Panel opposes drug reform

By Winyan Soo Hoo

Clifford Thornton, Jr., a co-founder of the public affairs radio program Efficacy, began “Shades of Gray,” a discussion panel on drug reform policies and racism, by asking the audience, “How many people believe the drug war is successful?”

No one raised their hand.

Last night’s event addressed problems with racism and the current war on drugs. Thornton said each person is affected by the drug war in one way or another.

“There is a $499 billion underground economy that dictates most of our international policy and all of our national policy,” Thornton said.

Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) co-sponsored the event with other local organizations. The two organizations share similar mission statements and have joined together to push for the reform of drug policies in America, said SSDP President Carolyn Sundlof.

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Sundlof, junior in FAA, said she believes the war on drugs and its policies and punishments also affect educational policy.

“The drug policies in this nation are affecting people’s ability to receive adequate higher education,” Sundlof said. “It’s not a war on drugs – it’s a war on people.”

Sundlof was referring to the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision, an amendment to the Higher Education Act of 1998, which denies federal financial aid to any students with prior drug convictions. To date, the provision has denied more than 92,000 students financial aid, according to

Instead of such strict policies, Thornton asked students to think about other options, giving examples like the legal heroine maintenance programs in countries like Switzerland, which has a lower crime rate than that of the United States.

“Do you think it’s about time for a change?” Thornton asked students. “Remember that this drug war has nothing to do about drugs. It is about power. It’s about control. It’s about perversion and money – nothing else.”

Frank Nardulli, a University employee and member of NORML, said the name of the event was meant to show that each American – “regardless of race or class” – is affected by the war on drugs in some way or another.

“Students should show their support to the community by writing their (city) representatives and keeping on top of the news,” Nardulli said. “If you ignore politics, politics ignores you.”

Aaron Ammons, co-founder of CU Citizens for Peace and Justice and a panel speaker at the discussion, said he believes the nation’s current drug policies are not the best ways to deal with the problem. Ammons said he has friends and family members who are victims of the drug problem and are now dealing with prison time and felony convictions. Ammons, a former drug user, also said he believes society is too quick to conclude why people do drugs.

“When an individual is taken away from the community, we lose all their gifts, skills, talents and virtues they provide,” Ammons said. “(Society) has to realize that people do drugs because they don’t have self-esteem and they are searching for a quick fix – something for them to feel important.”

Ammons said race is a significant factor in U.S. drug policies.

“Statistics show that African Americans, Hispanic and Latinos make up over 65 percent of the prison population for the use of drugs,” Ammons said. “More blacks are convicted of drug offenses than whites convicted for the same offenses.

“The only way we are going to change or reform these drug laws is for dedicated students to become fully educated on the truth on the drug wars and all its dynamics,” Ammons said.