The Arizona Desert Lamp

Pseudo-crime & punishment

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 3 March 2009

The Daily Wildcat takes on the quiet tyranny of the campus drug war with an editorial in today’s paper. Here’s what they have to say about UA’s annual federally-mandated message on drugs, sent today via email to all UA students and staff:

The value of the email lies in its reminder that the origins of the UA’s strict drug policy lie in the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988 and the Drug Free Schools and Communities Act of 1989. With these acts, the federal government imposed upon every public educational institution in the country the severe and exacting standards of a prying next-door neighbor.

From here, it was certain that the university, an institution whose purpose is to transform young adults into adults, would begin to invade the personal lives of its students and faculty.

As campuses go, ours is a fairly politically active one. No sooner have we seen the signs from one UA Mall rally come down than we start seeing posters advertising the next one. Our elected student officials are ever plunging into one cause or another, loudly declaring their solidarity with the common student.

But it’s striking that we haven’t seen any form of protest over a policy that visibly terrorizes students every week. We mean, of course, the unceasing harassment of innocent students for the pseudo-crime of smoking marijuana, a drug considerably less dangerous than those hideous, heart rate-accelerating energy drinks that the 4.0 GPA crowd gulp down the night before every exam. Judging from the Daily Wildcat’s Police Beat section, these busts make up a startlingly high percentage of routine arrests on campus.

I’m not sure this year’s feckless Phoenix sign-a-palooza makes UA a “politically active” campus, but they’re certainly right that it’s a shame no-one bothers to speak out or even learn their rights when it comes to the “unceasing harrasment of innocent students.” Especially since the war on drugs leads not to melodramatic DETH, but tangible, terrible harm: consider the case of Cory Maye, sent to death row in Mississippi for defending himself during a no-knock raid. Or closer to home, the surge of drug violence tearing apart the borderlands just miles south of our own campus, where 230 U.S. citizens have been killed since 2003 and Mexican death tolls in cities like Juarez, Naco, and Tijuana rival Fallujah. Still glad UA’s doing its part to aid the war effort?

But wait–there’s more. Our very own Reefer Review gets a nod:

Former Wildcat Opinions Editor Connor Mendenhall, whose blog, the Arizona Reefer Review, keeps a running tally of campus drug-busts, has regularly pointed out that most of the dorm residents busted for marijuana possession are unaware of their constitutional rights. That testifies to how thoroughly cowed we are, as does our student leaders’ silence on the matter.

But this policy could not be more relevant to our current condition, as the UA sinks into a financial mire of budget shortfalls, desperate reorganization schemes and forced cutbacks. What better time to ask whether pursuing and penalizing student drug-users is really the wisest use of our time and money?

It’s a good question. Instead of issuing foreboding warnings about spring break travel to Mexico, our own Dean of Students office could do a little bit to mitigate the collateral damage of the drug war by declining to discipline UA students involved in consensual, nonviolent drug offenses. Instead of spending time and money printing up analog breathalyzers, our student leaders could take a stand and pressure UAPD to relax enforcement of victimless crime on campus (If that sounds far-fetched, check out this 2007 initiative from the University of Washington).

Unfortunately, according to the results of our Campus Policy Survey, this year’s candidates will continue to be complacent and complicit. Check out the results of our question on campus crime:

UAPD & Red Tag ProgramThe text is small, but the message is clear. In one of the most striking divergences between student opinion and candidate policy, a full 42 percent of students want ASUA to take a stand against drug enforcement, but not one candidate was willing to articulate that demand.

This year’s candidates are already trotting out entreaties for change. If they’re really serious, they need look no further than UA drug policy for a place to begin.

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