Written by Rob Hofmann ‘16 and Sarah Noon ‘18
One of the understated impacts of the War on Drugs is the effect that criminalization of drugs has on young people. Young people (under 18 to 35), especially young people of color, make up a substantial amount of the arrests that occur throughout our half-century disastrous drug war. Because young people are on the frontlines of some of the harshest impacts of the War on Drugs, it is vital that advocates are pushing for strong and specific protections for young people against punitive measures and criminalization in and out of school settings.
A new Connecticut marijuana legalization bill is trying to set the bar for what protecting young people from the harms of prohibition means. HB6377, proposed by Connecticut United for Reform and Equity, a Connecticut-based advocacy group which includes incoming SSDP Executive Director Jason Ortiz ‘09, is a significant step up from its counterpart in the State Senate, lacking home grow provisions and a workforce development program for people with criminal histories.
Section 29 of HB6377 has specific protections for students and young people, including:
- Capping cannabis possession offenses on school grounds to those given for alcohol possession;
- Limiting out of school suspension for cannabis possession to ten days;
- Forbidding termination of residency or eviction from student housing for cannabis-related activity permitted by this bill;
- Protecting students’ financial aid and student loans from revocation for cannabis-related activity permitted by this bill, and;
- Encouraging schools to establish restorative justice and/or cannabis diversion programs for cannabis and other drugs, prioritizing beneficial, non-punitive measures such as counseling, drug education, and general support for students.
While giving testimony for the bill, SSDP’s U.S. Federal Policy Liaison, Sarah Noon ‘18, recounted her experience of being suspended in high school, after confiding to a teacher about witnessing another student’s overdose, and the horrific bureaucratic aftermath:
“On every application, I am required to check a box indicating whether or not I have been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at any educational institution since ninth grade. I have to check yes on that box and provide a statement with the exact date, circumstances, and what I learned from the experience. I learned that I can’t trust my teachers or school workers with information concerning substance abuse, even when a student’s life is at stake, without fearing punitive consequences. The No Tolerance policy promotes exclusion, incarceration, and punishment. Although I was not responsible for any academic or behavioral misconduct, I was suspended, and I can only hope that educational institutions will not use it to determine my character or ability to succeed in their program. This is a reality for hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S.
Punishing children by taking them out of school and placing them in the juvenile justice system is a hindrance to public safety. Processing and confining children exposes them to damaging impacts, including abuse, suicide, and significant disruptions to development. Incarcerated youth face barriers to employment, education, experience lower life expectancies, and are likely to spend a lifetime in poverty. Youth will thrive and be better prepared for the world when our schools drug policy provides counselors, psychologists, and drug education that is comprehensive, compassionate, and reality-based.”
Section 29 should be the new standard for all marijuana legalization bills moving forward. To support the work of CURECT, go to their website for more information.