Group protests drug laws

A national organization called Students for Sensible Drug Policy sent nearly 50 colleges a fax titled “One Marijuana Arrest Every 42 Seconds” Monday.

The press release highlighted statistics from the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report on marijuana arrests, particularly among American youth. Although Yale has strict policies regarding illegal substances, few students are in fact caught and punished for marijuana. University Police Lt. Michael Patten said that, contrary to the national trend as stated in the FBI report, the number of on-campus arrests made for drug possession has decreased in the last year.

“We made three [on-campus] drug arrests in 2003,” Patten said, “We made five in 2002.”

SSDP — which has national offices located in Washington and close to 100 chapters on college campuses — fights government policies related to the war on drugs, which the group says adversely affect the national public and, more particularly, impact young offenders and other under-represented communities.

“The war on drugs is not keeping us safer,” said Tom Angell, national director of communications for SSDP. “In many ways it is creating more problems for kids with drug problems. They are denied an education and forced back to the streets and to a life of drug use and recidivism.”

Yale Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said the University’s policies on marijuana and other drug use are clear.

“Marijuana is an illegal substance and is forbidden,” Trachtenberg said. ” If an undergraduate [is caught with marijuana], they’re in violation of Yale policy, so it becomes an Executive Committee issue.”

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, 755,187 people were implicated for marijuana violations in 2003, twice the number from a decade earlier.

The SSDP is currently working to repeal a provision of the Higher Education Act, amended by Congress in 1998, which renders students with drug convictions ineligible for federal financial aid. According to the group’s press release, 157,000 students have been denied aid since the law’s enactment.

Yale University became one of four academic institutions — Western Washington University, Hampshire College and Swarthmore College being the others — to undermine this provision of the HEA by deciding in April 2002 to reimburse students for federal aid lost under the act. Students caught selling drugs are ineligible for reimbursement, and participation in a drug rehabilitation program is mandatory in order to receive funds from Yale.

No official at the financial aid office was available for comment.

Many students said marijuana is available on Yale’s campus for sale and consumption, and it is possible to smoke with little fear of repercussions or punishment.

“I smoke pot every day in my living room, have smoked pot in the rooms of many and most of my friends and have even walked down the street with a joint in my hand,” a sophomore who wished to remain anonymous said. “Never once did it cross my mind that I could get caught, or that someone was looking to get me caught.”

Patten said the Yale Police have made only one arrest this year for drug possession, when a subject was found in possession of marijuana May 17. He said most of the drug arrests made by the YPD have dealt with possession of drugs in conjunction with another violation or offense.

The SSDA continues to lobby for legislation to change what they say is dangerous legislation.

“We do not condone drugs or drug use, we’re just against the war on drugs,” said Angell. “We work to reduce harms that are associated with certain legislation, and at the moment, our primary goal is to ensure that kids with drug problems are still able to seek a college education.”

Many students say marijuana is smoked on campus with little fear of punishment. The number of arrests for drug possession at Yale fell last year, though FBI reports indicate the number of arrests nationally is on the rise.
Timothy Polmateer
Many students say marijuana is smoked on campus with little fear of punishment. The number of arrests for drug possession at Yale fell last year, though FBI reports indicate the number of arrests nationally is on the rise.

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