Group criticizes public response to Phelps photo

Nick Walton

Students say current policies are wrong, unfair

Some Kent State students are upset with Kellogg’s release of gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps after pictures of him smoking marijuana surfaced.

Junior photojournalism major Chris Wallis is boycotting Kellogg’s products until the company reinstates Phelps.

“He can still do all of these great things while simultaneously, responsibly use a substance as an adult, maybe it’s time we change our perception on what that substance is,” Wallis said. “If Michael Phelps can use (marijuana) responsibly and still go out and achieve these great things then why should we crucify him for that?”

While writing letters to Kellogg’s is a small part of what Students for Sensible Drug Policy hopes to achieve, it is an example of the organization challenging drug laws and the negative press drugs receive.

“We don’t condone or condemn any type of drug use,” said Wallis, who is the president of the Kent chapter. “We just feel the policies surrounding drug use are wrong and unfair.”

The organization is in its 10th year of existence and second semester at Kent State. Wallis started the Kent chapter last semester after transferring from the University of Toledo.

Last semester the organization participated in the national conference in Washington, D.C. At the conference, students lobbied Congress on crack cocaine disparity laws.

“We were just regular citizens going up to Washington trying to change things for the better,” Wallis said. “It was also a little nerve racking because you weren’t sure what to expect going in there. In one office we were met with familiarity – people agreed with us, and in another office we were meet with hostility.”

Another major issue the organization fights against is the Higher Education Act Drug Provision. The penalty denies students who have drug convictions the ability to qualify for federal financial aid.

For freshman sociology major Brittany Brown, this was one of the reasons she joined the organization.

“I was arrested my senior year for possession (of drugs) and paraphernalia right after I had applied to college, and I didn’t know at the time it was going to affect me being able to afford college,” Brown said. “Things turned out OK, and I still get federal funding, but I think that the laws need to be changed because that’s not right to deny education that everyone needs.”

This semester the group is trying to push for a Good Samaritan policy on campus. The policy would protect students from being prosecuted if they call for an ambulance during a drug- or alcohol-related emergency.

“It’s a very tricky process because Kent State doesn’t have jurisdiction over the police officers,” Vice President Angelica Gagliardi said. “We want Kent State to build a relationship with the police department to say ‘use your discretion – we passed this policy internally, and we don’t want kids to feel threatened when they call for help.'”

The organization has already started a petition to raise support for their cause, but the administration will make the final decision.

Gregory Jarvie, associate vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs and dean of students, said the problem with a similar policy is the risk of enabling illegal behavior.

“I highly stress the importance of calling the right people and obviously if you’re going to call for an ambulance, there’s no doubt an officer is going to show up,” Jarvie said. “I’m more than willing to listen to what this group is talking about but there’s all sorts of issues and liabilities that come up with those types of events.”

Despite dealing with different opinions and viewpoints, Wallis said he enjoys being a part of the organization.

“I love talking to people about the drug war even if they’re not with me,” Wallis said. “A lot of people think maybe we’re just a bunch of potheads or maybe we just want it so that everybody can do whatever they want all the time, and that’s not our message – we literally are just for sensible drugs policies.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy meets at 9 p.m. Mondays in Room 315 of the Student Center.

Contact health reporter Nick Walton at [email protected].