Thursday, October 7, 2010

From Williams College: Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Steve Luther, President of the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy  chapter at Williams College, writes:

"I started a discussion on a Williams online forum about marijuana vs. alcohol and the justification for legalization.  It has so far been a very civil and well-reasoned debate":

Here is Steve's post, which spearheaded  a lively, intelligent discussion.

"On any given weekend, a portion of the student body will be smoking pot and/or drinking. To some, this is obvious, inevitable, part of the college experience. To others, it may be morally objectionable. Because of the vastly differing views on drug use, I think it is important to come to an understanding about the safest way to do them that reflects the best interests of all students.

In my opinion, alcohol abuse poses the greatest risk to student safety on campus, but it enjoys a sort of special protection from both criticism and punishment because of its widespread social acceptance. Both nationally and in the Williams community, there is a clear double standard regarding attitudes toward alcohol and marijuana reflected in the disciplinary response to the respective substances.

Why do the laws and law enforcement policies punish marijuana use more readily than they do alcohol use? The obvious answer is that one is illegal, the other legal. This is not a satisfactory answer. Alcohol is not only a highly toxic substance that is responsible for the deaths of thousands every year, but it contributes to societal problems like domestic violence, disorderly behavior, and texts that you wished you hadn't sent. Marijuana is far less harmful comparatively; the toxicity of marijuana is so low that there has never been an overdose on marijuana, the effects are generally calming and relaxing, and you are able to function like a human being the next morning. Yet the recreational use of pot is met with harsher punishments and a higher level of social stigmatization than the drug responsible for the stale vomit smell lingering in your hallway? Hard to believe.

Assume for a second you're convinced that alcohol is more harmful than marijuana. What is the law enforcement response? The Williams handbook is clear that it is illegal for anyone under age 21 to possess or purchase alcohol and illegal to provide alcohol to minors, just as it is against the law to possess illegal drugs (including the decriminalized but still illegal marijuana). Offenders of these rules will be dealt with according to state and federal law. The WPD only made 39 arrests for liquor law violations last year, while Campus Safety and Security reported 81 alcohol violations. In contrast, there were only 37 drug violations reported on campus and 64 arrests made for drug charges on campus and in areas contiguous to campus. Forgive my rusty statistics skills, but it seems to me that the college policy is slipping through the cracks when it comes to enforcing state laws regarding alcohol. The administration is, however, making the police very happy by calling them up every time they get a wiff of marijuana in the air; this is clearly evident in the ease in which they cooperated with the police in changing their drug enforcement policy dealing with 'On Campus' iliicit activities. Can one students actions jumping out his window with a bong really be enough to change the laws of a prestigous university?.

My issue is that alcohol abuse poses a greater health risk and causes greater damage to society than illicit �hard drugs� like marijuana- yet alcohol abuse as reflected in the prevalence of underage binge drinking does not incite disciplinary action by the school, while the mere act of possessing a device used for smoking marijuana requires the involvement of state authority. If the college (and our national government) had public health and safety foremost in their mind, alcohol and marijuana would at the very least be equals in regulatory status. If the administration was to enforce underage drinking laws with the involvement of police as they do with marijuana possession, there would be an uproar. So again I ask- why the double standard?

Let me be clear. I do not want Security to start issuing citations for underage possession or opening investigations into who provided the booze at a party. Rather, I am advocating a policy of harm reduction. The college should recognize the reality of student drug and alcohol use on campus and seek to prevent negative consequences. In the case of alcohol, this means a shift in the campus culture towards safer practices and moderation. I'm not a prude or a hypocrite asking you to cease all drinking immediately. But let's at least stop convincing ourselves that blacking out � not remembering part of the night � is a good way to occupy the weekend hours. People should also find ways to enjoy themselves in Williamstown without abusing alcohol- an admittedly difficult task come January.

A harm reduction strategy targeted at illegal drugs should take the form of honest and open education, ample resources providing for the safest use possible, and a Medical Amnesty clause explicitly stating that students will not be punished if they call for help during an emergency situation related to drugs or alcohol. As I've tried to point out here, I think the most harmful consequence of marijuana use are not the effects of the drug, but rather the consequences imposed on people by irrational laws.

I understand that Williams is constrained in its actions by federal laws. Drug policy is consequently a local issue that requires national lobbying efforts. To get involved with Students for Sensible Drug Policy and help end counterproductive prohibitionist laws, contact me at



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