Tufts SSDP hosts speaker highlighting problems in U.S. drug policy

In 1970, the United States government passed a federal law entitled the “Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.” This piece of legislation marked the beginning of an aggressive, multiple decade-long effort to regulate drug use. Many advocates for changing the drug policy in the United States, however, argue that the laws currently in place are vastly ineffective and often detrimental to society.

One such group of advocates is Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). According to its website, SSDP is an international student organization that seeks to stimulate honest discussion of drugs and drug policy. The Tufts chapter was established in 2011 and since then has been expanding its outreach within the Tufts community to contribute to the movement against the War on Drugs.

“When I first started going to the meetings, it was immediately intuitive to me that the War on Drugs was … causing a lot of strife,” Tufts SSDP Co-Founder Lauren Traitz (LA ’14) said.

Since its inception, SSDP has grown from a casual discussion group to one that hosts events.

“I would say that we went from a pretty small group of people … to an organization that not only has held multiple speaking events, but also participates in co-group activities,” Traitz said. “I think that inevitably the times that we’re in require [an awareness of drug policy] … I think that ultimately if you’re fighting for, for example, racial justice in America, you’re aware that the War on Drugs has a lot to do with that.”

Recently, they brought in speaker Jack Cole, co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an organization made up of both current and former members of law enforcement.

LEAP aims to drastically reform the United States’ drug policy. According to the group’s website its mission is “to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and addiction by ending drug prohibition.”

Traitz attested to the importance of organizations like LEAP in the effort to end the current drug policy.

“It’s a very special organization, and I think that for people who are … maybe on the line or still questioning, or feel like they don’t fully grasp the arguments [against the current drug policy] … [LEAP] is a great resource because they really do have [this] behind-the-scenes knowledge,” she said.

On Oct. 9, Cole came to Tufts to  engage the community in discussion about the issues surrounding the national drug policy. Cole served for 26 years in the New Jersey State Police, spending 14 of them working undercover in narcotics.

“When I retired, I felt very bad about my role in implementing what today not only I feel is a failed war on drugs, [but] far worse,” Cole said. “It’s a self-perpetuating and constantly expanding policy disaster. Every year it is worse.”

Therefore, Cole said that he decided  he needed to take action.

“I sat down with four other police officers and we created this organization, LEAP,” he said.

Cole’s presentation consisted of a brief history of the drug policy followed by a series of statistics regarding drug policy enforcement.

“There’s no way to patch it up or repair it,” he said. “We’ve got to end it, like we ended alcohol prohibition in 1933. We know that if we were to legalize all these drugs, we could take them out of the hands of the criminals … once we’ve legalized them, we can regulate them.”

Despite the government’s strict stance against drug abuse, many addicts are not receiving the assistance that they need. According to statistics cited on the SSDP website, 48 percent of the need for drug treatment is currently not met in the United States.

During his presentation, Cole also described the racism entrenched in the War on Drugs. The majority of people incarcerated for drug charges are African-American; however, African-Americans make up a relatively small percentage of illegal drug users. The SSDP website says that these proportions are at 67 percent and 13 percent, respectively. A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union also stated that African-American people are 3.7 times more likely than white people to be arrested for possession of marijuana. In spite of this disparity, the report noted that their actual rate of marijuana usage is comparable.

The event  included an open discussion following Cole’s presentation. 

According to the club’s current president, junior Ian Hunter, both himself and many other members of SSDP were motivated to pursue the cause after hearing Cole speak in previous years.

“[Cole‘s talk] was the first event,” Hunter said. “He came and he was speaking about all of the myriad effects of the War on Drugs.”

Events like these, he said, help SSDP to raise awareness of drug policy among the student populace.

“We try to hold as many speaking events as possible,” he said.

Some of the other events previously hosted by SSDP include an open mic night and an annual information session focusing on drug safety. After hosting a speaker like Cole, Hunter also discussed some ways in which Tufts SSDP hopes to grow in the future.

“We are trying to create a bank of resources where people can sign up to volunteer for various organizations,” he said. “We’re [also] trying to have a lot more resources available online.”

Though the group is relatively small — about 10 to 15 attendees at a typical meeting, according to Hunter, — it has been alive and well since its inception.

“Obviously the fact that I’m graduated and SSDP is still a thing and holding events is a huge deal,” Traitz said.