Pubdate: Thu, 26 Feb 2009
Source: Appalachian, The (NC Edu)
Copyright: 2009 Appalachian State University
Author: Edward Sztukowski, News Reporter


The student American Civil Liberties Union partnered with the Campus 
Anti-War Network to hold a discussion about the War on Drugs Monday.

The event was initially intended as a debate, but the plan went up in 
smoke because the police could not make it to the event.

Three members of the community led the panel discussion. Mathew 
Robinson and Renee G. Scherlen, both associate professors in the 
government and justice studies department, led the discussion for 

On the other side of the room Charlie Byrd, assistant district 
attorney for Watauga County offered input and answered questions from 
the audience regarding legal aspects.

The discussion began with facts about the War on Drugs, including 
history and monetary figures.

According to figures from the Office of National Drug Control, ONDCP, 
policy, Robinson said there are five goals set, and the ONDCP has 
failed in all five areas.

"We fail across the board, liberals and conservatives agree," 
Robinson said. "We are focused on relatively harmless drugs=85the 
ONDCP says marijuana kills people, which is both true and false."

Robinson said between 1979 and 2005, there were 1.5 deaths per year 
attributed to marijuana in the District of Columbia, Robinson 
compared the amount of deaths attributed to tobacco with the deaths 
attributed to marijuana.

"In American, 70.9 million people smoke tobacco, and the Centers for 
Disease Control [and Prevention] cite the deaths at 438,000 per year. 
14.4 million people smoke marijuana, resulting in 1.5 deaths per 
year," Robinson said. "The math shows us tobacco is 59,328 times more 
deadly than marijuana."

The topic shifted to the difference between decriminalization and 
legalization, which the panel was split on.

Robinson favors decriminalization because it would mean adults could 
use marijuana in their homes, but not in public.

He feels legalization would allow large stores to market the drug to children.

"Tobacco and alcohol ruthlessly target children. Logic tells me if we 
legalize marijuana, companies will market it to children," Robinson 
said. "I don't want a Joe Camel type character selling marijuana."

Scherlen said the idea of drug use needs to be looked at for 
legalization to be viable.

"=85I think in the United States we view drug use as abnormal when 
it's not," Scherlen said. Byrd commented on legalization, bringing up 
the important question of driving under the influence.

"I've seen too many lives ruined after just consuming alcohol and 
getting behind the wheel of a car," Byrd said. "To say that you're 
going to allow people [to] light up at the bar and also drink? You 
can't do that."

Byrd brought up points of how marijuana is not a high priority for most judges.

He said Watauga County has in the past focused on methamphetamine, 
and has now shifted its focus to cocaine. At the end of the 
discussion, both professors recommended students who want to advocate 
decriminalization talk with their state representatives and members 
of congress, who are responsive to letters.
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