Daily Campus Op-ed: Medical Marijuana Should be Allowed on Campus

I’ve got an op-ed in the Daily Campus today, arguing that CT law should be changed to allow medical marijuana patients to use their medicine on college campuses. You can read it on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

In less than a week, Connecticut’s medical marijuana program will take effect. Starting on Monday, Oct. 1, people who meet the requirements under the new law will be able to meet with their doctors and get a temporary registration certificate, allowing them to legally possess and consume marijuana for medical purposes.

Chances are, some of those who register will be college students. Like the vast majority of their fellow students, many of those patients will live on college campuses. Yet while state law will allow these people to possess and consume marijuana to help treat a chronic illness, they will be forbidden from consuming their medicine in their own homes or anywhere near them. The law passed this year states that the laws allowing the use of medical marijuana do “not apply to … the ingestion of marijuana on any school grounds or any public or private school, dormitory, college or university property.” This is ridiculous. The law should be amended to allow qualifying patients to consume their medicine on college and university property.

As the program has not yet begun, it is impossible to tell just how many students will qualify as medical marijuana patients. The new law allows marijuana to be recommended for a wide variety of conditions, specifically including “cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, damage to the nervous tissue of the spinal cord with objective neurological indication of intractable spasticity, epilepsy, cachexia, wasting syndrome, Crohn’s disease, [and] posttraumatic stress disorder.” It also allows for more conditions to be added by the Department of Consumer Protection. While nowhere near as expansive as laws in states like California, Connecticut’s law includes enough conditions to allow for a large number of people to qualify as patients.

The reason for the ban on medical marijuana consumption on university property may have its roots in the stereotype of the college stoner. But Connecticut’s law is strict enough to ensure that no recreational users are making up bogus conditions in order to get their hands on legal marijuana. College students in the program are more likely to include veterans returning from war with PTSD and wanting to re-integrate into civilian life, older students who are trying to go back to school despite their health problems. Some of these students may appear to be healthy young people at first glance, but have been silently battling terrible conditions, such as cancer or Crohn’s, for many years. There are many students who are in legitimate need of medical marijuana, and denying them medicine because of an unfair stereotype is offensive and insensitive to the suffering they have endured.

Students who are medical marijuana patients will essentially be prohibited from living in on-campus housing. The law’s prohibitions on consumption on university property applies equally to classrooms, dormitories and apartments. Patients living on-campus will need to either break the law by consuming marijuana in their home, or go somewhere off-campus to use their medicine. If they choose the latter, they will either need to stay in that location for many hours or get someone to drive them home in order to avoid the risk of driving while impaired. This makes no sense when students prescribed dangerous narcotics are allowed to possess and consume their medicine in on-campus housing.

Proponents of keeping the law as-is will be quick to point out that no other prescription medicine is smoked and that the law makes sense, since students cannot smoke inside the dorms anyway. Concerns about fire safety and smoke damage are legitimate – I’m not advocating that students be able to smoke anything in on-campus housing, prescribed or not. However, the law does not just prohibit smoking medical marijuana on university property, but ingesting it in any way. There are many methods of consuming marijuana that run no risk of starting a fire or damaging rental housing, such as cooking it into food or using a vaporizer.

The point of any medical marijuana program is to recognize that, when used properly, marijuana is a legitimate medicine that can treat a variety of conditions. Yet as it stands, Connecticut law draws an arbitrary and unnecessary distinction between medical marijuana and other medicines recommended to patients by their doctors. To truly legitimize medical marijuana, this distinction must be removed.

Daily Campus Op-ed: High Times Ranking Should be Touted, not Ignored

I had an op-ed in the Daily Campus yesterday, objecting to the UConn administration’s silence regarding our new ranking as the best college in the country for marijuana law reform. No matter the issue, they should be applauding student political activism. You can read the article on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

We all know that UConn was ranked 21st in a list of the best public research universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and that the Sierra Club ranked us fifth in their list of “cool schools” for our environmental efforts. Any time a national organization gives UConn a high ranking on some list they’ve compiled, UConn is quick to latch on to the news and publicize it far and wide. This is understandable, as we want to boost the reputation of our university, and the best way to do that is for third parties to vouch for our strengths. Alumni, prospective and current students, lawmakers and all Connecticut residents care about the reputation of our school and love to recognize our accomplishments.

