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April 21, 2005 - The Dog Street Journal (VA Edu)

Just Say Yes ... To Drug Policy Week

By Joshua Wayland

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

According to Steven Hager, editor at High Times magazine, the term 420 originated with a group of illicit drug users at San Rafael High School in 1971. Apparently, the teenagers made a habit of meeting every afternoon at 4:20 pm in order to smoke marijuana. Other theorists claim that the 420 was originally a law enforcement code for a drug felony in progress. Eventually, the number became a code for the drug itself, eventually gaining widespread popularity among users.

Whatever its origin, 420 has become a catch phrase for drug aficionados and drug-oriented organizations nationwide. Thus it is highly appropriate that Students for a Sensible Drug Policy chose this, the week of 20 April, to host a number of educational events on campus.

"We decided that if enough people knew about the War on Drugs and how heinous it is, then everyone would be on our side," said John McClean, one of the group's most active members. "Not a lot of people have actually thought about the issue, or how big it is."

The War on Drugs is the popular term for a series of federal law enforcement policies with the ultimate goal of removing illicit recreational drugs from American society. The movement is generally agreed to have begun in 1970 with President Nixon's "Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act." Since then, says McClean and SSDP, the War on Drugs has been used to justify horrendous abuses of law enforcement power, ranging from blatantly racist policies to wholesale environmental devastation.

The week kicked off Monday at 7:00 p.m. in McGlothlin Street Hall with a lecture about Plan Columbia. This U.S.-funded project entails the application of herbicide to thousands of acres of suspected coca plantations with potentially disastrous consequences for both the local environment and indigent farmers. "Anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist should be outraged at what the U.S. government is doing in Columbia under the auspices of Plan Columbia," says McClean.

On Tuesday, the organization is sponsoring a screening of Busted: A Citizen's Guide to Police Encounters at 7:00 p.m. in Washington 201. The viewing will be followed by a question and answer period with a constitutional lawyer about the fine points of dealing with law enforcement.

To celebrate 4/20 itself, SSDP has scheduled an Illicit-Drug-Free Smoke Out in the Sunken Gardens at 4:20 pm. If all goes as planned, there will be hookahs, cigarette-rolling classes and an abundance of good company. The point, says McClean, is "to juxtapose tobacco use versus marijuana and how society views them."

McClean and other members of SSDP argue that marijuana especially should not be placed in the same category of other illicit substances. "While it is not free on consequences by any means, the effects of tobacco and alcohol are at least as harmful as marijuana."

On Thursday, a retired Police Officer and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) will talk about drug policies and enforcement. "His position isn't left or right wing. It's more common sense," says McClean. "We're not just arguing this from a philosophical standpoint; we're arguing this from a practical standpoint. The War on Drugs has failed.we need to try something different."

One of the reasons that SSDP feels that the War on Drugs has failed is because it maintains an abstinence-only policy in which programs like D.A.R.E. instruct teenagers to "Just say no." "Well, what if you say yes?" asked McClean. He and his organization feel that teaching harm-minimizing drug use is as important as making known their legal and health-related consequences, and much more practical.

The week wraps up with the Love and Understanding Festival starting at 4:00 pm on Saturday in the Crim Dell Meadow. Live bands will be featured, including Seed Is, Centaur and the Merry Gypsies.

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy is a nation-wide organization with well over one hundred chapters. Membership is small at the College, but dedicated. Many of its most active members, McClean included, are freshmen and much of the group's recent activities were inspired by these enthusiastic underclassmen. Thus, McClean says he is hopeful that the organization's presence on campus will grow in coming years as students come to realize that they mean to be taken seriously. "I imagine we'll inspire reactions along the lines of 'Oh yeah, SSDP is a stoner group,'" he said, "but even if that were true it is a silly argument for not listening to what someone has to say."

McClean, who recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for Student Senate under the slogan "F* the Alcohol Task Force," has been instrumental in presenting SSDP's message to Student Government. Recently, the group helped convince the Student Senate to pass a statement against the Drug Provision of the Higher Education Act of 1998. According to the SSDP national website, this amendment "denies federal financial aid to anyone convicted of drug-related offences, no matter how minor."

McClean is quick to point out that no other convictions, including murder, carry such a consequence. "We came to the Student Senate with our concerns about this--mostly that it disproportionally affects minorities and kids who are good students, but who are poor and can't afford college."

It is discrepancies like this one that McClean finds most appalling about modern drug policies. "Really, the War on Drugs isn't targeting me directly. That's because I'm upper class, I'm white, and I'm in college. The real people that it affects are minorities and urban poor.there is rampant racial bias in how the drug war is fought."

By any means, Drug Policy Week is not exclusively for drug users. In fact, the real purpose of the week is to educate those of us who have never thought about drug policy. "If you pay attention and learn the facts then you might come to care as strongly about it as we do," said McClean. He explained that as an organization, SSDP takes no official stance on legalization or decriminalization. Their self-stated purpose is educational. Through speakers, films and protests, SSDP hopes to inform students about the more sinister side of the War on Drugs.

Says McClean, "What we do agree on is that the War on Drugs has been perpetuated in the name of the children, who are us. And we the children have realized that the War on Drugs sucks and we're not going to stand for it anymore, especially when it's going to be fought in our name."

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