Thomas Neil ’14 recently helped to form a new campus group, Students Lobbying Against Prohibition (SLAP). He spoke with the S&B’s Carl Sessions about the group’s goals, the failed War on Drugs and the necessity for a rethinking of drug legislation. SLAP meets on Saturdays at 1 p.m. in JRC 209, though this Saturday they will meet in JRC 226. Interested students can also email them at [slap].
Why did you decide to form SLAP?
I think that on campus, for a wide variety of reasons, people discuss drugs and the War on Drugs. I think there’s a widespread consensus that it makes no sense. There are various reasons why it makes no sense. Some of the big ones that stick out to me is that when you treat drug use, which is a personal choice, as a crime, you engender all kinds of public health consequences which are never considered. [SLAP is] non-partisan and not pro-drug, so to speak. But we think there’s a different paradigm for dealing with drugs and with drug laws. The time is right across the country and internationally to start these conversations. The news from Colorado and Washington was accompanied by statements by the presidents from four Latin American countries that they also want to talk about different things. The death toll [from drug-related violence] in Mexico is over 50,000. It seems like it’s pretty preventable if you take the price incentive out of the market.
By the War on Drugs do you mean just marijuana or other drugs like cocaine, as well?
For now, the focus of the group has to be pot. Marijuana is the largest category of arrests in terms of national drug abuse. It’s also the drug law that the country is prepared for. Fifty percent of the country supports legalization and over eighty percent supports medical marijuana. Pat Robertson, Chris Christie, Ron Paul, Sarah Palin all are on board. The time is clearly right for this issue… marijuana is ubiquitous on this campus, but it’s not talked about. There’s this uneasy truce. You just shut up and hope you’re not the one who gets caught, but when you are, the Higher Education Act states you can be denied federal financial aid and you’ll have a stain on your record. That stays with you for the rest of your life… just for a substance that is probably less harmful than the Oreo cream pie in the D-Hall.
What’s the sentencing for marijuana possession in Iowa?
The sentencing for marijuana is, according to some measures, the fourth harshest. You can receive six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. At the local level that breaks down, we have our local prosecutor, a Grinnell graduate, will generally offer a plea bargain or a deferred conviction—except that stays on your record. There’s no standard by which she can decide to expose you to these harsh Iowa laws or just decide to give you a deferred conviction. I think humans do a pretty bad job of playing God with each other.
What kind of changes would you like to see made in the state legislature?
We have to start talking decriminalization and possibly legalization of marijuana. We have to start talking massive reductions and deprioritization of drug enforcement.
What tactics will SLAP use to influence the legislature?
We’re planning a lobbying trip. We’d really like to get a statewide, diverse coalition of groups on the state capital steps. There are some Iowa legislatures who have supported it. We think that even regardless of party we can reach out pretty successfully… it’s getting more organized and getting the word out, but also using a strong inter-campus network to start shaking things up.
Have you been in communication with similar groups at other campuses in Iowa?
I don’t want to put names out there yet because we’ve just exchanged messages. But I hope we’re interacting with groups that are concerned with it, like libertarian groups, groups like the ACLU, multicultural groups, the list goes on. The drug war affects everyone.
What are some of your goals for SLAP this year?
There has to be campus education. I think one of the reasons that people aren’t more up in arms about this is because they’re not aware of what an arrest can do for their future. The game has changed in the last five years. Our conception of rights have not carried over to the digital era. For $12.99 somebody can do a background check of you on Google—arrests show up as a substance possession arrest, which is obviously a huge red flag for employers. I don’t think that Grinnellians will tolerate that their future can just be at the whim and fancy of a cop walking through the loggia.