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October 2006
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Looking back to a more… peaceful… war

I went back to my undergraduate college this weekend for my 30th college reunion. It got me thinking about my days as a college student in the 70s and comparing it to the present, particularly in terms of the drug war.
This comparison only specifically concerns a small sub-set of society — college life. I had a good idea what was going on then, and I have a good idea what goes on now through my position as a university employee with close connections to students.
When I was a student, the drug war had started, but the focus was more… limited. College students smoked pot, or didn’t, as they wished, and everybody knew about it and nobody cared. I personally witnessed a situation where students were smoking pot in the common residence hall television room on the first floor when the campus police came by. They ducked their head in and asked if they could close the door — the smoke was getting a little thick in the hallway.
While it was certainly wrong for pot to be illegal (and we all knew that), there was a kind of treaty that existed. The campus and town police left the college students alone as long as they kept it indoors or out of general public view (you needed to be discrete at football games because of the public in attendance, but you could smoke obviously at the soccer games because really only college students attended). The only other rule was that the high school kids were off-limits. As soon as a college student sold to a high school student, the police came down hard.
Some students tried other drugs. Most didn’t. Pot and alcohol were the drugs of choice and they didn’t lead to harder drugs. The group of students that drank the most (the Owls), were known for getting drunk and smashing things or people. The group of students that smoked pot the most (the Delts) were the most peaceful. (In fairness, another group – the Milts — were major beer drinkers and almost as gentle as the Delts.)
Now move ahead 30 years. College students smoke pot, or they don’t, as they wish. Some try other drugs. Most don’t. The difference is that now we’ve escalated the war. We’re spending huge amounts of money on it, and occasionally, for no good reason, students get caught and their lives are ruined (financial aid revoked, kicked out of school or housing). Additionally, there’s no difference between selling pot to college students or to high school students.
Pot use appears roughly as prevalent today in college as it was 30 years ago. Pot use caused very little problem 30 years ago and it causes very little problem now. The drug war escalation, however, has made things worse in the little microcosm of college life, as it has in society as a whole.
The greatest fear of the drug warriors is not that pot will become legal in Nevada or Colorado. Their greatest fear is that after it becomes legal it will be not much of a problem. Because when people discover that fact, the drug war gravy train will come to an end.

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