Aaron Kanzer, SSH’17, recently fin­ished in the top 10 inter­na­tion­ally as a Grand Finalist in the Global Debate and Public Policy Chal­lenge. The GDPPC is an inter­na­tional edu­ca­tional ini­tia­tive and schol­ar­ship com­pe­ti­tion that offers under­grad­uate stu­dents from all over the world an oppor­tu­nity to explore issues of global impor­tance through policy mem­o­ran­dums and briefs. This year, stu­dents from more than 110 coun­tries par­tic­i­pated in the debates, for which the theme was global drug policy.

For their first assign­ment, stu­dents were asked to write a policy mem­o­randum addressing a hypo­thet­ical sce­nario on the topic of “Rethinking Drugs.” As a third-​​year polit­ical sci­ence and eco­nomics major, Kanzer took an eco­nomics approach in response to the prompt: What poli­cies should gov­ern­ments adopt to adapt to the changing real­i­ties asso­ci­ated with the spread of illicit sub­stances? Kanzer wrote about the decrim­i­nal­iza­tion of soft drugs, pri­marily mar­i­juana, and how the United States gov­ern­ment has fos­tered a cul­ture of stigmatization.

There’s an oppor­tu­nity for gov­ern­ments to reeval­uate soci­etal views on drugs, and the amount of money ded­i­cated to fighting soft drugs versus hard drugs,” Kanzer explained. “You have to talk about eco­nomics when you talk about drug policy.”

His posi­tion, so elo­quently put, earned him a spot in the top 200, and he was on to the second assign­ment. For this policy brief, he had to come up with a solu­tion to limit the eco­nomic burden of high incar­cer­a­tion rates related to drug arrests. His answer expanded on his first paper, with a heavier focus on the stigma­ti­za­tion of people who use soft drugs recre­ation­ally. “Is recre­ational mar­i­juana use when you’re young really a crim­inal offense? It is worth the cost of putting them in jail? Is the problem with the actual sub­stance itself, or is it the per­cep­tion and law making around it?” Kanzer asks.

Based on this policy brief, he was one of 43 stu­dents from 21 coun­tries invited on an all-​​expenses paid trip to Budapest to com­pete in the Global Debate and Public Policy Chal­lenge Finals. The week­long event, which took place at the end of June, asked stu­dents to defend their assign­ment two policy brief. At the end of the com­pe­ti­tion, Kanzer fin­ished in eighth place.

It was an unbe­liev­able expe­ri­ence, and I really urge stu­dents to just go for it and par­tic­i­pate in the com­pe­ti­tion,” he said. “It made me ques­tion what I think, and it’s inspired me to get out there, help people, and take a close look at the bigger pic­ture issues around policy.”