Date: October 20, 2006
Letter to the Editor – Antioch Record
I am writing to you as the father of Cary James, one of the four students recently suspended from Antioch College for traveling to Columbus, Ohio to purchase marijuana for themselves and other students.
Earlier this year, our family was pleased when Antioch accepted Cary’s application for admission. After visiting the college, Cary felt that Antioch was where he belonged and would flourish. Based on its reputation, we were thankful that Cary had chosen to attend a “liberal” liberal arts college. I use the term liberal in the most positive sense of the word, not as it has been defined in more recent times by conservatives and the religious right. By definition. liberal means “broad minded” and “favoring reform or progress”.
As an undergraduate student, I learned to logically examine the world by the Socratic or dialectical method. Through critical examination of issues, we come to a better understanding and resolution of the problems we face in life. This is the type of education I envisioned for my son in attending Antioch. I was disturbed when I learned that Cary was being expelled (which was later amended to a one year suspension). What concerned me most was not that he was being expelled, but the basis for his expulsion.
As a criminal defense attorney, I am troubled by the criminalization of our youth, and the hypocrisy with which we administer our current “zero tolerance” policy regarding drug and alcohol use. As one who upholds the principal of honesty, I freely admit that I have smoked marijuana. I was, after all, a product of the sixties and seventies. In raising my children, I have not voluntarily disclosed my past usage, nor have I denied this fact as they grew older and were capable of questioning me. I have however always advised them of the potentially harmful effects of drug and alcohol use and abuse, and tried to instill in them an understanding of the problems associated with any addiction. At the same time, I understand that people will engage in the vice of their choice. What vice you indulge yourself (food, wine, sex, gambling, the list goes on), is a matter of your choice. Just as I ask that you tolerate my vices, so long as they do not infringe upon your rights, I will tolerate your vices. For me, the occasional one or two martinis long ago supplanted any desire to smoke marijuana. However, I do admit that a few years ago I smoked marijuana with a good friend, Deb, six months before her death from cancer. We were attending an outdoor wedding for mutual friends. Deb had discovered the benefit of marijuana in counteracting the constant nausea caused by the chemotherapy. Deb did not want to smoke alone, so I gladly joined her in sharing a joint on the shore of a lovely lake. I will always remember that afternoon and the time spent with an old friend.
I have no regrets, nor shame for that event, so please don’t have any for me.
Unfortunately, too may of the people in a position to set policy for the rest of us, hide or deny their own use or experimentation with marijuana. This is sad in light of the statistics regarding marijuana use in our country. According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 96.8 million Americans age 12 and older, have tried marijuana at least once in their lifetimes. This represents 40.2% of the age 12 and older population. Among college students, the Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that in 2004 18.9% of college students admitted to marijuana use within the past 30 days, with 33.3% reporting use within the past year and 49.1% within their lifetime. Among similar aged young adults not attending college, the statistics on marijuana use are comparable to those reported for college students. Obviously, these statistics demonstrate that a substantial portion of our young adults have tried or are using marijuana. The question thus becomes, are they all criminals? Unfortunately, our country’s misplaced “war on drugs” and “zero tolerance” has answered that question with a resounding “yes”.
According to the report “Incarcerated America”, published by the human right organization “Human Rights Watch”, over two million men and women are currently incarcerated. Although we hold ourselves out as the “land of the free”, the United States “incarcerates a higher percentage of its people than any other country.” Contrary to popular beliefs (perpetuated by the fear politicians attempt to install in us to mobilize support), the increase in our prison population is not attributable to any increase in violent crimes, which has held steady over the past two decades. Rather, the increase has been in non-violent, drug related crimes. Since 1980 the number of people incarcerated for drug offenses has increased twelvefold. Further, we should be alarmed by the disproportionate burden the “war on drugs” has had on our minority population. “Although blacks account for only 12 percent of the U.S. population, 44 percent of all prisoners in the United States are black”.
