Meyer ’17: High stakes

Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Friday and Saturday, Brown students will bask in the sun (fingers crossed), sing along to “Trap Queen,” wear ubiquitous tank-tops and get high. Many will abstain, of course. But for some students, drugs are as natural a part of Spring Weekend as the music itself. I’m not interested in demonizing drug use for its own sake. But given the proud commitment to social justice that Brown students normally uphold, our tendency to treat Spring Weekend as an excuse to do more and harder drugs is hypocritical.

Most of the time, Brown students are conscientious consumers. We smugly sip the Fair Trade coffee from Blue State and Coffee Exchange. Students for Justice in Palestine successfully petitioned to get Brown Dining Services to offer alternative hummus products so that students might avoid Sabra, a corporation criticized by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. Many get their groceries from the Brown Market Shares Program in order to support alternative food systems. A few years ago, Brown students pushed the University to boycott fossil fuels in its investing even though they conceded that the gesture would be mainly symbolic. But for some reason, this commitment to ethical dealing doesn’t extend to drugs.

The coke, molly and weed that enhance many a concert-goer’s experience are anything but Fair Trade certified. Most of it travels across America’s southern border, fueling unimaginable violence from which U.S. consumers are insulated. The drug wars in Central America, including both conflicts between government anti-drug forces and criminal organizations and turf wars between different entities, is one of the least discussed humanitarian crises in the world today. Though the violence takes place just across the Rio Grande, the terrible toll of drug violence is largely out of sight and out of mind.

In 2012, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico saw 288 homicides, a rate of seven-and-a-half murders per 10,000 residents. Unofficially, according to a Wilson Center report, the number may be almost twice as high. Laredo, its sister city on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, only had eight murders at a rate of 0.3 per 10,000 residents. The widespread violence was driven by a pitched battle for control of Nuevo Laredo’s smuggling routes into the United States fought by the allied Sinaloa and Gulf Cartel organizations against Los Zetas. The cities have otherwise similar demographic profiles.

The scale of the killing is stunning, especially given the low profile of drug violence compared to the War on Terror. From 2007 to 2014, just over 103,000 civilians died in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the same period, there were over 164,000 homicides in Mexico according to data released by the Mexican government. In February of this year, our southern neighbor suffered from an average of 55 homicides per day. The scale of killing resembles a war, not a crime problem. This violence is fueled by American consumers’ insatiable demand.

Led by experimentation by individual states, the United States has finally started to relax its domestic war on drugs. But unfortunately, we have not altered our militarized anti-drug strategy abroad. The United States has pursued a policy of interrupting supply and trying to decapitate organizations by capturing or killing figures like Sean Penn’s friend, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. The policy is an ongoing failure. As any Spring Weekend attendee can testify, attempts to block supply aren’t working very well. And the strategy of decapitation has resulted in bloody feuds in the power vacuums created by the absence of a kingpin. In the short term, relaxing domestic drug policy might make things worse. Decriminalization without legalization reduces the deterrents to drug use, potentially increasing demand. But without legalization, the demand will not be met by regulated domestic sources. If consumer demand for drugs goes up, narcotraficantes will surely fight to meet it.

In many ways, Brown students tend to have an impressively liberal approach towards drugs. Students for Sensible Drug Policy will offer anonymous access to drug testing kits for the weekend (suggesting Spring Weekend is indeed the prime time for experimentation). SSDP is one of many voices advocating for an end to the domestic war on drugs and mass incarceration. In 2013, the group supported Rhode Island’s decision to decriminalize pot. Brown’s mandatory First Reading for freshmen, “The New Jim Crow,” critiques harsh drug laws as racist injustices.

Too often, this conversation stays confined within the United States’ borders. Brown students should exercise the same compassion and commitment they show in opposing domestic mass incarceration towards ending drug violence in Central America. In the meantime while that violence persists, the campus’s collective eagerness for drugs is hypocrisy. To be clear, I am not trying to vilify drugs or drug users. That sort of rhetoric only serves to perpetuate drug war politics. But Brown students should be under no illusions about the stakes of their Spring Weekend fun.

Daniel Meyer ’17 can be reached at if you want to buy some blow. Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to

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