Co-Op Community Discusses Drug Policies

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Correction Appended

Amid concerns about drug use in the Berkeley Student Cooperative and the impacts of a student's overdose last spring, the co-op's board of directors was set to discuss and vote Thursday on possible changes to drug policy as well as potential collaboration with campus resources.

As of press time, Thursday's projected meeting agenda included a discussion of the creation of a new student liaison to the Tang Center, a suggestion to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone at co-ops and a suggested revision of the "good Samaritan" policy - which prevents evidence obtained when a resident calls 911 to report an overdose from being used by the co-op against the caller, according to BSC President and former employee of The Daily Californian Daniel Kronovet.

At the co-op's Feb. 26 general meeting, about 150 students gathered in the Valley Life Sciences Building to listen to a panel featuring UCPD Chief Mitch Celaya, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande and other drug and legal experts, prompting a discussion which several co-op alumni called "historic" for its frank assessment of the co-op's drug policies.

The meeting was announced in a Jan. 14 letter urging students to discuss drug policy and examine the co-op's financial situation in light of current debt payments and the ramifications of an overdose last spring.

Among the most pressing issues discussed at the February meeting was the recent name change of the co-op's new Community Harm Reduction platform to "BSC CARES" in order to soften the message of the program, which aims to mitigate the impact of drug use in the co-op community. The meeting also addressed the possible creation of an internal student position acting as liaison to the Tang Center to educate students about drug policies.

This liaison position was set to be discussed Thursday, as well as whether to revise the good Samaritan policy to include the victim's immunity as well.

"By enacting harsher penalties and stricter policies, kicking out drug abusers, (the co-op is) creating all the conditions for another overdose where people will be afraid of calling 911 because there are no protective policies," said Lothlorien Hall member Michael Ruderman.

Le Grande, who has been at UC Berkeley since 1981, said he has worked with the co-op over the years to prevent overdoses. He said he recalls that when major overdose incidents occurred at Barrington Hall in 1989 and Le Chateau in 2004, the co-op's only recourse was to shut down the houses in an attempt to reform them.

The decision to close Barrington resulted in a 25.1 percent increase in room and board for members, while Le Chateau's closure caused a 12.6 percent rate increase, documents show.

Early efforts to change policy after the incidents were met with mixed responses.

"One of my suggestions (after Barrington) was to divide the larger buildings up into about 50-person increments to gain some oversight," Le Grande said. "The eventual outcome was to shut the house down, fix it up and bring people back, but the culture returned."

Madelyn Bennett, the mother of John Gibson - a former UC Berkeley student who suffered brain damage resulting from a cocaine overdose last March at Cloyne Court and continues to receive intensive care - has assigned an investigator to pursue a $3 million claim against the co-op's liability insurance.

While the co-op has "excellent" insurance rates due to an absence of claims in the past five years and a $4 million excess liability policy, if Bennett's claim is successful and if the co-op's insurance rates increase, student room and board fees will be directly affected, according to co-op executive director Jan Stokley.

"The BSC has enormous sympathy for anyone injured by overdosing on illegal drugs, but we do not believe that the organization is responsible for the harm which results," Stokley said in an e-mail.

As a nonprofit, a vast majority of the co-op's costs are borne by member rates. The organization received only $157,342 in donations from 2008 to 2009, while members' room and board fees provided nearly $8 million of about $8.7 million in revenue for the year, documents show.

Bennett said her claim is well warranted - expenses resulting from Gibson's overdose include about $177,000 for nurses, $70,000 for medical equipment and $35,000 to fly Gibson back to his San Diego home, according to Bennett.

"I would like to see the co-ops changed completely," Bennett said. "Students are up in arms about not having an affordable place to live and yet they buy liquor, drugs and all these things."

To Bennett, whose living room now resembles a trauma center because of the oxygen machine and racks of towels lining the walls for her son, the co-op's culture may be unredeemable.

"If you tell a 4-year-old you can have chocolate for every meal, then that is what they will pick," she said.

Kronovet said that optimally, the co-op will take current student suggestions into account in future meetings while continuing to uphold a policy he said is "incredibly gentle."

"This is one of the first times we have consciously addressed our culture," he said. "Now we have support for education and concrete projects."


Correction: Saturday, March 19, 2011
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the projected meeting agenda for the Berkeley Student Cooperative's Board of Directors' March 3 agenda included the following: a discussion of the creation of a new student liaison to the Tang Center, a suggestion to distribute the overdose antidote naloxone at co-ops and a suggested revision of the "good Samaritan" policy. It also incorrectly attributed this information to BSC President and former employee of The Daily Californian Daniel Kronovet. The headline incorrectly stated the board was going to vote on drug policies. In fact, the agenda did not include these items.

The Daily Californian regrets the error.

True Shields covers the courts. Contact him at [email protected]

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