The War on Drugs: Worth it or Worthless?

Last week, our chapter at the University of Arkansas hosted a hugely successful drug war debate, generating widespread media coverage and bringing together an audience of nearly 400 people.

I spoke with University of Arkansas SSDP chapter leader Stephen Duke about the event;

1. Describe the event. How many people were there? What was the atmosphere like? How receptive was the audience? Who was there?

Arkansas ssdp

We hosted a debate between Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann, and former DEA Head Administrator Asa Hutchinson at the University of Arkansas. Both speakers took a side on the War on Drugs and had a very interesting and informative debate on the many aspects of this failed war. About 350-400 people showed up to the event, which really made me proud. It’s not every day that you can say you educated that many people at once. The atmosphere was really energetic, and even intense at times. You could definitely tell that many people in the audience (predominately college students) had been negatively affected by drug laws. The audience sided with Ethan’s arguments, but applauded Asa when he agreed with Ethan about medical marijuana, as well as saying he didn’t think small-time drug offenders should be incarcerated. There were many college students there, but there was also a good representation from the community, including a city council member.

2. The University of Arkansas had decided to fund the event but changed their decision at the last minute unless you produced another speaker for Ethan. What did you do and how did you change the event to keep the school funding?

Arkansas ssdp

It was actually a student-run part of the University called University Programs. They had originally agreed to fund the event as a debate, but then Asa backed out; thinking this was a debate about just medical marijuana. There was some severe miscommunication between about this situation, so when University Programs sent us an email three weeks before the event saying they wouldn’t fund it unless we produced a speaker to debate Ethan, we were pretty surprised. Thankfully, we were able to call up Asa and reassure him it was a debate about the entirety of the War on Drugs, as well as convince him it was really important we had someone debate the other side of the issue, and he got on board.

3. What impact did this event have? How many people do you think heard our message?

Arkansas ssdp

I feel like we definitely educated some students about this issue. Sure, the majority of the people in the audience supported us before the debate even began, but they might’ve just been in support of marijuana legalization. They may had not even thought about the possibility of changing the laws for heroin or cocaine, so I think just about everyone learned something from Ethan as well as Asa. Long-term, we hope to continue to host events of this nature in the future. It was very well received by the people who attended. I would say a lot of people heard our message, because besides the 350-400 people at the event, the debate has had hundreds of views on Youtube (there are apparently three version of it online, each with a decent amount of views already).

I feel like we definitely educated some students about this issue. Sure, the majority of the people in the audience supported us before the debate even began, but they might’ve just been in support of marijuana legalization. They may had not even thought about the possibility of changing the laws for heroin or cocaine, so I think just about everyone learned something from Ethan as well as Asa. Long-term, we hope to continue to host events of this nature in the future. It was very well received by the people who attended. I would say a lot of people heard our message, because besides the 350-400 people at the event, the debate has had hundreds of views on Youtube (there are apparently three version of it online, each with a decent amount of views already).

 

Check out these videos from the event!

DPA highlight reel: http://www.drugpolicy.org/news/2011/09/dpas-ethan-nadelmann-debates-former-dea-head-asa-hutchinson-university-arkansas
Full video of the debate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FR1PkpRLvo
http://youtu.be/0I903pnmiiQ

 

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