So, you may be surprised to hear that UConn recently topped the list of a decades-old national magazine with millions of readers. This hasn’t been publicized one bit by the UConn administration – no posts in UConn Today, no press releases, no anything. You may be less surprised about this when you hear the details of the ranking: UConn was rated the number one college in the country for marijuana law reform by High Times Magazine. However, despite the negative perception of the magazine, this ranking should be touted by UConn as incredibly positive news.

Most people know High Times Magazine for its praise of pot culture, centerfolds of marijuana buds and advertisements for smoking paraphernalia and gardening equipment. Yet since its creation in 1974, the magazine has also had a strong political streak. It has long been the leader of coverage and analysis of the marijuana policy reform movement, a topic that is finally beginning to be covered by mainstream media outlets. While it still has countless articles about how much its writers enjoy marijuana, it deserves recognition as a reputable source when it comes to the laws surrounding the drug.

This ranking certainly falls into the category of politics, rather than drug use. The list published by High Times was for the top colleges in marijuana law reform, not the colleges with the most pot-smoking students or schools with the most relaxed rules. It is designed to recognize the high level of engagement in the political process by college students in one of the most pressing issues of our time. UConn secured its spot at the top of the list through the hard work of its chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which played a leading role in the passage of statewide marijuana decriminalization in 2011 and medical marijuana in 2012.

Marijuana law reform is gaining popularity incredibly quickly, and actually has much more support than many other policy proposals. According to multiple polls by organizations such as Rasmussen and Gallup, over two-thirds of Americans now think that the War on Drugs has failed. For the first time since the beginning of prohibition, a majority of Americans are in support of regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Drug laws should not be a taboo subject, any more than environmental regulations or spending on public transportation.

Of course, as a public educational institution, it is inappropriate for UConn to take sides on most political issues, even ones with widespread approval. I am not advocating for UConn to officially support marijuana law reform, but merely to showcase the incredible leadership on the issue that its students have taken. As young people are notoriously uninvolved in the political process, it is great to see them being recognized as national leaders on any political issue. If UConn was ranked the best college for pro-life activism or pro-choice activism, the most active campus for college Democrats or college Republicans or even the best college for anti-marijuana reform activism, that should be praised for its evidence of student political involvement. The University could easily phrase an announcement in a way that would acknowledge the achievement while making clear that it does not support or oppose the issues being discussed.

As long as UConn explains that the ranking is about political activism and not drug use, and makes it clear that it is not taking a stance on the issue either way, it would be very beneficial for it to officially recognize this historic achievement. We should always take the time to acknowledge achievements by our students; whether they are academic, athletic, artistic or political.

Daily Campus Op-ed: Manned Mars Expedition Necessary and Feasible

Here’s another late posting – this article was published by the Daily Campus yesterday (Tuesday, 9/11). It’s about how important a manned Mars expedition would be for humanity, and that we already have the technology to make it happen. I’ve been doing a ton of research on Mars lately, so this is probably the first of many postings on the topic. You can read it on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

Early in the morning on Monday, Aug. 6, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed safely on the surface of Mars. It dominated news headlines and Facebook news feeds for a few days, producing a variety of opinions – some excited about this huge leap forward in space exploration, some criticizing the cost of the program, others amazed at our first Mars landing and still others pointing out that this is actually the fourth time we’ve landed a rover on Mars.

No matter their starting points, these conversations almost always turned to the question of if and when we should send humans. The answer is simple – yes, and as soon as possible. A manned Mars expedition is both necessary and, surprisingly, feasible with today’s technology. President Obama has stated that he wants to have humans on Mars by the 2030s, and top NASA officials have been floating the idea of a 2033 mission for some time now.

