The Office of Civic Engagement partnered with American Downfall, a discussion group that meets every other week led by Luke Ritter, a history lecturer and a founder of the American Downfall panel, in an open dialogue about U.S. drug policy.
Ritter said that drug policy in the U.S. is a complex one.
“One of the problems that makes drug policy complicated is the American desire to maximize personal freedom versus the desire to protect communities and especially loved ones from harm’s way,” Ritter said. “There is a lot of room for debate on where the line should be drawn, causing a gray area that complicates policymaking.”
Breck Kornegay, a senior history major from Dothan, said drug policy is not just a complicated topic but a national threat.
“Drug addiction and deaths from overdoses is a very complicated issue that should be a treated as a national emergency,” Kornegay said.
According to drugabuse.gov, 64,070 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016 alone. However, the website does not break down deaths by specific drugs.
Kornegay added that not all drugs are equal and there could be a benefit in decriminalizing marijuana.
“Marijuana should be decriminalized on a federal level so we could free up the money used to police and incarcerate hundreds of thousands of Americans to fund care for those who would need it the most — hard drug addicts,” Kornegay said. “Decriminalizing marijuana only means you that you don’t go to jail for possessing it, but you still wouldn’t be able to produce or sell it.”
Ritter said that decriminalizing marijuana does not entail an increase in the number of regular marijuana users.
“We have proof from Washington and Colorado that legalizing marijuana does not cause more people to get addicted to the substance,” Ritter said. “In fact, studies show that many hard drug addicts quit using and switch to the much safer drug — marijuana.”
Avery Livingston, coordinator of the Office of Civic Engagement, said that this is the first of a series of collaborations between her office and American Downfall.
“The Office of Civic Engagement had hosted a very similar monthly discussion for students,” Livingston said. “So, we decided to join forces with American Downfall instead of competing for the same audience to focus and amplify the impact of our shared mission.
“This is the first, but not the last, meeting for us working with American Downfall.”
Ritter said that the next meeting will be on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at noon with the main topic being the executive branch of the U.S.
“Our next meeting will be about the executive branch and what power limitations it has and overreach of authority,” Ritter said. “Joining us will be Professor Jamie Todhunter from the political science department to guide us, the discussion and share his opinions,” Ritter said. “This discussion would be especially interesting for students who are political science or history majors, but everyone who is interested is encouraged to join us.”
Livingston said he encourages more students to come to future meetings because of the benefit from the dialogue.
“These meetings are a wonderful opportunity for students to talk in-depth about current events and pressing issues and possibly be inspired to affect positive change somehow in their community,” Livingston said.