Pot and the Student Movement

This year we have seen a surge in student activism.  There is an ideological rift between those who consider privatization the solution to our failing education system and people like me who believe that education is not a commodity. Education is a right. Well, it should be a right.

I am genuinely confused by the protests on our campus.  We wander from issue to issue, grocery shopping for demands, with no aim or focus but to throw asunder the “heterosexual, white-male dominated, capitalist and oppressive system.”  While this goal is necessary, and the message inspiring, it is grandiose and fragmented.  By having competing interests fused into one mega-platform we are, in my opinion, pissing into the wind.

In the name of solidarity, the mega-platform alienated communities from the decision-making process, an act with degenerative effects for a movement professing to “democratize” education.  Is it not a sketchy goal to “democratize” every aspect of this world?
I am altogether nervous about the use and abuse of rhetoric, especially when commandeering democracy to fulfill various political agendas; at some point a term gets so diluted its meaning becomes useless.

Though it is easy to focus on my dissatisfaction, and obvious that such a vision requires patience, this article aims to advocate a step in the right direction.  There is a common bond among campuses in the UC system, one that specifically addresses the budget crisis and our failing state economy.  Each campus has its own issues, and to each its own political and cultural climate; however, we are united in our efforts to combat our failing economy and reinvest into education. Such a goal, however, requires something the current protests lack.

We can all dream of a world where education is available and affordable for all, but we know that nothing is free.  The state funds less than 20 percent of our public university in Irvine. We have low-income students competing for limited resources and financial aid. What is missing is a source of income to offset the crisis. The state simply doesn’t have enough money to in-source all our workers (important as it is), reduce student fees, improve financial aid opportunities, and close the budget deficit all in one flick of a pen. Our state, simply put, is in a crisis where the quality of education is its collateral damage.

Call me a hippie, call this next idea immature and idealistic, but 70 years of marijuana prohibition is costing our state too much money.  Incarcerating our youth for non-violent drug offences and restricting these future students’ access to financial aid is altogether counterproductive (see the Higher Education Act’s drug provision – ironic as it is). While we can reduce wasted resources by repealing drug prohibition, our state would gain enormous quantities of revenue with the taxation of cannabis and the reinvigoration of the hemp industry. If we as a society have learned anything from alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, it is that prohibition simply does not work. Educating our youth and providing avenues for individuals to move up through society is more important than punishing people for petty crimes.

The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act will be on the November 2010 ballot to address one aspect of the failing War on Drugs. Several students at UCI are hoping to amend the bill, and draft legislation to pressure our state into allocating 20 to 50 percent of this tax directly to public education. Such an amendment will provide a legitimate source of income to offset our state’s budget crisis and fund education.

On Friday, April 30, several students will be teaming up with Ramon Quintero and Outernational (a politically conscious rock group from New York), to advocate for a solution to our budget crisis. Come join the second annual Down for the Cause Festival from 4-6 p.m. outside the Student Center for a chance to talk about the amendment, and from 7-10 p.m. at the Student Center Stage for a concert headlined by Outernational followed by a gathering at the Anthill Pub.

Oren Klein is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at oklein@uci.edu.