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Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society. It is the only youth-led organization recognized with consultative status by the United Nations.
SSDP mobilizes and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth.
SSDP is the only international network of students dedicated to ending the War on Drugs, and is comprised of chapters that represent thousands of members at hundreds of campuses in countries around the globe. Starting a chapter is a simple process and any student is free to start one. Annual national conferences are held to provide students with essential activist knowledge and skills. SSDP also engages in a variety of national campaigns and actions designed for participation from all types of people. Chapters are encouraged to work on issues that are most relevant to their communities. SSDP strives to create change by bringing young people together and creating safe spaces for students of all political and ideological stripes to have honest conversations about drugs and drug policy.
During the fall of 1996, members of the Student Drug Reform Movement (SDRM) used a Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) discussion page to communicate with each other. During this time, talk of SSDP arose. In 1998, Students for Sensible Drug Policy was founded by a small group of U.S. students at Rochester Institute of Technology and George Washington University. Prior to its existence, an organization called the Rochester Cannabis Coalition (RCC) was started but the Rochester Institute of Technology denied its application to become an official student organization.
At the National Gathering in DC of 1999 a collective decision was made to form SSDP into a national organization and to elect a board of directors. The Board consisted of one representative from each of the five schools that had chapters operating under the SSDP name (Hampshire College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, George Washington University, American University, and Rochester Institute of Technology).
SSDP’s organizational objectives for September 2012 to September 2013 largely focus on movement building, education and advocacy, organizational development, and effective management.
The objective of ‘movement building’ refers to expanding SSDP’s chapter network, bringing people together, strengthening the network, increasing meaningful youth involvement, and recruiting people of color (as one way to increase diversity). To expand chapter network, its U.S. base will grow as well as the international chapter base. For example, there will be new chapters in Mexico, Colombia, Europe, and Australia. As one way to strengthen its network, SSDP plans to have 100 students at minimum participate in online training and another 200 to receive one-on-one support. Increasing meaningful youth involvement is very important to SSDP as youth are typically underrepresented in many forums. Involvement in international forums includes the United Nations and international drug policy conferences.
The objective of ‘education and advocacy’ includes spreading the word, saving lives through harm reduction, educating students and highlighting the work of SSDP students. SSDP is concentrating focus on working with chapters to organize events on national and international days. Using technology and social media will be central resources in its organizational objectives. Supporters are being encouraged to capture and share videos of encounters with elected officials about their stance on some of the existing drug policies. Also, every time a new chapter is established, an interview or blog post with the chapter leader will be held and published, as part of the effort to spend more time highlighting SSDP students and their contributions to the organization.
The objective of ‘organizational development’ includes bolstering the SSDP brand, growing capacity, and further capitalizing on social media. To improve its brand, SSDP will be using updated website functionality, a new logo and new merchandise, and the organization will also launch a membership program with the hopes of generating more revenue. To grow its capacity, SSDP is receiving more grants than previously received including two new foundation grantors. With the use of Facebook, its website, YouTube, and Twitter, it is expecting a surmountable number of viewers than previously achieved.
The objective of ‘effective management’ pertains to such things as defining high-quality activists and chapters. For a chapter to be high-quality and meaningful, it will have to fulfill at least half of a new set of criterion. Also, staffers will be greater compensated and provided guidance on their performance to help further attain quality SSDP chapters.
According to SSDP’s research, currently less than 5% of high schools in the U.S. perform random drug tests on students. However, the federal government has recently ramped up its campaign that encourages schools to put drug-testing regimes in place, even offering grants to fund such regimes. Drug company representatives are making presentations to many local school boards to promote their products and turn a profit. An increasing number of schools are mandating students to take drug tests just to participate in extra-curricular activities.
SSDP believes that drug testing is ineffective, counterproductive, expensive, and invasive. Science has shown that drug testing simply does not work to reduce drug use, and drug testing may even be counterproductive as such programs might aggravate existing drug problems by excluding students from extracurricular activities that are proven to help lower drug use.
Drug testing brings with it rights violations of the Fourth Amendment, SSDP believes, based on the inherent intrusiveness of forcing a student to urinate into a cup while a school official is right outside the stall. This is particularly true for body-conscious adolescents who might feel this to be a humiliating experience.
The governments promotion of student drug testing is part of an emerging trend where students seem to be losing their privacy and rights. For example, at many schools, unannounced searches are conducted where students' belongings are searched through, regardless if there is cause to do so.
