By Nettie Comerford

Authors Michael Vasquez (12) and Elena Perales (12) proposed a bill titled War on Drugs this morning at the Texas Youth and Government District competition, that was passed in the State of Affairs forum. Vasquez and Perales propose to end the War on Drugs and develop educational programs for those who have been imprisoned for drug possession. The proposal dives into the complex aspects of the War on Drugs including racial discrimination, mandatory minimum sentencing, and the overall destructive effect drug use has had on the United States for years.

Vasquez believes that since the beginning of the War in Drugs, America’s policies and efforts to end the war have done more harm than good. “Our strategies have only empowered criminals, corrupt governments, [and] stimulated violence,” he said. “A Brief History of the Drug War,” published by the Drug Policy Alliance, said that midway through Nixon’s presidency, in June of 1971, the War on Drugs was officially declared. According to “Thirty Years of America’s Drug War” from A Chronology PBS Frontline, Nixon called drug use “public enemy number one in the United States.” The years following the 1960s marked the start of youth rebelling against authority by means of drug use. The drug use epidemic spread past the border of the United States and a growing number of US soldiers in Vietnam had become addicted to Heroin. Nixon’s policies hoped to better utilize and expand federal drug control agencies. While Nixon developed the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP), which would provide federal funding for treatment facilities, Nixon also cracked down on the law enforcement side of the war and passed measures like the No-Knock warrant. This warrant, issued by a judge, allows for law enforcement to break into a property without having notified the residents.

People of color are overall more likely to be searched, arrested, and incarcerated for drug related offenses. “African American men are 13 times more likely to be arrested for drug related charges than a white man…African Americans and Latinos make up 29% of the Unites States, but more than 75% of drug violators in state and federal prisons,” Vasquez said. Students who have been convicted for possession are not allowed to receive federal student aid for one year from the date of the offense, two years after the date of the second offense, and will never be able to receive aid after the third offense. Vasquez and Perales want to implement a program for the years after a person is released from prison. Vasquez said “The majority of people I have talked to wish to come out and go to college right after and become somebody better than they once were.” Vasquez reflected on his own community in Corpus Christi and especially his own family members: “I see these people coming out of the prison system and not being able to get a second chance at life, not to be educated, not given a chance to have a really stable job because of these accusations.” According to “Injustice 101: Higher Education Act Denies Financial Aid to Students with Drug Convictions” published by the American Civil Liberties Union, education keeps youth away from drugs and improves their ability to obtain a stable job.

Delegate Carlos Carroll (11), from Corpus Christi and a pro speaker for the bill, said “[Vasquez and Perales] bring up a really good point that people [are] going to jail for sometimes decades because of drug charges, and then there’s people who have committed far more serious crimes and don’t get the same amount of time in jail; I think that’s a very valid point that they make.” Furthermore, people convicted of drug related offenses automatically lose aid from higher education, but a person convicted of any other offense, including murder, can receive aid, according to “Injustice 101: Higher Education Act Denies Financial Aid to Students with Drug Convictions” published by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The War on Drugs proposal did pass, with a majority of the delegation in support of the bill. State Affairs Delegate Carlos Carroll, who supported the bill, said “Lots of people who are incriminated for these drug charges are our age and are trying to get their education right now. We shouldn’t be allowing youth’s education to be potentially ruined because of one mistake that they mad.”