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Students gather at Kent State to discuss marijuana policy

The country is thinking green, in more ways than one.

With the failure of Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana in California and the success of Proposition 203 to legalize medical marijuana in Arizona, 15 states have now adopted laws for medicinal marijuana.

Ohio Rep. Kenny Yuko was keynote speaker at the 2010 Midwest Regional Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) Conference at Kent State on Saturday. Yuko is responsible for introducing House Bill 478, in favor of legalization and regulation of medical marijuana, this year in Ohio’s state legislature.

“We have viable opportunities to address health care needs and concerns without spending a small fortune on pharmaceutical products,” Yuko said. “Medical marijuana that is first of all affordable, it is a natural product and something that is not addictive or habit-forming, like some of these other drugs are.”

Howard Rahtz from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group against the War on Drugs, spoke at the conference. His background as police captain in the Cincinnati Police Department and supervisor of multiple addiction programs, with a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, has helped establish his view on drug policies.

“We ought to go ahead and legalize marijuana, put it in a regulated, controlled environment and tax the s— out of it, and use that money to support some of the programs we all need,” Rahtz said.

Although Rahtz favors decriminalizing certain drugs, he said he doesn’t support criminal behavior.

“I’m all for legalization of marijuana and decriminalization of other drugs, but I don’t want to legalize illegal drug sales,” Rahtz said. “What I’d like to do, with the current situation, is take the product that’s being operated by thugs and murderers … and put that as part of the local economy.”

Yuko said he wants to hear from those who disagree with his position on medical marijuana but also encourages them to consider the alternatives to the drug policy now.

“We listen to people’s objections, to what people say, like, ‘This product of yours that you’re promoting could cause someone to drive erratically.’ Well, so does alcohol when you think about it. So does some prescription drugs,” Yuko said. “We’ve got the pharmaceutical industry making a small fortune off of people’s miseries.”

Michael Liszewski, a third-year at the University of the District of Columbia School of Law, spoke to SSDP chapter members about their rights when dealing with police in drug-related situations. He said cops will do anything, even lie, to intimidate people into giving up their rights.

“You don’t have to speak to a police officer, really at any time,” Liszewski said. “If you’re under arrest, you have to give them your name, and if you’re driving, you do have to produce your license when you’re asked, but those are the only times when you have to identify yourself.”

Both Liszewski and Rahtz said that, most often, police cannot arrest or search people for being in a “state of mind” unless they are breaking the law. And police can search people and their property only if there is a warrant, probable cause or consent to be searched.

“You always want to deny a search. You have to do it respectfully, … but do not consent to searches,” Liszewski said. “If they ask what’s in your pocket or ask you to empty your pocket and you do that, you’ve waived all your rights.”

Liszewski emphasized being respectful to police to avoid being arrested.

“Asserting your rights is all about surviving a police encounter with your life and liberty intact,” Liszewski said. “Basically, don’t be a douchebag. Remain cool and just stand your ground, that’s all it is.”

Liszewski said the biggest way to make sure police are respecting the rights of the people is to file complaints against officers who take advantage of drug laws. Rahtz and Liszewski gave a presentation that outlined the effects of the drug war in the United States and contended that decriminalization can decrease crime.

“We can make a difference in the lives of so many people, people that are depending on us, people in Ohio that deserve better, and all over this great country of ours,” Yuko said. “Keep up the fight.”

Ohio State is no longer involved in SSDP’s fight, however.

In 1999, Sean Luse, who graduated in 2003 with a degree in political science, became the president of OSU’s student chapter of SSDP, the first chapter in Ohio and one of the group’s most active forces in the Midwest. But OSU’s chapter is no longer active.

The group “is one of the largest and most organized of student movements that exist right now,” Luse said. “It’s kind of sad with Ohio State being such a big campus with so many students, and they don’t have a very active chapter.”

Luse said he hopes students will realize the legacy of the OSU chapter and start it up again to keep students informed about the drug war.

“This chapter has lost its steam, lost its way,” Luse said. “But overall there’s a lot more going on than there was 10 years ago, so hopefully it will come to Ohio State once again.”

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