U.S. Drug Czar John Walters lauded the benefits of rehabilitation for drug users in a speech at GW Tuesday as about a dozen students protested outside chanting, “no more drug war.”
The speech launched the creation of GW’s chapter of Students Taking Action Not Drugs, a group dedicated to challenging the growing movement to legalize drug use on college campuses.
Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, spoke to about 60 people for a little more than an hour and held question-and-answer session.
Known for his substance abuse treatment plans, Walters said he would like to expand reintegration of treated drug abusers into society.
“I believe the drug problem is simply guided by common sense,” he said. “Substance abuse has taken a great toll on this country. It takes away freedom from individuals who become dependent.”
Walters said there are about 19 million Americans who use drugs ,and about 7 million are addicts. About one-third of addicts are 18 to 25 years old.
“More than seven million people need treatment, but most of them are in denial,” Walters said. “People around them do not see this as a sickness, they don’t want to be judgmental of their peers and allow their peers to continue to become sicker.”
Although Walters said statistics show alcohol is more widely used than marijuana, cases of marijuana consumption are on the rise.
“The number of people driving high are reaching that of those driving under the influence of alcohol,” he said, “This pattern of abuse begins with young people.”
Walters said addictions to legal substances, including alcohol and cigarettes, can be solved by raising prices to dissuade young people from purchasing the products, not by education.
“Education is important, but supply control is more effective – raising prices,” he said.
Junior Chrissy Trotta, one of the four founding members of the University’s Students Taking Action Not Drugs chapter, said GW students “have a type of drug culture acceptance,” and Walters’ speech was important for the University community to hear.
About 15 students and one faculty member protested the drug czar’s speech outside of the Elliott School of International Affairs building, calling for the repeal of the 1998 Drug Provision of Higher Education Act, which discontinues government-funded financial aid to students convicted of drug felonies.
Protester Melissa Milam, media director for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said the provision should be appealed because the financial aid forms currently ask applicants if they have ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs, which could deter reformed drug offenders from seeking higher education.
Protester Shawn McHale, an Elliott School professor, gave an impromptu speech rallying protesters.
“Today’s speaker wants to keep on sending individuals to prison for marijuana offenses,” McHale said. “He lumps together dangerous drugs: marijuana, heroin and crack.”
During Walter’s speech, a middle-aged mother of five raised a large, yellow sign reading “Walter Lies,” and began screaming.
“Your policies are putting my kids at risk,” she said before officers escorted her from the building amid cheers and boos from audience members.