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Drug Policy Initiatives: Amethyst vs. Emerald

By: Tim Wallace


Binge drinking has been viewed by college campus leaders as one of the biggest health and safety risks for college students of our generation, according to a recent Inside Higher Ed article. As a result, administrators are focusing on ways in which alcohol policies could be reformed not just on their campuses, but around the country. 

One such reform is the Amethyst Initiative, made up of chancellors and presidents from colleges and universities around the country. This movement calls for lowering the drinking age to 18, in hopes that certain stigmas and social issues surrounding binge drinking will be lifted from young minds around the country, thus producing less accidents, deaths and damages done by those under the influence of alcohol in collegiate settings. 

However, another similar organization has recently sprung up, one that believes that instead of seeking reform for the alcohol problem at hand, a safer “herbal” substitute should be available. The nonprofit organization “Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation” (SAFER) is pleading a case to support the reform of current marijuana laws, arguing that although alcohol is a legal drug, the effects of illegal marijuana are much less dangerous. 

The executive director of SAFER, Mason Tvert, told Inside Higher Ed that although there is no evidence that the legalization of marijuana will reduce the practice of binge drinking, it is a considerable matter that should be looked into. This movement has been termed the “Emerald Initiative,” and is seeking the support and endorsement of the college administrators who signed the Amethyst Initiative. 

The Amethyst Initiative was created by John M. McCardell Jr., president emeritus of Middlebury College and founder of the alcohol reform group Choose Responsibility. The executive director of Choose Responsibility, Mike Giuliani, recently told Inside Higher Ed that he wasn’t familiar with the Emerald Initiative. 

“There are a lot of initiatives out there where people are trying to change things,” he told Inside Higher Ed, “But we’re focusing on what we see to be a serious health crisis, and that’s binge drinking.”

Several colleges presidents who endorse the Amethyst Initiative were contacted by Inside Higher Ed, and none had heard of the Emerald Initiative, or were able to comment on the subject.

Tvert told Inside Higher Ed that SAFER is still in the process of sending letters to those who have signed the Amethyst Initiative. It asks them to give a “dispassionate debate” about allowing students an “alternative to alcohol,” while the legal and regulatory reforms of marijuana use are being considered. 

Although the Emerald Initiative is still in a beginning phase, students on a number of college campuses are currently petitioning to erase the difference between marijuana and alcohol-related violations of campus conduct. 

One such case is Purdue University, where students recently approved a resolution that calls for equal disciplinary treatment of students caught with either alcohol or marijuana in residence halls. Purdue has not yet made any changes to its housing policies.

Inside Higher Ed says SAFER has also counseled many college students about pressing for changes in marijuana policies. The organization has inspired referendums, such as the one at Purdue, to be passed at a number of schools. 

When asked about the two initiatives at UMass Amherst, students answered with nearly an all-favored sentiment toward the Amethyst Initiative.

“I’m not sure how [the Emerald Initiative] would effect levels of binge drinking,” says UMass freshman Christopher Garron. “I doubt that it would reduce the amount of binge drinking in colleges… alcohol has been engrained in the college life so long that it would take a while for the desired results of the Emerald Initiative to take effect.”

Tiffany Tai, also a UMass freshman, agreed.

“I think it’s a good idea to lower the drinking age. Binge drinking wouldn’t be such a problem if it was more regulated.”

Although these students both agreed the Emerald Initiative was worth looking into, they still questioned its potential effectiveness. 

Tim Wallace can be reached at

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