Editorial | Heavy-handed federal drug policies hit the Hill
Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 04:04
Students yesterday voted in the election for Tufts Community Union president but did not, as planned, vote on a proposed referendum that would have shown student support for amending the school’s code of conduct. The proposed amendment would have lessened the penalty for possession or use of one ounce or less of marijuana to a $100 fine and a required meeting with the Tufts Department of Health Education. Recurring offenses would not have faced escalating penalties.
Currently, students found using or in possession of small amounts of marijuana face the same penalty as underage students caught drinking alcohol.
The logic behind this referendum was sound. It would have brought the punishment for possession or use of marijuana in line with Massachusetts law, as a 2008 voter referendum decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of the drug. Marijuana use is not a problem on campus and should not be disciplined as though it is.
Unfortunately, the referendum was killed before it even saw the ballot, as a review by the Committee on Student Life found the proposed policy change might have conflicted with the Drug Free Schools and Campus Act (DFSCA). The act requires educational institutions receiving federal funding to certify that they have taken action to prevent the use of illegal drugs on campus. Since there were concerns that the policy could not be implemented because it failed to meet DFSCA standards, the referendum was left off the ballot.
The fact that the DFSCA prevented students from showing their support for a sensible policy perfectly in line with Massachusetts law exemplifies just how illogically heavy-handed U.S. federal anti-drug policy is.
The antiquated, puritanical notions driving current drug policy have no place in the 21st century.
The War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster. The vigor with which the U.S. government has pursued illegal drugs has done nothing to reduce drug use or violent crime; Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske admitted as much two years ago. Instead, decades of misguided U.S. policies have led to a violence-fueled black market for drugs that in turn has led to hundreds of thousands of violent deaths, much like how prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s facilitated widespread organized crime.
As Tufts has experienced firsthand, federal drug policy also encroaches on states’ rights. Growers in 16 states that have legalized medicinal marijuana find themselves caught in legal limbo between state and federal law, a situation made even more frustrating by the federal government’s selective enforcement of drug policies.
The question of drug legalization is a separate issue, but it’s an entirely legitimate one to discuss. It’s hard to argue that drugs like marijuana are more destructive than alcohol or cigarettes, and the billions of dollars spent each year to fight the drug trade could almost certainly be more effectively spent on drug education and addiction treatment programs.
What is certain is that no logical person can honestly argue that current U.S. anti-drug policies are effective or just.