As the Vice President of my university’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) chapter, I had the distinct pleasure of attending several portions of the YAL National Convention this week in Washington, DC. The experience has been outstanding. Not only have I been able to hear speeches and discussions from some fantastic champions of liberty; I’ve also been able to meet some truly remarkable students who are pushing for substantial change in the status quo of U.S. politics.
One of my favorite features of these national conventions is the huge diversity of students that are drawn to Washington, DC from all over the country. For example, I spoke with chapter leaders from New Jersey, Florida, California, Washington, Texas, and many others. And while each student had a uniquely personal understanding of drug prohibition, their conviction that the War on Drugs needs to be brought to an immediate end has been overwhelmingly unanimous. In my capacity not only as a YAL member but also as a Students for Sensible Drug Policy intern, I’ve collected the following thoughts from other YAL leaders on U.S. drug policy:
Haley Sinklair, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is against drug prohibition because of our inherently flawed criminal justice system. Haley explained, however, that fixing the criminal justice system will not justify prohibition: “Prohibition never works, it never has and it never will.” On the same issue of prohibition, Barbara Sostaita from Salem College feels strongly about the inherent racial discrimination that occurs in the Drug War. She believes prohibition “not only destabilizes (U.S.) communities, but is also just bad foreign policy.” Speaking from the perspective of incarceration, Katherine Orr from the University of South Florida is worried about “private prisons making money off of people,” in regards to the frighteningly explosive percentage growth in our prison populations of non-violent offenders.
So if we should do away with prohibition, what SHOULD the government’s role in drugs be? James Gang from the University of Dayton says there should be no government role whatsoever. He would prefer to see drug problems handled only by health professionals and not as a criminal issue. A more moderate position is taken by Eli Hage from Franciscan University of Steubenville. A fan of states’ rights, Eli believes the only action the federal government should take is to “repeal the CSA (Controlled Substances Act) and do nothing more”, leaving it to the states to decide their own drug policies. On the other side of the federalism coin is Barbara, who foresees an eventual “clash point” between state legalization efforts and the federal government, in which case the feds should “trump” states by mandating the legalization of marijuana.
As for the issue of rights, every single student I spoke with at the Convention believed the Drug War to be an assault on individual liberties. James believes we have a fundamental “freedom over our bodies, which comes from property rights.” Joseph D’Antuono, from Atlantic Cape Community College, expounded on this property right by saying “one of our natural rights is over our own bodies… No one else has that authority.” Eli believes drug prohibition to be “suppressing personal choice, as if government knows what’s good for you.”
During my discussions with these leaders from Young Americans for Liberty chapters all across the nation, I came to an important realization. Even though public opinion in America is beginning to reject the legitimacy of the War on Drugs, there are still many questions that need be answered. How can we reconcile the damages caused by prohibition? What should the government’s drug policy be, or should it even have a drug policy? Is there any justifiable limit to an individual’s personal freedoms, particularly when health and safety is in question? I have discovered through my many conversations with students (even students in the very specific subset that is Young Americans for Liberty) that these are not easily answered questions.
If this makes you pessimistic about the future of drug reform, I would argue the complete opposite. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is working with enthusiastic young activists from all across the political spectrum to help them think outside of the traditional policy parameters and find answers to these important questions. I believe that they will make the right decisions, and I hold hope that we, as a society, are on the path to sensibility.