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.”