SSDP provides substantial information on its website to help promote its campaign by letting the public know how they can help students maintain their rights and privacy.
Call 911 Good Samaritan Policies (also known as Medical Amnesty Policies) are life-saving measures that encourage responsible decision making by removing to threat of punitive policies when medical help during drug or alcohol related instances is needed. Threat from punitive policies can often prevent individuals from getting life-saving medical help. According to SSDP’s research, there are at least 91 schools with Good Samaritan Policies. More than half of these policies cover situations involving all substances, while just under half cover only those involving alcohol. At least 11 states have enacted some form of Good Samaritan legislation. Five states, including New Mexico (2007), Washington (2010), New York Connecticut (2011), and Illinois (2012) grant some degree of immunity of prosecution for people who obtain medical help during an overdose. Four other states extend limited immunity with regard to underage alcohol consumption and possession, including Colorado (2005), New Jersey (2009), Texas and Pennsylvania (2011).
In 2005, Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched its Campus Change Campaign to address these issues. SSDP’s efforts in this campaign have played an important role in promoting the adoption of Call 911 Good Samaritan Policies across the country. SSDP chapters that have recently worked with their schools to pass the policies include the College of William & Mary, Franklin Pierce University, University of Connecticut, University of Maryland, Ithaca College, Columbia University and University of Georgia.
Beginning in 2000, students with drug convictions no longer have access to federal financial aid due to the provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA). In 1998, the Aid Elimination Penalty seemingly slipped into the 257-page HEA reauthorization bill without a debate or a recorded vote. Many congress members and financial aid administrators were actually oblivious to this change in law until long after it came into existence. As a result, over 200,000 students have not been eligible for federal loans, grants, and work-study because of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.
To take action, SSDP and its allies forced Congress to adjust the law in 2006, so that only students attending college and receiving financial aid who are convicted will have eligibility withdrawn. SSDP reports success with this campaign, as now people who were convicted before they decided to attend college will be able to get an education and move on with their lives.
However, problems still exist with the provisions of this law. For one, college students that do get convicted lose their aid and will most likely have to drop out as a result. SSDP believes that, based on statistics and common sense, pulling students out of school will not reduce drug abuse and young people will have little encouragement to become successful citizens.
In July 2009, the Removing Impediments to Students’ Education (RISE) Act was introduced into the 11th Congress. The bill would repeal the aid elimination penalty. In September 2009, The House passed the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which included language allowing for repeal of the Aid Elimination Penalty for students convicted of drug possession.
In July 2009, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Removing Impediments to Students’ Education (RISE) Act into the 111th Congress. The bill, which had substantial support, would repeal the aid elimination penalty. Unfortunately, attempts from Rep. Souder (R-IN) to enact a law that would only take away a student’s aid eligibility if convicted of drug distribution offenses were unsuccessful. SSDP continues to make efforts to defeat the Souder Amendment, and provides resources on its webpage to help others repeal this law as well.
This campaign is based on the premise that young people are forced to live with the implications and consequences of drug policies for the rest of their lives. SSDP takes a proactive stance in getting the message out that it is up to those who want change to create more sensible and effective ways to handle the real and complicated issues caused by drug abuse and addiction. Students on campuses hold a unique position in being able to take the lead in addressing existing drug policies and encouraging the adoption of alternative drug policies. SSDP’s webpage features its Campus Change Campaign Grassroots Guide, as well as links to talking points and editable materials for some of the most popular campaigns that SSDP activists are running on campuses across the country.
The On the Record Project is SSDP’s campaign to get politicians on record about their stances on drug policy. SSDP has recently taken this project a step up; SSDP chapters in GOP primary states have had the opportunity to put candidates front and center about their positions on all drug policy issues, not just medical marijuana. Some of the project’s recent successes are from students who managed to get GOP frontrunners Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum on video answering questions related to drug policies.
Right before the state primary from January 4th-10th, 2012, roughly forty SSDP chapter members followed presidential candidates throughout New Hampshire in efforts to put these candidates on the spot. Within less than a week, videos of Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul were created and posted on Youtube, resulting in huge media hits. The “On the Record” Project will bring drug policy reform onto the national political agenda.
SSDP was also involved in a campaign called Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, which was responsible for Sen. Barack Obama’s promise to end the federal raids in the states with medical marijuana laws. This was done with the help of sick New Hampshire medical marijuana patients, who captured video footage of presidential candidates discussing medical marijuana laws.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is partnering with the College and Community Fellowship and The Fortune Society as part of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition to help remove barriers to higher education funding for students in prison.
