On 4/20 two UMD student groups call for legalization and more

Tie dyed “legalize” shirts hang on a clothesline behind the Students for Liberty and Students for Sensible Drug Policy tables. Photo by Alex Mann

By Alex Mann

On April 20, otherwise known as “Weed Day,” Students for Liberty and Students for Sensible Drug Policy hosted an event in front McKeldin Library to raise awareness about the war on drugs and offer their views on how to solve it: legalize all drugs.

Both student organizations said they believed it should be legal to consume and sell drugs, including heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, crack, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana.

“I should be able to put anything I want in my body,” said Sean Shriner, a senior aerospace engineering major and Students for Liberty member.
As the death toll associated with the nationwide heroin and opioid epidemic increases dramatically, politicians and health professionals search for answers. Efforts to legalize illicit opioid drugs like heroin have not gained any traction.

Junior government and politics major Stratton Wimsatt said his brother is a heroin addict. He is vehemently against the idea of legalizing heroin and other such drugs.

“[It would] give people the access, the legal tools to put themselves in danger,” Wimsatt said. “They already have access to [illicit drugs] but making it legal adds that morale of ‘this isn’t a bad thing to be doing.’”

SSDP President Yusuf Mahmood explained the dangers of buying a drug like heroin on the street. Often users don’t know what they are getting, as dealers regularly lace heroin with drugs like cocaine, or fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Drug prohibition is not working, said Mahmood, a sophomore economics and philosophy major. “You don’t know what you’re getting when you’re buying something in a black market, but when you’re buying something in a free market you can actually sue someone who lies about [drug] purity.”

The illicit drug trade is a multi-billion dollar industry, but it doesn’t operate like other lucrative markets.

“Billion dollar companies settle their disputes using lawyers and courts,” Mahmood said. “With an illegal drug trade the only option they have is violence.”

Legalizing a laundry list of hard drugs is far-fetched, and Students for Liberty President Ethan Pritchard says he understands that. That’s why his organization advocates for steps. First decriminalization, then legalization.

President of Students for Liberty Ethan Pritchard shows his poster board advocating for legalization of heroin, LSD, Meth, ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana. Photo by Alex Mann

Even in the short term, Pritchard, who said his best friend died of a heroin overdose in February, thinks the government should try alternatives to traditional treatment methods, like methadone or Suboxone clinics, and police crackdowns on kingpin dealers.

Pritchard suggested supervised injection facilities, another harm-reduction strategy, which gives addicts a safer place to use the drugs. The practice – Vancouver, Canada, was the first place in North America to try it – lets users buy and use heroin under the supervision of medical professionals who are armed with Naloxone, a drug designed to quickly reverse opioid overdose.

“We’re all affected directly, either personally or through a channel, we know somebody who’s dealing with a family member who’s addicted to heroin,” Pritchard said. “We just have a different take on [legalization.]”

Heroin and the opioid epidemic were not the only topic of the April 20 event. Some students gathered to celebrate “Weed Day” and only supported legalizing marijuana, not other drugs.

“Marijuana is a drug that relaxes and helps a lot of people medically,” said Chris Keosian, a junior government and politics major. “It should be legalized, because in society if we’ve come around that alcohol is okay and tobacco isn’t healthy, but it’s okay to buy, I don’t see weed as being a lot different.

But for Keosian, the idea of legalizing heroin is too much.

“Everybody has a good reason for thinking what they think,” he said. “They have, I’m sure, very valid reasons for thinking that heroin should be legal. I just don’t agree with those reasons.”

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