While better than nothing, these proposals are inadequate. Setting a deadline over 20 years in the future makes it highly likely it will be pushed off even further. A 2033 mission is a possible seven presidential administrations away, leaving open many opportunities for future presidents to divert resources from the project or cancel it completely. A deadline of 2022 would make the program much more likely to succeed.

The main objection to a deadline so soon is that we do not yet have the technology, or the budget, for a manned Mars mission. Judging only from NASA’s proposals, you would be right. These plans called for a complicated system of orbital space stations that would construct gigantic spaceships reminiscent of Star Wars. More importantly, they came with a $450 billion price tag. Understandably, this made many elected officials write off the idea of sending humans to Mars any time soon.

Since that time, independent groups of experts have put together alternative plans that are not only much simpler, but much cheaper as well. For example, the “Mars Direct” plan proposed by aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin and his associates calls for spaceships to be launched directly from Earth’s surface to the surface of Mars, similar to the successful moon missions of the past. The ships would then make rocket fuel out of the Martian atmosphere, drastically decreasing the amount of fuel that would need to be brought with them from Earth. This, along with other innovations with current technology, puts its price tag in the $20-30 billion range. While not cheap, this is only about 5 percent of the cost of NASA’s proposal.

In comparison, NASA’s budget for 2013 is $17.7 billion. If the project were spread over ten years, it would only cost a maximum of $3 billion per year, a mere 17 percent of NASA’s budget. A manned mission to Mars certainly seems worth that cost.

Of course, some will say that there are better uses for that $30 billion, like helping the poor, cutting taxes or paying for education. While those are laudable goals, there are much bigger areas of the nearly $4 trillion federal budget that should be cut before space exploration.

It should also be realized that there are huge benefits to a manned Mars mission, far beyond simply planting a flag and taking some cool photos. Mars has huge sheets of water ice, and there is strong evidence of liquid water underground. Astronauts would be able to drill down and sample this liquid water for the presence of life. Finding even simple bacteria on another planet would cause a dramatic shift in all areas of human knowledge, from biology to religion.

A manned Mars mission would also pave the way for further exploration. If liquid water is discovered beneath the surface, other traits such as its 25-hour day and its atmosphere that can be used to create fuel would make it a much better candidate for a permanent base than Earth’s own moon. This would make for a great figurative and literal launch point for missions to the edge of the solar system, whether to search for life on Jupiter’s moons or to mine asteroids for rare metals.

In 1961, President Kennedy proposed that we land humans on the moon. In 1969, we did. If we decided to send humans to Mars in ten years, we could. And we should.

Daily Campus Op-ed: We Should Be Able to Vote “None of the Above”

Oops, I’ve gotten a bit behind in updating the blog! Catching up today. First off, here’s an op-ed that was in the Daily Campus on Tuesday, 9/4, arguing that there should be a “none of the above” option on our ballots. You can read it on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

If you’ve watched TV, been online without an ad blocker, or read a newspaper lately, you’ve probably noticed that it’s campaign season. As it happens every few years, we’re barraged by a nearly constant stream of advertisements either for a candidate, or as appears to be more common nowadays, against a candidate. Obama, Romney, and the countless Super PACs and other organizations aligned with them seem to be focused on tearing down the opponent, rather than building their own candidate up.

People are frustrated by this. The two major candidates don’t appeal to a large number of Americans, because they disagree with their policies or the negative way they’re running their campaigns. This contributes to the notoriously poor voter turnout in the United States. The 2008 election had the highest turnout in decades, and that was with only 56.8% of the voting-age population showing up at the polls. Some will claim that people not voting is evidence that they are happy with the status quo, but in a recent poll of unlikely voters by Suffolk University, less than a third said the two major parties do a good job representing Americans’ views. It’s safe to say that a majority of people stay home because they don’t like their options, not because they think both candidates will do an equally fine job.

