Columbia University College Republicans (CUCR) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) came together (to the same room number) Wednesday evening for a heated discussion of U.S. drug policy. We sent our cannabis correspondent to sniff around.
There isn’t a much better way to start a meeting than brownies, even if they aren’t special. (From CUCR’s email about the meeting: “We promise there won’t be any drugs in the brownies. Unless you consider chocolate, eggs, flour, and/or love drugs. In which case there will be drugs in the brownies.) No, I can tell you, there were no drugs in the brownies.
After the drugless brownie frenzy died down, CUCR and SSDP members took their seats. The conversation got rolling when mediator Jamie Boothe, CC ’15, called on an SSDP member. Preemptively on the defensive, the SSDP member made a general case for decriminalization, citing reasons like the inevitability of drug use and the benefits of regulating the market.
Then the conversation took a confused turn. A Republican asked, “Heroin and cocaine are illegal, yes?”
After this minor issue was set straight, the next several speakers established that the crowd was largely in support of decriminalizing at least some types of drugs, while a small but vocal minority opposed decriminalization altogether.
A few speakers used Prohibition as an example of the ineffectiveness of banning substances. One Republican went so far as to assert that our current drug policy is unconstitutional because, unlike Prohibition, it is not supported by constitutional amendment.
Other speakers brought up a myriad of good points: decriminalization would allow the government to tax drugs for revenue, people would be more likely to seek help for addiction, and we could impose more regulations and oversight on the industry. If all of those points came from CUCR, no wonder their party is having such an identity crisis.
Shit started to hit the fan when CUCR member Kate Christensen proclaimed her total opposition to decriminalization, drug use of any kind, and all other forms of moral debauchery. “I don’t want to live in a world where heroin is legal,” she said, “just as I don’t want to live in a world where prostitution is legal.”
This elicited a directed question from the SSDP member who started the discussion. After making it clear that he didn’t mean the question as an attack, he demanded, “What would a world in which heroin was legal look like to you?”
“Amsterdam,” someone else responded immediately.
After some verbal fumbling, Christensen responded to the question by describing how drugs prevent people from making rational decisions and rob them of their agency. To make her point more accessible, she asked, “How many people in here have ever been drunk? You have way less agency when you’re drunk.”
The question asker made the reasonable point that imposing laws that limit people’s rights takes away their agency.
Later, Christensen stated her belief that better drug education was the way to curb abuse–because we all know how effective those “Don’t be a dope, say nope” campaigns were. “If we could have more comprehensive drug and alcohol education in schools, that could help people make smarter decisions down the line,” she said.
This elicited an even more conservative response from a fellow Republican, who did not wait for Boothe to call on him: “It’s a personal freedom issue. I am an adult, so if I want to pollute my body with whatever, I should be able to pollute my body with whatever.” He discussed how decriminalization could eliminate some of the crime inherent in the illegal drug trade.
“But if it’s not about weed, it’ll be about something else,” someone said. (Incidentally, this was the same person who earlier inquired about the legality of heroine and cocaine.) “No, it won’t,” the original speaker snapped.
Throughout the discussion, Boothe seemed fixated on the idea that decriminalization would mean loads of hard drugs everywhere. One attempt to provoke the conversation (not that it needed it) began, “If we were to legalize substances such as crystal meth…” Later, he proposed an admittedly “hypothetical” situation in which any drug was legally available for adult consumption. Both ideas were disregarded by the discussion group.
Another CUCR member started on an impassioned rant with plenty of verbal affectation. “It’s really a question of what type of world you want to live in,” he said. “That’s really it. That’s the fundamental question.” In his belief, people who do drugs should get “locked up” because “that’s not the worst thing ever.” He even has some personal experience on the matter: “I know people who have gone to prison.”
On the question of what’s right for those who use drugs and their families, one speaker asked whether it’s worse for a father to be locked in prison while his kids grow up, or to be home and “stoned once a week.”
Boothe’s response to this whole area of the discussion: “Just say no, then.”
Another speaker brought up the interesting point that our current drug policy prevents studies researching the effects of illicit drugs. While this point actually received some snaps, others seemed to feel uncomfortable with it.
One speaker chipped in about how he doesn’t know how acid affects people who use it and the people around them. Unimpressed by his wishy-washyness, someone snapped, “Perhaps you should try it and report back.”
Plenty of questions were raised at the meeting, and plenty of personal opinions were expressed. Yet I left feeling like nothing had been accomplished between CUCR and SSDP because members of both groups were just preaching to their choir. So I think we all need to ask ourselves the fundamental question of what type of world we want to live in–and grab a brownie, drugless or otherwise. Because while lots of people got fired up here at the Joint Meeting, no one succeeded in reaching any answers.