Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Students voting to make UT-Austin SAFER

UPDATE: Congrats to SAFER Texas on their election victory.

UT-Austin students today get a chance to vote in a
plebiscite initiated by SAFER-Texas asking them to answer the following yes/no question:
“Should the university-imposed penalties for the use and possession of marijuana be no greater than the penalties currently imposed for the use and possession of alcohol on campus?”
The referendum is non-binding, but has already received much attention, including front page coverage in the Dallas Morning News. Lindsay at Majikthise wrote yesterday the drug policy reform movement should start small, aiming efforts and school boards and other local jurisdictions.This campaign fits that bill precisely. According to SAFER-Texas' press release issued this morning:
Students who support the referendum are encouraging the university to reduce sanctions for the use of marijuana so that students are not driven to drink. In December, the life of UT freshman Phanta "Jack" Phoummarath was lost to alcohol poisoning. Earlier this month in mid-morning, a UT student was found unconscious on campus and Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services had to transport the student to the emergency room for treatment for alcohol poisoning.

"How many alcohol-related tragedies must occur on this campus before our university acknowledges that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol?,” asked Judie Niskala, UT Campus Coordinator for SAFER Texas. “We have received very positive feedback about our efforts from students on campus. These students understand the obvious truth – marijuana is simply less harmful than alcohol. They believe, as we do, that it is irrational to punish people more harshly for choosing to use a less harmful substance."

"We are optimistic that a strong majority of students will urge the administration to reduce university penalties for marijuana use and possession," continued Ms. Niskala. "Once they do, we hope university officials will demonstrate courage and commonsense and reform UT’s marijuana policies."

UT treats students who use marijuana more harshly than it treats students who use alcohol, even though marijuana is less harmful. UT is more likely to suspend a student for marijuana than alcohol, and punishes students for adult marijuana use at home unlike alcohol.

The UT Austin effort is part of a national public education effort initiated by a group called Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER). The SAFER campaign was originally launched January 2005 on the campuses of University of Colorado - Boulder and Colorado State University. Just four months earlier, two students -- Colorado State University sophomore Samantha Spady and University of Colorado freshman Lynn Bailey -- had died on these campuses from alcohol poisoning. SAFER argued that students should not be punished more harshly for using marijuana -- a drug that has never caused an overdose death - than for using a more dangerous drug, alcohol.
I think Lindsay's right that this is a good approach. Since it's non-binding, it's more public ed than substantive change, but the SAFER-Texas referendum makes an important statement about the real dangers from substance abuse, while building base among youth and opinion leaders who might support future reforms. If you're a UT Austin student, vote today for the SAFER-Texas initiative.


Shaine Mata said...

It would be cool if it works.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Good luck, SAFER - this needs to be done.