The 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act dismantled higher education in prison by eliminating inmate eligibility for Pell Grants. SSDP believes that when individuals in prison have access to higher education, there is a ripple effects of benefits that surpasses the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals; higher education has a positive impact on society by reducing recidivism, increasing public safety and strengthening communities. Incarceration without education is a bad investment.
Drug abuse and addiction are very real and serious problems in many schools. Unfortunately, more often than not, government-sponsored programs aimed at solving these problems actually make them worse, alienating students in the process.
Currently, the largest such program is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program. Science shows that D.A.R.E. is not effective in achieving its mission of reducing drug abuse among students. Some reports even show that the D.A.R.E. program has a “boomerang” effect, where the prevalence of drug use actually worsens.
SSDP views such a program as doomed to fail since it fosters a culture of fear and distrust between students and drug counselors. The D.A.R.E program actually employs uniformed police officers, not health care professionals, to teach students about drugs. Rather than providing students with science-based information about drugs, the students are scared with horror stories about drug addiction.
SSDP understands the significance of providing effective education and counseling to students, but it needs to be accurate, non-judgmental, and have scientific support. The goal is to get educators to create an atmosphere of trust with their students to discuss ways to reduce the harms associated with drug use, not try to scare them into abstinence by bringing in the police.
SSDP has been witness to the unintended harm caused by zero tolerance policies, and is working to educate the public about the failure of zero tolerance policies, and their predictable, fatal consequences when targeted at youth, and the violations of basic human rights when zero tolerance policies are enforced.
One example of the harm zero tolerance policies possess is the case of a boy named Nick Stuban who ultimately took his life after expulsion from his school for possessing a legal drug. He and his parents hoped that he would receive redemption upon a hearing before the Fairfax County School Board, but his treatment was comparable to a criminal in an adversarial courtroom with a hostile prosecutor. It was shortly after his expulsion that his life was turned upside down as a result of the negative consequences the ordeal had on his surroundings and social networks. Sadly, this is not an isolated case, as another teen committed suicide in Fairfax County for very similar reasons.
SSDP is United Nations recognized and takes part in international meetings including the Commission on Narcotic Drug and the General Assembly. Students and youth are affected by drug policies, and SSDP International works towards a vision of having policies that “respect human rights and focus on public health and harm reduction”. SSDP has presence all over the globe which lends to diverse experiences that provide it with an advantage in many different forums; for example, international chapters have held debates related to harm reduction. Other examples of how SSDP is advocating for reform is through participation in the peace caravan across the United States and involvement the United Nations General Assembly Thematic Debate on Drugs and Crime.
The federal government has spent more than $1 billion since 1998 on anti-drug advertising campaigns that have been found to be misleading and even offensive. These campaigns are run by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. According to scientific studies, it's been repeatedly shown that the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign is not only ineffective at reducing drug abuse, but that the ads may actually increase pro-drug attitudes in teens.
SSDP understands the importance of educating young people about the effects of drugs and drug abuse, but finds these government ads to be an abysmal failure. There is a demand from young people to get to the truth of the facts about drugs so that they can know the real risks, but when they are presented with obviously exaggerated and far-from-reality for political purposes, anything the government has to say loses credibility.
An internal White House review gave the campaign a score of just 6 out of 100 for “results and accountability”. Responding to this mounting evidence against the ads’ effectiveness, Congress has cut the program’s funding by 47% since 2001. However, Congress still plans to spend more than $100 million on the ad campaign next year. Examples of Propaganda Ads
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 is a federal policy that undermines the ability of state legislatures to enact policies that address the legal drinking age. The Act uses federal money for infrastructures (mostly roads) to coerce states into complying with a legal minimum drinking age of 21 and is a disincentive for states to enact legislatures that are responsive to local circumstances, which may need different approaches. Local circumstances include the landscape of young people’s alcohol use more locally and in correlation with the laws and policies tailored to the particulars of a state. SSDP believes this federal policy conflicts with the principles of harm reduction because State Legislatures are void of policies that could reduce the overall harm of alcohol use.
By 21 years of age, people are legally allowed to drive, get married, enrol in the military, and have had the ability to vote for several years, yet American youth alcohol policy criminalizes alcohol consumption by those under the age of 21. SSDP sees this as counterproductive and not realistic, and that the many economic resources needed and used to support this minimum drinking age or needlessly wasted. This policy seems even more ineffective when more than half of high school seniors reported of having drank in the previous month, and more than 90% claim it is ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ to get alcohol.
