Students advocating marijuana legalization used an article written by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in the 1970s as testimony to their cause in a meeting Wednesday night.
The GW group Students for a Sensible Drug Policy passed out an article Trachtenberg wrote in 1972 advocating the repeal of federal marijuana laws. The article, published in the Federal Bar Journal and co-authored by Lewis J. Paper concluded that laws prohibiting marijuana usage should be repealed.
“I felt at the time and probably still feel that there is no reason to give people reason to disrespect the laws,” Trachtenberg said “There is no compelling reason if the law is not enforceable.”
Trachtenberg wrote in the article, “Enforcement of marihuana laws continues to exact three principal social costs which greatly outweigh any proven benefit secured by those laws.”
The first cost included in the article involves “social costs affecting the entire judicial system” that congest the legal system. Another detriment to marijuana law is that thousands of young adults acquire criminal records, “which may fatally mar future opportunities to lead a productive life.” Third, the laws “breed contempt among many for the legal and political systems.”
These sentiments were echoed at the SSDP meeting.
“In 1998, 90.4 percent of high school seniors said it was easy to get marijuana on school campuses,” said keynote speaker Eric Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Foundation. “And then they tell us that we are winning the drug war.”
As council to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary from 1979 to 1989, Sterling was responsible for drug enforcement and gun control.
Sterling spoke for more than an hour to the crowd of 50 students on what he described as the “futility of the U.S. war on drugs.” Sterling also described the social, environmental and monetary costs of “drug prohibition.”
“The drug prohibition law is an inherently racist and biased law,” Sterling said.
The Federal Bar Journal backs Sterling’s arguments of the U.S. government’s attempt to fight drug use and sales.
“Whatever the depth of public fears of marihuana use, it is clear that there is little or no substantial evidence to support them,” Trachtenberg wrote in the article.
Trachtenberg said public fears of marijuana are valid today because more is known about the drug and its long-term health effects than in the 1970s.
“We know more about the lingering effects,” he said.
Trachtenberg said he was happy to hear about open discussions about marijuana laws on GW’s campus.
“I’ve heard no lively conversation on this topic in several years,” Trachtenberg said.