Ban it or grant it: CWRU students pack discussion about legalization of marijuana

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Bryden Spevak, Senior News Reporter

The topic is fascinating to some, taboo to most, and relevant to all. It is drug policy in America, a hotly contested, hyper-politicized issue calling to mind the “War on Drugs” mindset of the past half-century or so. And as the nature of war implies, there are two distinct opponents involved. The gray area enveloping them is only expanding with time.

It is not as simple as the good citizens of America versus the evil drugs. More accurately, it is people like Peter Christ and the rest of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) organization versus those hoping to keep all drugs, including marijuana, listed as Schedule I, or completely illegal, criminalized, and taboo.

Last Wednesday, Feb. 13, Case Western Reserve University’s Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) student group held “Legalize It!” The talk intended to draw attention to those voices working to advocate for the positive side of marijuana legalization in America. Held in Thwing Center’s Bellflower Lounge, the event featured a 45-minute-long speech by Christ—retired police captain of Tonawanda, NY and one of the five founding members of LEAP—a brief Q&A segment, and, of course, free pizza.

Given students’ typical lack of desire to attend events when the ugly Cleveland winter stands in their way, the Bellflower Lounge was shockingly packed and energetic come 6:30 p.m., leaving a smattering of students leaning against tables or walls in the back, periodically grabbing more food while listening intently to Christ’s unusual viewpoint and description of LEAP.

Banded together in 2002, his cohorts include a collection of current and former criminal justice professionals who have been on the frontline of the drug battle and have decided that the existence of drugs themselves is not the real problem. What is actually wrong has everything to do with the American prohibitive mindset he says, and LEAP claims that legalization is the way out of most drug-related problems in the U.S.

The man drawing the crowd to Thwing was tall and stocky, with gray hair slicked back into a ponytail, a gruff voice, and an unfalteringly sarcastic sense of humor. Fitting the persona of a weather-beaten ex-cop, he carried himself like a favorite uncle might, making those in attendance want to listen, to laugh with him, to help him reach his goals.

And his speech was undeniably compelling.

Peter Christ, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, spoke at an event sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty supporting the legalization of marijuana.
Shannon Snyder / Observer
Peter Christ, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, spoke at an event sponsored by Young Americans for Liberty supporting the legalization of marijuana.

“Whichever drug you want sold by 14 year-old children on the street corners of your community…you keep that drug illegal, and if there is a market for it, that’s who’ll be selling it,” Christ said, delving into the more human side of the controversy right off the bat.
He went on: “Prohibition in the history of our species has never worked… ever.”

The ultimate goal of LEAP, according to Christ, involves taking all drugs including marijuana out of the untouchable category of Schedule I. Behind this contentious goal are smaller issues that everyone can agree on. LEAP wants to eliminate the opportunity in our society for drug-related violence, mobs, or drug cartels. They want to stop drug-related arrests where no harm has been done to others, allowing otherwise-harmless drug abusers to feel safe in seeking the help they need. But their more direct goals lie in educating the public and restoring respect for their fellow police officers.

LEAP’s cause is shaky, and the complexities became once again evident after the contagious excitement of his speech died down.

Despite the recent strides toward decriminalization in states like Washington and Colorado, President Obama has continued to express his disapproval, albeit casual, for marijuana legalization. The White House website lists reasons to keep pot illegal, combating most of the major pro-legalization claims using statistics and history. Additionally, his administration claims that legalization would lower the price of the drug, thereby increasing use.

In his speech, Christ acknowledged that an increase in usage was, indeed, likely to occur immediately following legalization. But ultimately, he argued, better ways to prevent usage would be more readily available with the decriminalization of marijuana and other drugs. He claimed that strategies that have worked in decreasing Americans’ use of cigarettes would be effective with harder drugs as well, and allow those who cannot stop to get the help they need.

President of YAL Victoria Granda later commented on her frustration with our current system of dealing with drug abusers. “Instead of helping them through voluntary rehabilitation programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, we throw them in jail and permanently ruin their lives,” she explained. “With our current drug policies, there is no recovery.”

Attendees on both sides of the issue left feeling provoked into thought. Some murmurings of “I’m still not convinced” could be heard at the conclusion, but other students had more favorable reactions to Christ’s ideas.

Senior attendee Shawn Rupp said, “It’s really interesting to hear the policy of drug prohibition being discussed rather than the drugs themselves. I think it’s a discussion worth having, and it may lead people to realize that drug prohibition is actually more harmful than the drugs themselves.”
Looking toward the future of the debate, senior Rakesh Guha said, “I think more and more states are going to start decriminalizing, and then legalizing, marijuana. But I don’t think the federal government is going to change anything soon.”

Granda takes a different view of what is to come. “Organizations such as LEAP and YAL have their work cut out for them,” she admitted, “but I do think that, through education, we can convince the majority and politicians that prohibition must end.”

Granda is strongly in favor of drug legalization. In terms of prohibition, she said, “I see a completely failed policy that has hurt low-income and minority citizens overwhelmingly. Prohibition has done nothing but make criminals out of drug addicts.”

It is possible that the “War on Drugs” may be fought indefinitely, with all viewpoints endlessly circling one another and leading to no actual results.

But there is hope. First, the circular discussions must end.

Christ and Granda both recognize that the conversation needs to switch from spotlighting drugs to being about prohibition. “Once that happens,” said Granda, “I don’t think it will take much for Americans to realize we are reliving the 1920s.”