It may be an off-election year, but it’s been a big one for drug policy reform. Earlier this year in an interview with the New Yorker, President Obama demonstrated open support for the legalization of marijuana, stating, “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol”. The New York Times editorial board made history as the first major national paper to call for an end to marijuana prohibition. In June, New York became the 23rd state in the country to legalize medical marijuana. New York could potentially legalize recreational marijuana in 2015, as state Sen. Liz Krueger (D) plans to reintroduce the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act during the next legislative session.
We’re entering a revolutionary moment in the United States. As attitudes change, reformers and politicians alike have a unique opportunity to change broken policies and to move into a future where we do things differently.
Which begs the question, in the midst of all these changes, how will Binghamton University and the SUNY system adjust policies and attitudes to best reduce the harms of both drug use and drug prohibition?
Presently, both BU and the SUNY system divide substances into two distinct categories: alcohol and all other drugs. And in a message from President Harvey Stenger in which he asks students to make responsible choices, Stenger admits that it would be naive to think that students free from parental supervision would entirely refrain from indulging in night-life activities like underage drinking. And his solution is abstinence from alcohol and drug use: “Please don’t.”
Talk about a missed opportunity. The generic “Just Say No” rhetoric rings loud and clear. As an anti-drug PSA, Stenger’s message is useless and fails to offer any life-saving advice. An effective PSA combats ignorance with information. For example, students could benefit from learning that New York is one of 20 states with Good Samaritan laws. These laws provide limited immunity from charge and prosecution for drug and alcohol possession for the victim and those who seek help during an overdose. Students deserve to know that New York police officers are undergoing training to use naloxone, a drug that can reverse heroin and opioid overdoses.
The blatant flaw of America’s drug war, the belief that prohibition will protect young people, must end. A drug conviction does nothing to help young people, instead doing the opposite. A drug conviction can affect a student’s ability to receive financial aid. Access to financial aid could mean the difference between a student continuing their education and facing a depressed job market with the burden of legal discrimination.
While Stenger’s PSA was well-intentioned, it completely misses the point. Stenger acknowledges that underage drinking happens, but he fails to consider that it will continue to happen regardless of his polite request. Zero tolerance approaches are unrealistic, ineffective and even harmful to students.
We need comprehensive drug education in order to make informed choices involving our health and future rather than simplistic resistance techniques. Our school policy ought to provide sound information with respect to our intelligence and volition. Administrators must begin to speak honestly about alcohol and other drugs, distinguish between use and abuse, and institute a school policy grounded in science, compassion, health and student rights.