Students for Sensible Drug Policy criticize war on drugs in concert benefit

Isabella Jiao, Reporter

Speakers and student performers spoke out against the war on drugs Friday night in the first Speak Out and Benefit Concert, the biggest event on campus for Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Named Sensiblelooza, the concert is SSDP’s first attempt to create an annual event, said Weinberg junior Anna DiStefano, vice president of fundraising and finance for SSDP. Friday’s event aimed to increase the organization’s visibility among students, she said.

Paul Salamanca, SSDP’s vice president of community outreach and event planning, explained that as governmental drug laws change, SSDP is working actively with Associated Student Government to push for more lenient policies at the University level and nationwide.

Around 50 people attended the event at Norris University Center, and the audience was encouraged to share feelings on social media throughout the event using the hashtag #StaySensible. The concert featured performances from student artists and student band Brainstorm.

Heather Schoenfeld, an assistant professor at the Center for Legal Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, said the war on drugs creates a culture strongly against drug use and potentially leads to many being unjustly imprisoned for minor offenses.

“People who are found with (only) small amounts of drugs can actually be sentenced up to life in prison,” Schoenfeld said.

Kathie Kane-Willis, director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy at Roosevelt University, said she thinks reducing the harm for drug abusers is an important way to help them overcome their problems. This includes getting drug users to choose sterilized syringes and avoid mixing drugs, she said.

“(Harm reduction) is about meeting someone where they are and trying to get them make a positive change,” Kane-Willis said.

Kane-Willis also warned against the possible breakdown of the drug policy reform movement despite recent victories, such as the legalization of medical marijuana in Illinois. She said that radical members in the movement tend to accuse other members for not being supportive enough, and the discord could make the movement fall apart.

Distefano said SSDP want to increase student participation by making the Sensiblelooza concert an annual event.

“The event is very well advertised, and the organizers are very spirited,” said Lauren Harris, a Medill sophomore who attended the event.

Salamanca added that the group is pushing for policy changes related to the student population.

“One thing that we would like the University to adopt is the medical cannabis use because that’s also the pilot program that’s legalized in Illinois,” Salamanca said.

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