A recent Business Insider report of the 50 “Most On-Campus Drug Arrests Per 1,000 Students,” ranked Keene State College at number 20. On a wider scale, KSC has contributed to a small percentage of drug-related arrests made nationally since President Richard Nixon’s “War on Drugs” began. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, has proposed one possible way of reducing future drug use and drug related arrests in the United States; legalizing all drugs at once.
“This [drug use] is a health problem, not a crime problem. Let’s not let the criminal justice system take care of this issue. Let’s save a whole bunch of money and a whole bunch of lives and help educate people. We have to end prohibition in order to do this. We legalize all drugs. Drugs like marijuana, drugs like cocaine, drugs like heroin. That sounds pretty radical. We’re not making it up,” Richard Van Wickler, a speaker for LEAP, stated at the non-profit organization’s KSC presentation on Tuesday Feb. 18.
The event in the Lloyd P. Young Student Center’s Mabel Brown Room was led by Van Wickler, a KSC adjunct who spoke on behalf of LEAP. Van Wickler also serves as the Superintendent of Cheshire County Dept. of Corrections. The event discussed prohibition, its problematic history and an explanation of why all drugs should be legalized, as proposed by the organization.
One major topic discussed was Nixon’s “War On Drugs.” Van Wickler explained that Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs” during his second term presidential campaign. Nixon argued that, “College kids were using drugs in epidemic proportions and that it would destroy America,” according to Van Wickler.
As Van Wickler educated the audience on the history of prohibition, he explained that in 1914, “One of the reasons that they [the government] decided that drugs needed to be illegal was because one-point-three percent of the population at that time were addicted to a substance or a drug.” Van Wickler later noted that in 1970, “They [government] wanted to know how many people were addicted, that made this [War on Drugs] such an incredible urgent mission. It was one-point-three percent.”
“After the trillion dollars, thirty-eight million arrests and this ‘Get tough on crime’ to try and create a drug-free society, they wanted to know what was the percentage on the population in 2002 that were addicted to drugs. That was one-point-three percent,” Van Wickler stated.
Despite the non-changing percentage, Van Wickler said, “In 2003, we spent sixty-nine billion dollars in one year just for drug intervention alone. In 2011, it was eighty-eight billion dollars.“ Van Wickler expanded, “In 1950, we had 250 thousand people incarcerated, and then in 1970, we went to 338 thousand. In 1990 one-point-one-million, and in 2000, one-point-nine-million. It took over two-hundred years to put the first million citizens in jail and it took a little over ten years to put the second million in jail. It was because we wanted to fuel the ‘War on Drugs.’”
Van Wickler expanded on the negative influence of drugs, like heroin. “In 1979, twenty-eight people died from heroin overdoses. In 2000 there was 141 deaths. In the last two weeks in New York City, eighty people have died from heroin overdoses. You don’t know what’s in that product. You buy it, you shoot it, you die,” Van Wickler stated.
Van Wickler continued, “Heroin use in the United States, in the last five years, has doubled. We now have over 700 thousand people who use heroin. Tax dollars that we spent prosecuting this ‘War on Drugs’ are far above one-trillion dollars right now at this point. When you look at the number of people that we arrested as a result of trying to create a drug-free society, we have arrested over thirty-eight million citizens.”
According to the LEAP speaker, members of Law enforcement, like Van Wickler, work to help people with addiction who are arrested, “But as you become addicted to these substances, you build up a tolerance. When we clean you off of that and you’re back on the street, and you’re nice and clean, you get that first bag of dope and you shoot it. Your system is not acclimated to it.” Van Wickler indicated that this community has seen over 20 deaths in the last 15 years of individuals who have been released for only days.
“In 1970, you opened the newspaper and saw, ‘Oh wow. There was a bust for an ounce of cocaine,’ or perhaps their was a quarter ounce of heroin—By 2002, the newspaper reports ten tons of heroin and twenty tons of cocaine and it’s not on the front page because it’s no longer major news,” Van Wickler stated.
Van Wickler explained that these statistics have become alarming when researching, “What’s happening to our criminal justice system, especially as compared to what’s going on in other countries,” he said.
Van Wickler noted that Switzerland is one country which does not believe in prosecuting its citizens for having a drug problem. Van Wickler noted that in the case of a medically identified addiction, doctors could schedule appointments with patients to give them small dosages of the drug as safer “fix,” than they would get with unregulated products. Van Wickler also noted that Switzerland has not had an overdose since 1996, when they began this health policy. With the use of medically cleaned needles, the country’s rates of AIDS and Hepatitis have also become “virtually non-existent,” according to Van Wickler.
Unlike alcoholism in the U.S., “If you’re addicted to an illegal substance—you can’t get help. You’ll ruin your career,” stated Van Wickler. Van Wickler noted that the U.S. has “the toughest enforcement laws in the world. We’re also the country with the highest propensity for use, abuse and addiction.”
KSC junior Dayne Degrazia attended this event for a class within her Chemical Dependency minor, and explained that the discussion was on a “controversial,” but important topic. Degrazia said she agreed with most of the presentation’s ideas. “It was a very interesting event,” Degrazia said.
Sophomore Loren Madore, who learned about similar topics of legalization within her Social Problems course at KSC, indicated that the countries she studied legalized all drugs in certain urban areas of these countries, but not throughout the entire country. When it came to ending prohibition in the U.S, Madore, oppositely from Van Wickler and Degrazia, stated, “I don’t think it’s a good idea. We [in the U.S] have enough problems.”
Despite the controversy of the topic, Van Wickler concluded, “The war won’t end. If it goes on its current path it will never end. The war would be eternal. It needs a paradigm shift.”
Pamela Bump can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org