By Joelle Tatter
Roosevelt University’s fourth Annual Forum on Drug Policy was held in Fainman Lounge on April 4. There were two panels, the first titled “Inside and Outside the Walls: Perspectives on Individuals who Use Drugs, Treatment and the Correctional System,” and the second titled “Dire Consequences: Collateral Consequences of Marijuana Misdemeanors.”
Among the people presenting were Katharine Neill of Old Dominion University, Beth Jantz of the Federal Defender’s Program, Ryan Dalton from Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Reverend Al Sharp of the Community Renewal Society.
During introductions, panel participants told the audience their own personal stories and histories with drugs, and then answered questions from the moderator and audience.
One of the forum’s prevailing messages was that the current approach to treating addiction needs to change, as it is not individualized enough and focuses too much on ideas of faith in God and group meetings.
The stigma toward drug addiction and treatment is a factor that prevent those who need help from getting it. Another reason stated that prevents people from getting treatment was that some of the money that could be going toward funding to more individualized treatment for drug addicts usually ends up going to the prison system, which is where many drug addicts find themselves in the first place.
The panel discussed the decriminalization of marijuana and why it needs to happen, although there were differing views. States that have decriminalized marijuana, such as Colorado and Washington, haven’t seen a sudden increase in the number of people who smoke it.
The panel also discussed how many of the people who are arrested for possession of marijuana tend to be between the ages of 18 and 25, and are usually experimenting with the drug. Yet, if they are arrested for possession, their records will follow them for the rest of their lives, and may make it difficult for them to find things such as housing, employment and federal aid, in the future.
The second panel brought up a bill that Khadine Bennett, a staff attorney at ACLU-IL, is working on to make possession of marijuana in amounts less than 30 grams decriminalized, so that people who get caught using it recreationally will not suffer huge consequences.
The Forum touched on how the treatment of drug addicts and drugs in general needs to change in order for society to have more productive members.
According to the panelists, there’s been a lot of progress over the years, but there’s still so much that needs to be done.