I write this having just completed the PossePlus Retreat, where we discussed crime and punishment. The retreat was not about coming up with a fix to all of the problems revolving around justice in a 48 hour time frame, but rather intended to provide a foundation: a baseline of information and different perspectives in order to allow attendees to move into higher levels of thought.
On all of the walls of the retreat were tapestries of the different major subsets of crime and punishment: the role of the media, who is in jail, what constitutes a crime, and so on. The one I was particularly interested in was the section of the wall devoted to drugs; one side had images and statistics of the insanity of the War on Drugs; the other, the insanity of drug culture. One side had an infographic of people being arrested for as little as $2 worth of marijuana, the other had a picture of the decrepit living conditions of a family addicted to drugs. Side by side, it was a powerful message, and perfectly described the torment that was going on inside my head.
I have several orbs of conflicting thought revolving around my head about the recent events on campus. Working through them has been difficult, to say the least. For the rest of this article, when I mention “drugs,” I am not including marijuana, due to its relatively low levels of addictiveness and damage.
In one orb, I have the understanding that there will always be a demand for drugs, and as a result there will always be a supply to satisfy that demand. Some drugs, especially designer drugs, can potentially be contaminated by toxins in their manufacturing process. Having dealers who are educated in how to ensure the safety of their supply is crucial to keeping students on campus who chose to consume illicit substances safe. Arresting the educated dealers who were not involved in the distribution of the contaminated MDMA is only opening the door for inexperienced or potentially immoral dealers to fill the gap that has just been created on the supply side of the curve. Students who continue to consume these designer drugs are likely in even more danger.
In the second orb, there is a difference between railing against the War on Drugs in a philosophical vacuum and operating in reality. If these drugs were to be made legal, it is likely that they would be much more expensive than the illegal varieties due to taxes and regulations. Evidence of this problem is currently on display in states that have legalized marijuana, where the black/grey market is still able to compete with legalized marijuana due to cost. Legalization is inherently classist: the rich will be able to afford the much higher legalized drug prices, but the poor will still look to the black market. As a result, there will be large sections of the public, including at Wesleyan, who will still be at risk from improperly produced drugs. For those who believe in legalization of drugs: You still have a lot more thinking to do, and it isn’t the silver bullet you think it is.
Also classist in the legalization talk is the fact that while here at Wesleyan, where many have few responsibilities outside of class, drugs aren’t as devastating as they are in poorer neighborhoods. Many of the drug users at Wesleyan also aren’t using drugs that are as destructive as some of those more popular off campus. The picture of the family I saw is a common tale—a parent decides to spend resources the family doesn’t have to feed their addiction. The rest of the family suffers, and perhaps, is in danger. For those who have addiction problems, committing crimes to generate income to pay for drugs is also a problem that won’t be solved by legalization. I have the gut feeling that certain destructive drugs should remain illegal, and that those who sell and consume them should be prosecuted, if for nothing else than to remove these destructive elements from their communities. Why should we bow to those who want to consume drugs at the expense of the community of those who don’t want to consume drugs?
The third and final orb of thought is the price Wesleyan would pay if they were to relax, or be seen as complicit in the sale and use of drugs on campus. Federal funding, alumni donations, and the quality and diversity of future frosh classes are at risk. The federal government could start demanding that Wesleyan do more about drugs on campus or lose money. Alumni may not want to be associated with a school that continues to have a black eye from drugs. Parents and high school seniors who don’t want to be associated with a campus notorious for drugs may look elsewhere. There is a significant potential that everyone on campus, including those who don’t do drugs, will be harmed by the second and third order effects of the administration not coming down on drug users and suppliers. Why should the large population of Wesleyan students who don’t want to consume drugs cater to those who do decide to do drugs, and the degradation to our campus that comes from it?
So what are my conclusions? Do I want to see harsher penalties for those who use drugs, knowing that we all make mistakes? Is drug culture part of the price we pay here at Wesleyan to preserve the experimental mentality that we pride ourselves on? Do I think that the school should place itself, and those who don’t want to use drugs, in a precarious position to cater to those who want to experiment?
Would an aggressive targeting of those who are selling drugs place students who decide to use at a higher, and perhaps lethal risk? There are no easy answers to this. A definitive answer to one of these questions benefits one segment of the student population and seriously hurts another.
I will say this. The community took a hit, the image of Wesleyan has yet another black eye, many students were gut-wrenchingly concerned about their friends in the hospital and in jail. The dealer responsible for the contaminated drugs nearly killed a dozen people. The dealers who weren’t responsible for the bad drugs were still importing illegal substances onto campus. This is the price of drug culture.
I will also say I hope that all of those hurt by the drugs have a complete recovery and learn from this experience. I hope that the legal system, both Wesleyan’s and Middletown’s, shows leniency to those who didn’t sell the contaminated drugs. We all make mistakes, sometimes a close brush with dire consequences is all we need.
I’ll conclude by saying that I do not believe Wesleyan’s policies should be at the expense of those who don’t consume illegal drugs, by damaging Wesleyan’s reputation. Additionally, the idea that a person who consumes drugs is only hurting themselves is a false statement: they hurt those around them in direct and indirect ways, which we have all seen over the past week. We should not ignore the fact that those who don’t consume drugs deserve justice for the pain and agony inflicted on them. But we should also remain empathetic for those who made a mistake.
I hope the conversation continues.
Stascavage is a member of the class of 2018.