Ever since president Richard Nixon coined the phrase in 1971, the United States government has been involved in the War on Drugs. It took 40 years of increasing drug-related incarceration rates, accessibility, more frequent use by minors, and policy struggles between foreign, national and state governments before the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared the War a failure in 2011.
This past month, two new Western clubs gained university recognition. One club, Students for Sensible Drug Policies, is a chapter of an international, student-run, grassroots organization dealing with drug policy reform on local and national levels. The other, Open Dialogues about Drugs, promotes healthy conversation and awareness through group discussions and sharing. Both intend to collaborate with each other in hopes of changing society’s attitudes, stigmas and legislature on drugs in the wake of a failed war.
“We are really serious about this and we think it’s going to have a really huge, positive effect at Western,” Odd Club founder Renae Stowell said.
SSDP Club Coordinator Matthew Hilliard set out to form a drug awareness club at Western during his freshman year. After a year of trying, he discovered SSDP. Hilliard said that SSDP’s activism-centered approach made him interested in the organization.
“We’re concerned about the impact that drug abuse has on our communities, but we also know that the war on drugs is not only failing our generation, but our society overall,” SSDP Western Regional Outreach Coordinator Devon Tackels said.
SSDP had their first meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. They plan to meet bi-weekly or weekly at 5p.m. on Mondays in Academic West 205. Hilliard said the club needs to focus on gaining members, but that soon they will pick an SSDP campaign to partake in.
SSDP offers a variety of campaigns for its chapters, each one geared toward changing drug policy.
Hilliard said that one campaign in particular, Campus Change, is relevant to Western because it aims to change campus penalties for drugs and alcohol. Hilliard said that he would like to see dorm eviction and expulsion policies regarding drugs to be treated on a case to case basis instead of having a policy that encompasses everyone so that good students that get caught up in drugs or alcohol do not have to risk losing their higher education.
“There’s a lot of flaws in the system right now, not just at Western, but all over the country and we need to figure out ways to solve those,” Hilliard said.
Stowell has been a long-time volunteer for Dance Safe Bellingham, a nonprofit that promotes health safety at dance events. She also volunteers for SSDP and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, an organization that provides funding for research on psychedelic drugs. She decided to create Odd Club as a way to combine all the efforts of the individual organizations she volunteers at into one group.
“There’s so many drugs around but nobody really knows a lot about them and they’re too afraid to ask questions or they feel ashamed,” Stowell said. “It’s almost like taboo that they’re going to do these drugs. The danger comes in when they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Odd Club meets every Monday at 5 p.m. in AW 405. The club has a semi-structured approach. There is a topic for each meeting such as particular drugs, art and movies. Group discussion is encouraged and individuals can bring up whatever topics they want.
“Anyone can come in. If they’ve never done a drug before that’s totally fine. You can come in and just hear what other people have to say and talk about your own opinions and experiences,” Stowell said. “There’s nothing wrong with talking about it. We don’t promote drug use; we just promote the freedom to talk about it.”
Stowell, who used to use crack cocaine and methamphetamine, said that drugs have been both the darkest and lightest parts of her life. Her discovery and therapeutic use of psychedelic mushrooms helped her realize and deal with personal trauma. Stowell said that she hopes to communicate this at Odd club meetings: drugs are dangerous, but they can also be beneficial.
“We just want to acknowledge that people do drugs, that they’ve always done drugs since the beginning of time,” Stowell said. “We just want to promote accurate, honest information and not make it something to be ashamed about.”