Drug Sense (www.drugsense.org), an organization committed to educating and debating the merits (or lack thereof), of our current drug policies, reports that over 1.68 million people will be arrested this year for drug offense, according to FBI estimates. A large portion of these arrests will be for marijuana. FBI statistics for 2005, estimate that 786,545 people were arrested for marijuana law violations, of which the vast majority, almost 90 percent, were for simple possession. Not only is there the tragic human costs (disrupting families, lost work and productivity, criminal records, etc.), the actual monies spent to fight the “war” is staggering. It is estimated that between the federal and state governments, over 50 billion dollars will be spent in 2006 directly related to enforcing drug laws. I suggest that, as a nation, we would be better off if a large portion of this money was spent treating drug addiction, educating our children and providing employment opportunities. This issue should at least be openly discussed and debated.
Similarly, we have taken a wrong approach to the use of alcohol by our youth. When I was in college, it was legal to drink “3.2 beer” (beer with an alcohol content not exceeding 3.2% by volume), from age 18 to 20. The effects of increasing the drinking age to 21 have been far reaching. In analyzing this issue, we must recognize the extent to which alcohol is being used by our youth. According to the Core survey, sixty-nine percent of college students under that age of 21 report using alcohol within the past 30 days and eighty-two percent admit to alcohol use within the past year.
By increasing the drinking age to 21, we have criminalized our youth. This instills in them disrespect for the law, as they have determined to ignore the law and drink anyway. Additionally, we have failed to teach them about drinking. We simply ignore the fact that they’re drinking alcohol and then turn them loose at age 21. By bringing back “3.2 beer” (or what ever percentage is determined appropriate), we would allow them to drink in a safer environment. From their standpoint, because it’s all illegal, what difference does it make whether they drink beer, wine or 151 proof rum. Either way, they are committing the same criminal offense – underage consumption of alcohol – a misdemeanor of the first degree. Thus, we have young adults consuming more potent forms of alcohol, with the consequences of excessive intoxication and alcohol poisoning.
For years I have been an advocate of bringing back 3.2 beer and lowering the drinking age to 19. Whether we agree on age 19 and beer with an alcohol content of 3.2 percent is irrelevant. The point is that this issue should be openly debated, and hopefully we will come to a better solution. Alternatively, we can continue with our current policies and accept that we have made our children criminals and placed them at greater risk from drinking more potent alcohol. Just as we debate other issues (abortion rights, stem cell research, the war in Iraq, illegal aliens and so many others), we must openly debate the failed effects of our drug and alcohol policies, particular towards our younger citizens.
Following Cary’s expulsion, I was given an opportunity (exactly one-half hour), to meet with President Lawry, Dean Williams, Richard Jurasek and Joyce Morrissey. In expressing my views, as set forth above, I found your administration less than receptive to discuss these issues. When I expressed my concern that they had chosen the most severe from of punishment (expulsion), I was rebuked in my categorizing expulsion as the “most severe” sanction. I was then advised that they could have turned the matter over to the local prosecutor’s office.
I was astonished that your administration would consider criminal prosecution an option. In response, I simply reminded your administration that possession of marijuana in an amount less than 100 grams is a minor misdemeanor in Ohio. Whereupon, Dr. Lawry asserted the charges could have been greater (apparently suggesting that the four students were engaged in trafficking). As a defense attorney, I can only state that such charges would be problematic. Under Ohio Revised Code section 2925.51, the state must preserve and test any illicit drug and provide defense counsel with both the test results and a sample of the drug for independent testing. If the state fails to comply with these requirements, the charges must be dismissed. But, more important than the obvious defenses, do you really believe that the four students, in sharing their marijuana with their fellow students and friends, were engaged in trafficking? Have we gone that far in criminalizing our youth? What about the hypocrisy this demonstrates. All of us who have smoked marijuana at some time in our past (and the numbers are substantial), acquired it from someone, maybe a friend or fellow student. Were they all criminals?
It is unfortunate that this matter has come to this conclusion. I know that Cary will not be returning to Antioch and that he misses the friends he made in his short time on campus. What happens at Antioch in the future is in the hands of the administration, staff and students. In writing this letter, it is my hope that the school’s policies will be critically reviewed and debated. Only then will Antioch resume its course as a “liberal” arts college. Our future is in the hands of our youth. It is my hope they pursue a future free from the intolerance and hypocrisy which we have shown them. I wish you all the very best in your future.
Jeffrey N. James, Esq.
Lombardi, George & James, Ltd.
7 W. Bowery St., Ste. 507
Akron, Ohio 44308
Office: (330) 535-9655;
Cell: (330) 815-3063;
Fax: (330) 535-9921