One way to increase voter turnout would be to include “none of the above” as an option on Connecticut ballots. This ballot option would serve as a catch-all for voters who are not pleased with any of the candidates, and would help demonstrate just how many citizens are willing to vote if they like one of their choices. In the long run, this option may drive politicians to reach out more to independent voters, rather than their highly partisan bases that will vote for them no matter what. It may also lead to less negative political campaigns, as high negativity may drive voters to select “none of the above” rather than switch from one candidate to another.

This isn’t exactly a new idea. There are already multiple countries that include a “none of the above” option on their ballots, including Greece, Spain, Colombia, Ukraine, and Bangladesh. The state of Nevada began including “none of the above” as an option in 1978, with the reasoning that voters also have the right to voice their disapproval of all the candidates. However, a feature of Nevada’s law was that “none of the above” could not win an election. Even if the option received the most votes (which had never happened in a general election but had happened in a few primaries), the “real” candidate with the most votes would be declared the winner. This provision led U.S. District Judge Robert Jones to strike down the option just a few weeks ago, on the grounds that the option disenfranchised voters by providing them an option that could never win.

If Connecticut were to adopt a “none of the above” option, it would need to be able to win. This begs the question, what would happen if it did? Fortunately, other countries have already worked this out. If “none of the above” were to win, then no candidate would take the office, and the nominations window would be re-opened. New candidates would have the opportunity to get on the ballot (old candidates would be allowed to re-apply as well), and a special election would be held. We already have this infrastructure in place in Connecticut – there were many special elections for state representatives and state senators in 2010, when some Democratic elected officials resigned their posts to serve in Governor Malloy’s administration.

Of course, this would not solve all of the problems with our democracy. There are a lot of other policies that would help increase turnout and make our politicians more accurately reflect the public’s views – making Election Day a state holiday, allowing Election Day voter registration and implementing instant runoff voting, to name a few. But allowing citizens to vote “none of the above” is a step in the right direction.

I’ve got a few more belated posts in the wings, so stay tuned!

Daily Campus Op-Ed: Assault weapons ban won’t stop mass shootings

I have an op-ed in the Daily Campus today, explaining why renewing the federal assault weapons ban is a bad idea – especially as a response to recent mass shootings. You can read it on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

There seem to have been a lot of mass shootings lately.

On July 20, James Eagan Holmes (who is, of course, innocent until proven guilty, but is currently the only suspect) walked into the premiere of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58. Sixteen days later, seven people, including the presumed gunman, Wade Michael Page, were killed in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.

This past Friday, there was news that at least 10 people were shot outside of the Empire State Building in New York City. It turns out that the gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, had been fired from his job the day before and was seeking revenge on his boss. He shot his intended victim, and was then shot and killed by police. In the process, nine innocent bystanders were struck by police bullets. None were killed and all are in recovery. While any murder is tragic, this event is not what one would typically consider a “mass shooting.” However, this did not stop people from taking to Twitter, Facebook and the traditional news media to call for tighter regulations on guns.

When it comes to gun control, I agree with most Americans – normal people should not be allowed to have machine guns that can fire hundreds of rounds in a few seconds. It is also reasonable to have background checks for people looking to purchase guns, to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals or the mentally ill.

Unfortunately, some of the people who want greater restrictions on the firearms used in these mass shootings argue for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban. This is an incredibly misguided policy that will do nothing to make America safer.

The federal assault weapons ban was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. At first glance, it appears to be a great idea. Who would be against banning assault weapons? By their very name, it seems like “assault weapons” are clearly intended for killing large numbers of people, not for self-defense, hunting or sport.

But unfortunately, the actual law’s definition of “assault weapon” was incredibly broad and included many semi-automatic guns, which fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. A gun would be lumped under the umbrella term of “assault weapon” if it used detachable magazines and had just two characteristics from a long list of features: a folding stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor or a mount for a grenade launcher.

Now, there were some good parts of that law. Most people do not think civilians should be walking around with grenade launchers. But many of the features on that list – such as the type of magazine, the shape of the grip or the ability of the stock to change sizes – are purely cosmetic and do not make it any easier to commit an assault. This law outlawed many guns purely for their appearance, rather than for their potential use in a mass shooting.

