don’t hear from other religious leaders that there’s anything in their tradition that specifically speaks to this. Now, I do think that as a religious leader, part of my message would certainly be, if you use any kind of controlled substance, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, that you do it responsibly. You don’t want to put others at risk.

Rev. Tom Capo: And I think that if I go and talk to another religious leader and ask them about this and what their concerns would be, most of them would be concerned about being safe, advocating for treatment for those who it becomes a problem. And I think, from a moral or ethical point of view, if we are really people of faith who say we need to take care of one another, especially those who are having difficulties in this world, that it’s incumbent upon us to take care of those who are in poverty or who have an addiction.

Rev. Tom Capo: So from my perspective, I know that there are religious leaders out there who would not advocate for the use of cannabis, but there are certainly religious leaders who also speak out against the use of alcohol. But I think the vast majority of the religious leaders that are out there are going to look at how do we take care of those people who have problems, and who have problems with addiction, or poverty or not getting health care or any of those things. I have yet to hear a religious leader, and of course, I’m on more of the liberal end of the things, saying that we need to keep cannabis on the Schedule 1 of the controlled substance, that we never need to let people have access to this chemical that might be helpful to them. If anything, I hear from religious leaders who say, from a medical perspective there are people that are helped by this drug, and we need to be able to help people get that medicine.

Rev. Tom Capo: I’ve heard many religious leaders say, “I have a congregant that has cancer, and they can’t get marijuana to help them with their nausea or to help them with their pain,” and “What can I do to help them? What is it I can do to help them?” So, again, I don’t hear a lot of buzz out there among religious leaders about legalization of marijuana, both for recreation and medical use. But I think, again, their perspective on it is just that we do it, for me anyway, we do it in a smart way and in a way that doesn’t create more difficulties for those out there, whether it be buying too much or not being able to function without it or any of those kind of things. But I think that’s a small population. But we are also called to help those. However, few they are, to be sure that they’re helped, get the help that they need.

Shane: Thank you, Reverend Capo, for taking the time to answer my questions today. This is Shane from, signing off.

Important URL links:

DuPage UU Church Twitter
DupageUU Church Youtube Channel
The Rev. Tom Capo has joined DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church in Naperville as its new minister
Drug Schedules

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