SSDP views other problems associated with this law. Those under the drinking age are likely to unsafely experiment with alcohol in situations of isolation and other riskier environments, resulting in outcomes like binge drinking. Pressure on schools to provide ‘abstinence-only’ education arises based on the effects this law has on people under the age of 21, which leaves no ream for harm reduction information. Ultimately, SSDP does not declare one official position on the appropriate drinking age, as it believes it is up to each state to determine what works best in consideration of local circumstances; however, 18 or 19 years of age seems to be preferred over the legal drinking age of 21.
SSDP does not have an official position on what the best minimum drinking age is because the organization feels it is up to the states to find what works best, and this may not be the same everywhere, but many believe 18 or 19 years of age should become the minimum.
Through partnerships with trusted organizations and aggressive social media outreach efforts, SSDP has more than doubled the number of alert subscribers in its database since 2010 (from 62,000 to 129,000) and has vastly improved the quality of its data as well.
AMPLIFY is a project of Students for Sensible Drug Policy that connects student activists with artists who support SSDP’s mission to reform drug policies. There are more than 150 SSDP chapters at colleges throughout the country, where the AMPLIFY project is intended to enable chapters to act as street teams for artists that are part of the AMPLIFY project. AMPLIFY Project’s Facebook page can be found here.
By creating a mutually beneficial relationship between SSDP and artists, both parties are able to promote each other. By putting up fliers, creating Facebook event pages, and distributing handbills and promoting shows via word-of-mouth, chapters can provide a magnitude of support for AMPLIFY artists. The SSDP’s website is also very beneficial in promoting AMPLIFY artists as it currently has an email list of over 50,000 supporters.
In exchange for the support that artists part of the AMPLIFY project receive, they are encouraged to help spread the word of SSDP to create awareness, which is often done by providing SSDP tables at shows, and giving occasional shout-out.
SSDP is working with the following “AMPLIFYers”, who actively support the work that SSDP is doing to reform its view of existing unjust drug policies. As well, these artists are a valuable resource to get more students involved in the political process.
22 Candle light vigils commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s “war on drugs”
Friday, June 17, 2011, was the 40th anniversary of President Richard Nixon’s declaration of the “war on drugs.” Students for Sensible Drug Policy, along with the Drug Policy Alliance, organized a nationwide day of action to highlight its views about the impacts of this "ill-fated war". Candlelight vigils were organized in more than 20 cities across the world, including one in Mexico City.
NVCC SSDP adopts a highway
In the summer of 2011, chapter leaders at Northern Virginia Community College adopted a highway in northern Virginia. By keeping a section of the highway clean, the organization is giving back to the local commuity. This was the first time that the words “Students for Sensible Drug Policy” appeared on a government sign.
Legalize It! Partnership with Peter Tosh family, The Wire actors recognizes U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and Niambe Tosh
SSDP and actor Tray Cheney (“Poot”) of The Wire, honored Niambe Tosh, daughter of legendary singer and activist Peter Tosh and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) for their efforts in the fight to legalize marijuana. SSDP’s honorees have been committed advocates to this cause.
U. Arkansas SSDP hosts drug policy debate
University of Arkansas SSDP chapter hosted a debate between Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance Ethan Nadelmann, and former DEA Head Administrator Asa Hutchinson. The event was a huge success for SSDP, educating 350-400 student attendees about both sides of the drug policy reform issue.
SSDP responds to Drug Czar in USA Today
In September 2011, the White House’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, made news by blaming an increase in teen marijuana use on medical marijuana laws, saying that the laws send the “wrong message” to teens. SSDP chapter activist Rebecca McGoldrick was quoted in a USA Today article countering Kerlikowske’s claim, where she noted her own pain and nausea from fibromyalgia.
SSDP and the ACLU block student drug testing at Linn Tech
After learning that his public college was going to perform random drug tests on him in the fall of 2011, the student contacted SSDP and SSDP staff called the president of the college and threatened to sue if the program was to proceed. SSDP even worked with the ACLU to coordinate plaintiffs to support the student’s request for help.
Video: “Why are you fighting the war on drugs?”
