Today, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) had it’s first ever meeting on SCSU’s campus. You can find out information about the organization, which has over 100 chapters in the U.S. and more in other countries, on its Web site. Though it might be easy to assume otherwise because it is a college organization regarding drugs, the organization does not promote the use of drugs or necessarily support the legalization of narcotics. Instead, it is focused on more sensible drug policies on the campus, city, state, or national level, namely due to the failures of the United States’ current War on Drugs. The mission statement, also available on their Web site along with other helpful information, is as follows:

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society.

SSDP mobilizes and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth.

Again, as per their values statement available on the Web site, SSDP “neither encourages nor condemns drug use.” Instead, it seeks “a just and compassionate society where drug abuse is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue.” Furthermore, the SSDP continues, “As scholars we seek solutions to society’s drug problems through focused research, honest dialogue, and informed debate, instead of unquestioned extremism, punishment, and propaganda.”

So that’s the SSDP. Now that SCSU officially has a chapter, I hope the issue of sensible drug policy can more earnestly be discussed on campus. In fact, I’m rather optimistic that this can happen even after just the first meeting tonight. There were good ideas brought up about spreading awareness and contributing useful dialogue. We are still discussing the scope of our focus (thinking primarily the campus-level at the moment) and the types of policies we should be promoting, but I’m confident this organization has the capability of creating meaningful discourse and even implementing helpful changes because I know there are members working on this who are eager, intelligent, and devoted to the issue.

My diatribe on the issue
What is my take on the issue of drug policy? I don’t know how aligned my views are with the rest of the group’s but I think we can all definitely agree the War on Drugs has been a fantastic failure. The research and academic literature on this issue is immense, and I cannot possibly address it all. To make a seriously thorough post on this topic is probably beyond my capability, especially for the purpose of crafting a blog post (so I won’t pretend to address every or even most of the salient points, which are important and have been discussed diligently elsewhere). One thing has become abundantly clear, though: Prohibition does not cause things to go away; it makes things more dangerous among other adverse social effects. The argument in support of the War on Drugs are plentiful and nuanced (mostly coming from the conservative right), but usually fall flat when seriously scrutinized.

Of particular interest has been the issue of marijuana. Increasingly, the American public has been concerned with the government’s harsh laws on marijuana and there has been a very strong push for legalization (or at least decriminalization), even to such an extent that President Obama and his administration had to respond. The response has been less harsh than that of President Bush’s, but it still falls short.

But we cannot even begin to talk about the criminalization of marijuana without first acknowledging its purpose. There is a reason why marijuana is illegal (and alcohol is not, for example). History actually ran a show about it (Hooked: Illegal Drugs and How They Got That Way—I recommend everyone watch it). The reason is because it was associated with “deviants” (read: minorities). So the policy has its roots in racism. The laws are still quite racist, in fact. The only way to justify them is through bigotry.

There is no medical reason for banning marijuana (a claim strongly supported by the medical literature). Certain drugs, including marijuana, have become criminalized because they’re associated with what’s called the “dangerous classes,” meaning poor people. That’s why, for example, gin was criminalized in 19th century London and whiskey was not. Poor people drank gin. This is why the sentencing for crack is so much harsher than for powder cocaine. Poor people use crack. For marijuana, it was Mexicans bringing it in. That’s why you’ve got to criminalize it.

So, yes, it’s also quite true that there was a time when these things weren’t prohibited. Society functioned still. In fact, there are places were it’s currently not criminalized. Take Portugal for example. They’re a functioning society. In fact, since they’ve legalized marijuana, they have said it has benefited their society (teen drug use decreased, HIV from needle sharing decreased, and treatment increased). Of course, one should not be surprised by this.

As it happens, places such as the National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study and the RAND Corporation have done studies the cost effectiveness of certain approaches. Invariably, what they find is that treatment and prevention is the most cost effective (and by large margins). Law enforcement, police work, and incarceration was more expensive and less effective. Even more expensive and even less effective is border intervention. The least effective and most costly? Extra-national operations. So what approach do the United States take? We actually do it in the opposite direction. We’re spending more money on doing things like engaging in chemical warfare on Colombia’s farms. The next biggest place we spend money is on border intervention, and down the line. Why is it done this way? Because it helps corporations and the government. It’s used as a cover for counter-insurgency, clears the land of peasants so large multinational corporations can come in for resource extraction and agrobusiness, benefits the prison-industrial complex, grows the government, unconstitutionally expands their power, etc. But it doesn’t stop drug use. And this is no small amount either. We’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars on this so-called war on drugs. And for what? For naught. (In fact, it’s making things worse.) All the while we could be making billions from the legal sale of it in taxes. On the other hand, while we’re losing hundreds of billions, drug cartels and other illegal enterprises are making billions. Does that really seem logical to anyone?