Amnesty policy brings freedom but begs funding

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February 1, 2007

9:52 PM

The Administration’s recent decision to adopt a Medical Amnesty Policy, which was heralded to the student body in an e-mail from Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler on Jan. 24, is a step forward in our campus dialogue on substance use and abuse. Implicit in the adoption of the policy is an acknowledgment that punitive means are not sufficient to reduce the harm associated with substance abuse. Building from this newfound perspective, we must push ahead on two fronts: funding reprioritization and judicial sanction parity between alcohol and other drugs.

p. I have called for cuts in the budget of the College Police Department in this venue before and fear that the need for such an administrative action has only become more urgent. Thankfully, violent crime is extraordinarily rare on this campus, and the Police Department’s own statistics attest to that. Our police force has very little of substance to do other than to enforce traffic laws (as a cyclist, I thank them for that) and drug laws.

p. According to the Police Department’s website, 19 full-time officers, as well as a large support staff and several part-time officers, are employed to protect and serve the College student body. On a campus with practically no crime, the presence of such a large staff is preposterous.

p. The College should reallocate a significant portion of the funds eaten up by the Police Department each year to better fund the Health Center and the Fish Bowl. Organizations such as these have the real power to combat the problems associated with substance abuse, which generally spring from either ignorance or pre-existing psychological issues rather than from some sort of inborn criminal instinct.

p. Students have a right to know the answers to the questions they have about drugs, and they have a right to receive those answers in a nonjudgmental environment. It is the role of these services not to tell us what we may or may not do, but rather to demurely raise concerns about the possible pitfalls of the use of certain substances. For instance, we need drug educators inclined to point out the enhanced danger of taking opioids and alcohol in tandem, rather than people who meet the prospect of recreational Vicodin use with condescending disdain. We need a clean needle exchange program, not a “no means no” attitude toward intravenous drugs.

p. More importantly, we need people who will acknowledge that the tendency to use such drugs is often linked to pre-existing psychological conditions. The College must recognize the good work done by the Counseling Center and further fund that service. No student should ever have to feel as though she or he needs to threaten to commit suicide in order to get an appointment. We, as students, must play a role in this process by removing the stigma attached to psychological conditions from our own minds. When one member of our community suffers from Bipolar Disorder, we all must confront the slender thread that separates any of us from that same peril and respond with love and compassion rather than a distancing silence.

p. Changes in funding priorities are important to the quest for a sensible drug policy, but the battle for such progress will be long fraught with inevitable miles of bureaucratic red tape. More immediate help can come from making simple changes in the College’s Judicial Code to establish parity in the sanctions handed down for different drug offenses.

p. Cannabis, for instance, is a non-addictive drug that has caused no known deaths and is an object of sacramental use in several religions around the globe. Currently, a freshman living in a dorm who is caught with Cannabis is subject to eviction from his or her residence. Freshmen may only be enrolled in the College if they are living with their parents or in a residence hall. This policy makes for de facto expulsion for the use of a drug far less dangerous than alcohol. Cannabis is not the only drug that has been so misevaluated by our administration. Psilocybin mushrooms have even less negative health implications, yet their use or possession is met with the same institutional recalcitrance. We need to acknowledge that even though alcohol is less illegal, this does not make it any more or less dangerous.

p. I beg President Nichol and Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler to build upon the good judgment illustrated by the adoption of the Medical Amnesty Policy and initiate the reforms detailed herein.

p. __Thomas Silverstein is a junior at the College. His views do not necessarily represent those of The Flat Hat.__

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