Two experts discuss benefits of drug policy reform during forum
Published: Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 23:10
A pair of drug policy reform advocates spoke Tuesday night during an event hosted by West Virginia University Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
The event, "Voices of Change: Building Stronger Communities through Drug Policy Reform," featured a discussion by Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and Rabbi Jeffrey Kahn, former executive director of Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative.
"How many of you would agree that the primary goal of any drug policy should be to save lives, to protect the lives of people who use drugs?" Sterling asked the audience.
The majority of the audience agreed with Sterling by a show of hands.
"Sadly, our current drug policy since 1980 has resulted in a tripling in the rate of death in the U.S. from the use of illegal drugs," he said. "This is the consequence of our current drug policy."
Sterling discussed the unintended effects of the current drug policy including the deforestation of the Amazon.
According to the U.S. Department of State, America has contributed to one quarter of the deforestation in the Amazon through the use of pesticides and herbicides to remove marijuana plants, he said.
Sterling mentioned the economic consequences of the drug trade for countries such as Mexico. More than $7 or 8 billion is pumped into Mexico by America's consumption of drugs, he said.
"This has enriched the most violent, most lawless gangs of criminals (to the point) that they now threatened the viability of the Mexican state," he said. "They want one thing, impunity. They want to operate outside the law."
Sterling said American society faces the same consequences if it does not deal with its drug problem.
Regulation is the easiest way to defeat drug criminals to take the control away from the illegal markets, Sterling said.
"This is not a law of nature," he said. "This is a law of Congress, and it must be reformed completely. Our objective must be to adopt a drug policy whose goal is to protect drug users from harm."
Kahn, who also is opening the first medical marijuana dispensary in D.C., took a different approach to the drug policy reform topic and discussed the immoral implications and stereotypes that have evolved about drug use.
"Besides being illegal, most of us tend to think that because cannabis is illegal, it must be immoral, too," Kahn said.
Kahn cited from the Bible, emphasizing that cannabis is a plant, and according to the Bible, God created all plants.
Sarah Rowley, a junior interior design major, said she came to the event to become more educated on the topic.
"I really want to expand my knowledge on the drug policy in the U.S.," she said.
Doug Teter, a junior chemical engineering major, came to learn more about the current drug policy. Teter said he was also interested in learning about the first medical marijuana dispensary Kahn is opening in D.C.
David Tyler George, vice president of WVU's SSDP, said he hopes events like this motivate students to become more involved and educated about drug policy issues.
"This is a crisis, and it is your generation that has the opportunity, if not the duty, to address the drug policy," Sterling said. "This is your Vietnam, this is your Civil Rights Movement … This is your fight to save the planet."