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April 25, 2005 - The Flat Hat (VA Edu)

SSDP Fights For Drug Policy Reform

By Meera Fickling

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

This week, the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy sponsored Drug Policy Week, putting on a series of events to increase the visibility of drug legalization issues on campus. SSDP freshman member Constance Sisk said she hoped that the week would raise awareness and "erase some of the stigma" associated with the organization and drug use.

Sanho Tree, director for drug policy studies at the Institute of Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. and a member of the national board of directors for SSDP, spoke Monday night about Plan Columbia, a federal initiative to halt the growing of coca in the region. According to Tree, although the plan was originally intended to end poverty and build infrastructure in the conflict-torn country and was backed by western European countries, it has not worked as described.

Tree pointed out that herbicides sprayed from helicopters to kill coca crops harm the environment, cause skin and respiratory problems among people living in the area and kill any legal crops planted nearby.

Tuesday, the club hosted a screening of the film "Busted," a docu-drama about what to do during a police encounter.

"We hope that students came away with an understanding of how to assert their fourth and fifth amendment rights," freshman club member Evan Doboga said.

The club also passed out American Civil Liberties Union wallet cards at the University Center to help students understand their rights if stopped by the police.

At 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, the club held a smoke-out in the Sunken Gardens featuring guitar music, cigarette-rolling classes and smoking tobacco in hookah pipes. The organizers of the event stressed that the smoke-out was intended to make a political statement, not to condone substance abuse.

"We weren't trying to glorify or promote illegal drug use," McLean said.

Yesterday, the organization hosted speaker Peter Christ, a retired police captain who worked in law enforcement for 20 years and was a captain for three. He represented Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an international nonprofit organization with about 2,500 members, including 250 law enforcement officers, who strive to inform the public about the arguments in favor of drug legalization.

"It's a long educational process because we haven't really talked about this as a society," Christ said. "The most common response we get after a presentation is, 'I never thought about it this way before.'"

Drawing parallels to boxing and the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, Christ argued that prohibition of drugs does not halt the sale of illegal substances but rather it merely drives the market underground, empowering the gangs that sell them, funding terrorist organizations and effectively deregulating production and sales.

"Not one society that has ever used prohibition to solve any of these problems has ever been successful," Christ said. "Opium is now cheaper and purer and more available on the streets of America than in any period in history."

Christ made a distinction between laws that protect citizens from harm and those that merely prohibit a consensual transaction.

"We are granted this right [to punish law breakers] because our job is to protect people from each other," he said. He argued that substance laws do not fall into that category. He also differentiated between drug use-related crimes and drug transaction-related crimes, which he said make up 85 percent of the drug-related violence reported in newspapers.

SSDP was formed in the early 1990s, and its chapter at the College was founded four years ago. Earlier this year, the organization successfully lobbied the Student Assembly to pass a bill condemning the Higher Education Act of 1998, which states that students convicted of a drug crime may not receive government financial assistance. No other crime precludes a student from receiving such aid.

The week's final event, the Love and Understanding Festival, will feature the live bands Seed Is, Centaur and the Merry Gypsies, and will be held tomorrow at 4 p.m. in the Crim Dell meadow.

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