May 6, 2008 -- Critics of today's major DEA drug bust at a San Diego college campus called the sting operation a "ridiculous, nonsensical waste of DEA resources."
Ninety-six people, including 75 San Diego State University students, were arrested for charges stemming from possession and sales of cocaine, marijuana, ecstasy and other drugs.
"It would be different if they picked one or two of the worst offenders, or if there was violence involved, but what is the point of this? Don't they have anything better to do than go after college kids?" asked Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes alternatives to the war on drugs.
Nadelmann said the DEA should prioritize major international violent drug trafficking groups over college students, the vast majority of whom he says do not go on to be drug addicts or dealers. "This bust could have happened at hundreds and hundreds of campuses across the nation."
Nadelmann said the bust will cost taxpayers millions of dollars in court and prosecutorial fees and "will hobble these young people for the rest of their lives, inhibiting them from becoming contributing members of society," he said. "Anyone who has gone to college knows there were always students who would deal drugs and who subsequently went on to prestigious careers in law, law enforcement, medicine and politics."
DEA said the crackdown was in response to two cocaine overdose cases at SDSU since last year.
Nadelmann said that a public health response can prevent overdoses and save lives, not a law enforcement crackdown. "There is no evidence these types of busts help to prevent overdoses," he said.
One student arrested for selling cocaine on campus was one month away from obtaining his master's degree in homeland security and also worked as a student community service officer and reported to the campus police. Another student arrested for possession of 500 grams of cocaine and two guns is a criminal justice major, according to authorities.
DEA Special Agent in Charge Ralph Partridge acknowledged that the bust would "shatter" the lives of those arrested. "This investigation spotlights two tragedies. The tragic drug overdose deaths of two college students, and secondly, the shattered futures of those students who choose to continue to engage in the illicit sale and usage of a myriad of controlled substances," said Partridge, adding that "a drug-free learning environment for our children should be the norm, not the exception."