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Sense & Sensibility: SSDP’s Back-to-School Guide

Millions of students have returned to high school and college to begin the new school year. On more than 300 campuses in 27 countries, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy organizers and activists will be among them.

SSDP staffers have been working hard to develop new resources and launch new campaigns for the benefit of our network and their communities. This year, we redesigned ssdp.org, which features resources intended to help students combat the Drug War on campuses and beyond. We offer an online webinar series to equip students with skills to help them organize and activate fellow students, and expanded our “Just Say Know” Peer Education Program. We also continue to devote more time, energy and resources to the growth of our global network, and encourage students to attend the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Atlanta on Oct. 11-14. We’re expecting to have more impact in 2017-18 than in any previous school year.


just say know ssdp students for sensible drug policy freedom leaf magazineSSDP’s “Just Say Know” program began a year ago. With the help of our students, alumni and supporters, it’s been getting noticed far and wide. Recently, we were contacted by educators in Denver who want to bring the program to their grade school, instead of DARE and the other fear-based tactics that all too often pass for educating our nation’s youth about drugs. The second edition of the training curriculum is currently being reformatted to make it more accessible and easier to complete for all of our students.


Many high-school students experience tremendous pressure to consume alcohol and drugs when offered to them by peers. Combined with inexperience with altered states of consciousness, this can be a harmful combination for their health and safety. Therefore, many SSDP high schoolers focus on educating their peers about the effects and potential harms of various intoxicants they might encounter, giving them solid information and encouraging them to make safer decisions. Students may be more likely to abstain when they know the risks.

A second area of focus for most SSDPers is student drug-testing. An alarming number of high schools randomly drug-test their students. More and more high schools and middle schools expel students from extracurricular activities (including non-athletic activities) if they test positive for any banned substances. Some schools will even bar students from participating in extracurricular activities if they’ve posted depictions of the use of alcohol and drugs on their social-media accounts.

One of our more courageous students, Matthew Aragon, who attends Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque, N.M., is challenging his school board to jettison this policy, and support students rather than punish them. “High school has turned out to be an ideal atmosphere for me to teach my peers about harm reduction and drug policy,” he says. “We’re at an age when curiosity easily becomes experimentation, and I want to make sure that none of my peers are unnecessarily placing themselves in dangerous situations. I want my fellow classmates to recognize and think critically about the War on Drugs, and I believe SSDP is one of the best ways to accomplish this.”


just say know ssdp students for sensible drug policy freedom leaf magazineThe cultural pressure to consume intoxicants in college is immense—especially alcohol. As has been the case for decades, binge drinking and alcohol use are nearly ubiquitous on most university and college campuses. Whether at a large state school, a community college or a smaller private institution, this pressure to consume is rarely accompanied by proper information and education designed to reduce the harm associated with use. Our collegiate network addressed this by participating in the International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31. While many SSDP chapters are focusing on the current public-health crisis with opioids, our Just Say Know peer educators are prepared to give fellow students the information to make decisions that protect their health and safety, whether they choose to consume or not.


Two years ago, we built and launched a brand-new system to track our chapters’ activism: the Chapter Activity Tracker (CAT). Its points-based system creates incentives for the activities most valuable to student learning outcomes, affecting change and building strong chapters. CAT energizes students to take greater action and removes financial barriers to SSDP engagement (its points are worth money to our students). It’s now open-sourced, so other organizations can gameify their members’ experiences.


just say know ssdp students for sensible drug policy freedom leaf magazineThe personal connections between SSDPers have always been the glue that keeps the organization together. With an ever-growing population of SSDP alumni (see “Famous SSDP Alumni” sidebar), there’s never been a better time to formalize those relationships. Through our alumni mentorship program, we connect current SSDP students with graduates. As a result, our students are more prepared for life after graduation, and our alumni stay better connected to student drug-policy activism while providing mentorship and guidance to their younger peers. The SSDP Mentors program, now entering its second year, has nurtured and developed meaningful relationships that further the cause of sensible drug-policy reform and aid in students’ professional development.


For the 2017-2018 school year, we’re happy to announce that our Sensible Society of recurring monthly donors is now 300 strong. Please visit ssdp.org/donate and make a one-time gift or become a recurring monthly donor. We can’t do our work without your support.


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