Fortunately, the assault weapons ban included a sunset provision that made it expire after 10 years. When the ban expired, there was not enough political support to re-instate it, due to many government agencies finding the ban ineffective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in 2003 that found “insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence.” The National Research Council concluded that the ban “did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence.” Many independent academic papers by criminologists corroborated these conclusions.

But this has not stopped media personalities and politicians from calling for the renewal of the ban. In 2009, the Obama administration expressed its support for renewing the assault weapons ban. Calls for the ban’s renewal are a predictable part of the aftermath of any mass shooting in the country.

There are a lot of things we can do to help prevent future mass shootings in America, including changing certain laws. But reinstating the federal assault weapons ban as it was written in 1994 is a nonsensical proposal that distracts from the real issues surrounding gun violence. Let us move on, and talk about ideas that might actually work.

Daily Campus Op-ed: Have fun, but remember why you came to college

I wrote an op-ed piece for the Daily Campus’ freshman issue, reminding incoming students that debt is real and that they’ll need to find a job after graduation. Read it on the Daily Campus website, or right here:

As I unpacked my final box in Mansfield Apartments this week, I realized that I had moved in to UConn for the last time. Never again will I make the journey, along with thousands of other students, to temporarily relocate my entire life into a new room in Storrs. And when I pack up this coming May, it won’t be to move back in with my parents for a few months, but to move in to a new place of my own (or so I hope).

I don’t want to sound like a senior (I mean the grandparent kind, because I am the student kind), but your time here at UConn is going to be short. As you adjust to life in college – being independent, being assigned hundreds of pages of reading a week, choosing from so many events to go to – your first few months may seem like a lifetime. But before you know it, you’ll be moving out in May. Repeat it three more times, and you’ve graduated.

If I could tell my freshman self one thing, it wouldn’t be to have fun at UConn. Don’t get me wrong, that’s really important. You should put yourself out there, meet new people, try new things. You should attend at least a few sporting events, see some comedians, go to parties (but be sure to party responsibly). I want you to have fun and enjoy your four years here, but I don’t think you really need to be told that. My freshman self figured it out pretty quickly without any advice from the future.

No, I would tell my freshman self to keep his mind on the reason he’s going to school – to get an education, and later on, a job. All too frequently, incoming students are told that this is going to be the best four years of their lives, and to enjoy every minute of it. And in a lot of ways, it is. You’re not going to have the same kind of social life or opportunities when you enter the workplace and share an office with a bunch of people much older than you, or live in an apartment with a bunch of people you have very little in common with (and without an RA to get you all to meet each other).

When everyone’s piece of advice for you is to have fun and savor these four years, it’s easy to forget that you’re paying tens of thousands of dollars to go here (especially if you’re taking most of it out in loans). Today, the average undergraduate leaves college with $27,800 in unpaid loans. That debt may seem unreal at first, as it’s probably the first time you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on anything, or borrowed anything over $30. But now I look around and see a lot of my friends who just graduated still searching, without much luck, to find work in their field. Many are settling for something they’re not at all interested in, because they need to start paying back their loans and put food on the table.

So my word of advice to you is this: have fun while you’re here, but remember that you need to find a job once you graduate. I’m not necessarily telling you to switch your major to one that has better job opportunities (but consider a double major, or at least a minor, to help broaden your prospects). You can greatly increase your chances at getting a job by working with Career Services and attending their events, like résumé critiques and career fairs. Joining a student organization that’s related to your field, and really investing yourself in it, can make you stand out from other job applicants and provide you with some good answers to interview questions. And today, most “entry-level” job postings ask for two or three years of job experience. You can get this experience through student organizations, internships, on-campus jobs and volunteering.

You should enjoy your time at UConn. I know I did, and I don’t regret a thing. But keep in mind that debt is real, and you need a way to pay it back four years from now. Always be working towards the goal of landing that perfect job. And if you really love your field, you’ll have fun in the process anyway.