This summer, my brother and I took the classic college-student romp through Western Europe. The first stop on our map was Amsterdam, the city famous for coffee shops with marijuana smoke wafting out their windows, and a Red Light District with legalized prostitution. One afternoon, while walking down Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal, one of the many street names reminding our English speaking minds of a game of psychedelic Boggle, I heard an Amsterdam local shout to a clearly inebriated tourist, “man, go easy on the pills!” He followed this up by a brief Dutch grumble I understood loosely as frustration and annoyance with the overindulgence shown by so many tourists, who spend their whole time in Amsterdam lost in the decadence of a piece of modified chocolate cake, or under the shade of a mushroom cap.
Drugs are clearly appealing for many travelers in the Netherlands; many people enjoy the freedom to make choices about drug use that could get them in trouble with the law in other parts of the world.

The drug policy in the Netherlands is extremely different than the one we have in the United States. Though the Netherlands laws are much more lenient, allowing certain soft drugs like marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms to be purchased in the open market, statistics reveal a seemingly less addicted society than we have in the USA. In fact, the U.S. has more lifetime drug users than the Netherlands, and a higher incidence of drug related crimes as well. What is going on here? According to many people, including a group of law enforcement officers entitled Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), the current US “War on Drugs” has some serious flaws, and falls tragically short of succeeding in its proposed endeavors.

The Drug War is the term popularly used to describe the various laws, policies, and systems the United States is currently administering in an attempt to reduce drug traffic, drug related crime, and drug use in this country. With the intent to shed some light on this complex “battle,” the Drug Awareness Center has partnered with the Legal Information Center and the Social Issues Resource Center to bring you an exciting event entitled, “Can America End Its Drug War Addiction?”

The event will consist of a presentation by Matthew McCally, a member of LEAP. McCally, a former probation officer with the Washington State Department of Corrections, is one of many law enforcement officials who sees the current War on Drugs as ineffective, and are actively working to educate the public on the failings of the current Drug War, and provide viable alternatives. “This is a good angle to look at the Drug War, because America is spending 70 billion dollars on it and it doesn’t seem to be working,” said Lauren Sindelar, coordinator of the DIC. “I think it will be really informative, and will get people involved in current events,” she added.

The Drug War is a massive social and political project, affecting everyone on some level. “Every single person, one way or another, through friends, family, a friend of a friend, is somehow affected by drug use, trade, dealing… everyone is somehow connected to addiction. This is a far-reaching subject that affects a large number of people,” said Sindelar. “It is important to know what your tax money is being spent on,” she added.

Many people would agree that drugs can cause serious personal and societal turmoil, and it makes sense to have some type of regulation. However, that does not mean that what we are doing now is effective. “LEAP’s perspective is that the current War on Drugs is not working, and that treatment and rehab is important, and can reduce crime and disease. People look at drugs as bad— they want to get them out of our lives, off the streets. But in reality, drugs are an addiction- sometimes people fall down and need to be picked up,” said Sindelar.

Did you ever think you would hear a law enforcement official speaking out against the illegality of drugs? Most of the contact students have with the law enforcement on the issue of drugs is completely negative, and involves strict punishment, not dialogue about social change. This is a great opportunity to bridge the assumed gap in priorities and power that is thought to exist between law enforcement and the general public. As Sindelar said, “I’m really excited about bringing in this speaker who has such a knowledge, being in law enforcement and seeing [the Drug War] first hand. I think he’ll have a lot of credibility.”

Leading up to the event, the DIC will be tabling in Red Square on Friday January 20, Monday January 23, and Tuesday January 24.
On Tuesday, McCally will be at the DIC table, so if you have any questions before the event, swing by and ask them! “People think the Drug War is to keep society safe, but as LEAP says, it’s not working. [This event] could shed light on the pro and con sides,” said Sindelar. “Can America End Its Drug War Addiction?” will be on Tuesday, January 24 at 7 p.m., in the VU Multipurpose Room.