I grew up from the late ‘90s until the end of 2016 in a tiny town called Mission, Texas (above), which sits along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley. I accepted the life I knew—between raspa stands, Sunday church and the torrid weather, things were simple—but nobody really questioned the things that were exceptional about our community.
For example, I never knew it was strange to have a barbed-wire fence around the perimeter of your school. Until moving to North Texas for college, I just assumed every school in the country had this. Seeing elementary, middle and high schools in the North exposed—without the fencing that, in my mind, was essential to keep them safe—was a huge culture shock and a wake-up call.
Halfway through my high school career in Mission, my friends and I began to stray away from DARE’s abstinence-only approach to drugs, which we had been conditioned to follow in our younger years. We would smoke cannabis together after school and just talk, play music, eat and dream of the day we’d find ourselves out of the Valley.
It wasn’t long after that that we became interested in psychedelics, and decided to take a Saturday to experiment with a drug that we were told was LSD. Although it wasn’t necessarily an unpleasant experience, it was an intense one that we hadn’t adequately prepared for.
Once I learned that it was possible to overdose on the drug we were given, which I believe to be a research chemical, an entirely different perspective overwhelmed me. Unfortunately, an unregulated drug market allows dealers to do just about whatever they please: lie about certain drugs, sell these mystery drugs to unsuspecting minors, take their money, and face no consequence if the drugs they lied about cause serious harm to others.
A local friend’s family member was kidnapped by a drug cartel, and held to ransom for thousands of dollars.
It became apparent very early on in my youth that there was something different about my community. There came a time when the Mexican Drug War spiraled out of control, and the people who felt it most were the innocent and vulnerable. In more than a couple instances, a local friend’s family member was kidnapped by a drug cartel, and held to ransom for thousands of dollars. These victims had absolutely no prior connection to the cartel; they were simply people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Even if you could afford the ransom, you still couldn’t count on the release of your loved one. Human trafficking is a huge consequence of the War on Drugs—flourishing in illicit markets, the cartels are able to use victims as manufacturers and transporters of drugs.
Being in Denton, North Texas (above) now feels almost like being in an entirely different state. But in different ways, the drug war is just as prevalent here as it is in the South. The issues faced in this area are more commonplace throughout the country: lack of accountability within our criminal justice system, arrests for nonviolent drug offenders, and rampant racial profiling.
Because of the unregulated drug economy, adulterated drugs seem to be a reoccurring issue. Just recently, the harm reduction group DafeSafe created a Facebook post warning residents of Dallas and Houston about a counterfeit pharmaceutical pill being sold as oxycodone, but testing positive for fentanyl and nothing else.
Students found with anything other than alcohol or under 2 ounces of marijuana face loss of campus residency, removal from campus meal plans, or even expulsion.
Faced with such issues throughout my youth and now into my early 20s, it was natural for me to want to join my college chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy—a global, grassroots organization that promotes student-driven drug policy reform.
Although our University of North Texas chapter is a fairly new one, we’ve been able to get a lot accomplished in the past two semesters. Together, we registered almost 100 voters in the last election cycle, were able to successfully fundraise at a DIY house show, and passed a resolution to remove University punishments for students with low-level drug possession violations within our Student Government Association with 78 percent of votes. Currently, students found with anything other than alcohol or under 2 ounces of marijuana could potentially face loss of campus residency, removal from campus meal plans, or even expulsion.
We have, however, faced some opposition within the Student Senate, mostly based in stigma and the demonization of students who use drugs. After the SGA President vetoed our legislation, we’ve decided to reintroduce our bill in the summer session, and feel confident that it will be passed with overwhelming support once again.
Having seen how an unregulated drug market can harm people in very different communities—from my home town of Mission to my college town of Denton—I know that we all deserve better than this.
I want to stress that these are not problems that are unique to either of the communities I have lived in. The problem is not the people who live here—it is the War on Drugs itself. It is a problem that began in America, spread around the world, and has resulted in the death, suffering and displacement of countless millions of human beings.
These issues require solutions. The promotion of policies based in science, human rights and compassion is definitely the right place to start.
Photographs: Jeselle S. Farias