Thursday, September 07, 2006

War on Drugs, or War on Youth?

(Cross-posted at Bring it On! Thanks for the invitation, Joe.)

"We do what we do to protect the children," is a common refrain by those fighting the War on Drugs. But in reality, the government's punitive prohibitionist policies actually put young people at greater risk of succumbing to drug abuse or falling into cycles of recidivism and failure (not to mention the harms associated with being arrested and sent to jail).

Those of us who grew up during the escalation of the War on Drugs and Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign know first-hand the absurdity and harmfulness of these policies.

The $40 billion spent every year on the Drug War and the resulting budget crunch means that while politicians are happy to keep building new supermax prisons, our generation is filtered through old dilapidated schools. And while we're there, we get fed misinformation and scare tactics through the D.A.R.E. program, which has not only been shown to be ineffective, but can actually cause some teens to use more drugs.

And during the school day, more and more high- and middle-school students are being subjected to random suspicionless drug testing. President Bush wants to spend $15 million on testing students' pee next year, despite the results of the largest study ever done on the topic, which looked at 76,000 students at 722 schools around the country and found no difference in drug use rates at schools that test and those that don't.

When they come home from school, teens are bombarded with millions of dollars worth of government propaganda ads on TV. Some of the ads claim that using marijuana supports terrorism, and causes people to shoot their friends in the face, run over little girls on bikes, and become pregnant. Not surprisingly, young people find these ads to be laughable at best and offensive at worst. Even Congress's own auditors recently found that, like the D.A.R.E. program, these ads not only don't work but can cause teens to have increased pro-drug attitudes.

Those of us who are lucky enough to survive high school and get to college are at risk of losing our student aid and being forced to drop out over something as simple as getting caught with one marijuana cigarette. Under a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act, any student with any drug conviction is automatically stripped of their financial aid. It's not hard to see that kicking students out of school leads to more, not less, drug abuse. And the penalty doesn't just hurt the students it directly impacts - it has harmful implications for society as a whole. College graduates are much more likely to become successful taxpaying citizens, while those who are kicked out of college are more likely to abuse drugs, become costly drains on the criminal justice system, and to rely on government assistance programs.

But the generation raised on "Just Say No" and D.A.R.E. isn't sitting back idly and accepting the government's Drug War attacks on youth; we're actively fighting back. Students for Sensible Drug Policy and other groups are coming together to "Just Say Know" and push for policies that actually respect and protect young people. We won't allow this harmful and ineffective war to be waged in our names any longer.

Tom Angell is campaigns director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and is a blogger on DARE Generation Diary.