Meet Michael Linares ’09,

Altered state specialist, collector of children’s dinosaur paraphenalia

Founder of the Yale Chapter of

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy

hometown Los Angeles, California

pipe, bong or jay? Bong. It’s smoother. But jays are so communal. And pipes have their own charm. Just kidding — I don’t do drugs.

Senior thesis? Freud’s discovery of cocaine in the 1880s.

who’s the greatest stoner icon: jay, silent bob, harold, kumar or “the dude”? The Dude. Or Charlize Theron with the apple. Have you seen the photo? She’s at this expensive resort smoking out of an apple. [Michael mimes smoking out of an apple. He does not attempt to mime Charlize Theron.]

QAre you pro-legalization?

A[Nods head vigorously] Pro. Pro. America’s drug laws are terrible for public health and promote the spread of diseases like AIDS and Hepatitis. America now has 2.3 million people in prison — one-fourth of the global prison population. And over 50 percent of U.S. federal sentences are for drug offenses. Our drug policies create a general disrespect for the law. The culture of prohibition and pretending and being excessively punitive — it just isn’t productive.

QWhat is Students for a Sensible Drug Policy?

ASSDP is a national organization that lobbies against the drug war and to reform drug policy. A big one was the drug provision of the Higher Education Act, which stipulated that if you had a drug violation you would be disqualified from financial aid. We were challenging that.

QHow did you get involved?

AI spent my [sophomore] summer in Barcelona, working at a safe injection facility, where users could come and shoot up with clean needles under medical supervision. Then I spent my next semester abroad in Denmark, working … with and on drugs. Then I started up the Yale SSDP chapter that junior spring, getting UOFC funding and all that crap.

QWhat have been some of your most successful events?

AI put on a panel last week with the Rebellious Lawyering Conference about drug legalization and the drug reform movement. I got a Sudler Fund to put up student art reflecting on drugs and addiction. That will be happening in April. SSDP, the Student Legal Action Movement and some local organizations are also planning a conference about a Senate bill for decriminalization in Connecticut. It essentially says that possession of up to an ounce of pot shouldn’t be prosecuted, which would help alleviate the stigma and overcrowding in prisons, and would shift police priorities.

QHave you experienced any hostility from the administration?

ANo. I really haven’t. I’ve always received funding. Where you do find hostility — I wouldn’t call it hostility exactly — but obstacles, is convincing masters that this is something worth talking about, and students that we aren’t just a bunch of stoners campaigning for the right to get high, really raising this to a higher level of discourse. I tell people I’m working this summer at Pier 5 Law in San Francisco for the medical marijuana cause and they do the double take and go: “Oh, OK … ”

QWhen did you first develop an interest in this issue?

AI’ve always been interested in altered realities and people getting there, be it by drinking or smoking or whatever else. It coalesced when I was abroad in Barcelona, getting to understand drug users. The situation in Barcelona is really the opposite of here. Drug users are getting help from the state. They’re brought off the street. They’re fed and clothed and made to feel human.

QWhy do you think drug policies in the United States are so dogmatic compared to Europe?

AIn general we have one of the most puritanical, moralistic cultures in the world. But we have the most people doing cocaine and one of the highest percentages of people smoking pot. There’s this real disconnect between professed culture and practiced culture.

QYou are a history of science, history of medicine major. How has this informed your drug activism?

AI chose this major because it’s one of the more flexible ones. I’ve sort of created a drug concentration for myself. I concentrate in drugs! With any substance there are so many dimensions to it. You look at it historically, economically, as a public health issue — all the tangible axes — but then you also look at the personal experience behind it all. What are people doing and why are they doing it? It’s trying to understand those mentalities and why they’re so different from the law.

QHow would you describe the drug culture at Yale?

ABinge drinking. Pot comes up in certain circles, but I wouldn’t say it’s terribly popular. Everything is done in binges here. Everyone is so busy working all the time, so they hit the weekend and go crazy. Usually it’s confined to alcohol and pot, although sometimes you see dilated pupils running around.

QDo you think other drugs should be legalized?

AI think all drugs should be legalized. For economic reasons, as well as regulation. If you look at the range of substances, alcohol is the most dangerous. It encourages aggression. Alcohol’s implicated so often in cases of murder and rape. Our laws are unjust. The government should not be punishing people for what is usually a non-harmful recreational act, locking people up with murderers and rapists. It’s not right. The United States is the United States because of the liberty it affords its citizens.

QWhy legalization and not decriminalization?

AWith decriminalization, there’s still a black market that’s unregulated. There’s this vision that with legalization you could buy heroin next to the tomatoes, which would never really happen. There’s actually a bill being pushed in California, which would give licenses to certain pot growers and tax each exchange. More states are considering this now because of huge deficits.

QDo you think drug use would increase with legalization?

AIn Europe, when kids are allowed to drink from an earlier age, they develop healthy habits. Although they may drink more, they don’t binge as much. I think the analogy works for drugs. In the Netherlands, after legalization, there was a spike in use — people were curious I guess — but then the frequency of use went right back down. And you rule out so many of the unhealthy things: sharing needles, heroin laced with rat poison. If you take heroin safely, there really aren’t that many bad health effects.

QDo you ever worry that your involvement in this cause and open endorsement of marijuana might bite you in the ass later in life?

AIn the beginning. Then I realized at a certain point that whoever is small-minded enough to write me off for that is someone I don’t want to work for. Or take money from.

QWould you ever leave your drug reform activism off your resumé?

ANope. Never.