In March 2012 at the 13th Annual International Students for Sensible Drug Policy Conference in Denver, Colorado, students and supporters were asked to answer the question: “Why are you fighting to end the war on drugs?” Nearly 80 conference attendees provided their response on video. SSDP then compiled the most powerful responses into a two and a half minute video that can be viewed on SSDP’s YouTube channel.
Taking action to end Obama’s war on medical marijuana
Due to recent attacks on marijuana providers and patients by the federal government, such as the April 16, 2012 raids on Oaksterdam University in Oakland, CA, SSDP joined with five other national drug policy reform organizations to appeal to President Obama and his administration to follow its previously stated policies respecting state medical marijuana laws. SSDP supporters sent over 1,000 letters to the President urging him to bring an end to the federal government’s ongoing campaign to undermine state efforts to regulate safe and legal access to medical marijuana for patients who rely on it.
Gaining clarity from the Feds on the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act
In the spring of 2012, SSDP noticed a trend of lawmakers and university officials citing the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA) as a problem because they viewed it as inhibiting them from allowing sensible policy change on college campuses. They claimed that by changing drug and alcohol policies on campus, they will risk being denied federal funding and other forms of financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education. SSDP called the Dept. of Education to learn more and found that not a single college or university participating in the Federal Student Aid program has ever lost Title IV eligibility as a result of violating the DFSCA. SSDP’s briefing paper on the matter is available on its blog.
Campus Change Award: University of Connecticut
Dave Borden Friend of SSP: NORML Women's Alliana
Fundraising Award: NOVA Woodbright
Grace Under Fire Aware: Graham de Barra, University of Cork, Ireland
Morgan Lesko Online Activism: Oregon SSDP
Outstanding Student Activist: Stephen Duke, University of Arkansas
Outstanding Alumna:Shaleen Title, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Outstanding Alumna: Kathryn Parker, N.C. State
Outstanding Chapter: Northeastern University
Outstanding Student Activist: Sabrina Koramblyum, Florida Atlantic University
Rising Star - Chapter: University of Colorado Law
Rising Star - Individual: Sam Walker, Linn State, Technical College
Stuart Abelson Goodwill: Rick Doblin
Truth to Power Award:Irina Alexander, University of Maryland
Unsung Hero Award: Edward Spriggs
Amplify Our Voice Award: Brian Gilbert and Brooke Napier
Lifetime Achievement Award:Jonathan Perri
Chapters can be started by a group of students who share the perspective of SSDP, which is to "end the failed war on drugs". SSDP's national staff provides support and advice. Where as most national organizations charge dues or require substantial paperwork, an SSDP chapter takes little work.
To start a Sensible Drug Policy chapter and become official students of it, there is a series of steps:
Chapters elect students to serve on SSDP’s Board of Directors. The Board in turn selects and oversees SSDP’s executive director, who is responsible for tending to both the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as its long-term direction. An important duty of the executive director is to hire and manage staff. Currently, besides an executive director, SSDP has two associate directors, an International Liaison, a webmaster and an office administrator. Ultimately, the SSDP staff exists to serve and represent SSDP’s chapters and activists.
Each year during SSDP's national conference, two thirds of the organization's board of directions are elected by SSDP's chapter, and consists of students. To bring in outside expertise and experience to the organization, the board appoints the remaining third of the board of directors. SSDP’s executive director also serves on the board of directors.
Brandon Levey: Vice Chair, University of Maryland
Eric Sterling: Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
Julie Roberts: Treasurer, Northeastern University School of Law
Graham De Barra: University College Cork (Ireland)
Katharine Celentano: Secretary, Columbia University
Kellen Russoniello: George Washington University
Kris Krane: 4Front Advisors
Randy Hencken: Seasteading Institute
Rodrigo ‘Froggy’ Vasquez: Los Angeles City College
Sam Tracy: University of Connecticut
Stephen Duke: University of Arkansas
Shaleen Title: Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Thomas Silverstein: Board Chair, University of Virginia School of Law
Legally, SSDP consists of two separate, distinct entities – Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation and Students for Sensible Drug Policy Inc. The former, as a 501(c)3 organization, engages in education and outreach. Donations to SSDP Foundation are tax-deductible. SSDP Inc, as a 501(c)4 organization, engages in advocacy, or attempts to effect change to law and policy. Accordingly, donations to SSDP Inc are not tax-deductible. Click here to read SSDP Foundation’s bylaws. Donations can be made to SSDP through its Monthly Sustainer program. A $5 donation or more must be selected, and can be a one-time donation or a recurring donation.
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