Students for Sensible Drug Policy: Sweet at 16
SSDP is a campus-based organization changing drug policy in America and across the world.
By Victor Pinho
Formed in 1998, Students for Sensible Drug Policy is the largest campus-based policy reform organization in the United States. Changing local policies for marijuana and working on ending prohibition has always been part of our goal. Our origins are pure grassroots. Our network is growing. Our activism is changing the world.
Born Out of Necessity
Ask any baby boomer about the 90’s and they will paint a picture of rapid economic growth and financial stability in America.
America had just recently emerged from the first Gulf War, the economy was on an upswing, and the nation was doing well. But behind the curtain of all this post-war moneymaking and prosperity, America was waging a war on its own people. Enter the “The War on Drugs.” This misguided effort was born in the 70’s under President Richard Nixon and entrenched in the 1980’s with the Reagan administration and the “Just Say No” campaign.
This spawned another great failure of our American education system — the Drug Awareness Resistance Education Program, commonly known as DARE. The DARE Program misinformed the youth of an entire generation about drugs, telling boldface lies about the harms and consequences of trying anything (including marijuana) — even just once.
Their only honest facts were about locking people up, especially for marijuana. DARE taught an entire generation of young minds that if you do drugs (again, even once) your brain will shrivel up and/or you will go to jail and/or will die.
Of course, the folks who came up with the DARE curriculum did not base any of it in science or social psychology. But, as it turns out, if you lie to millions of kids about drugs, when they finally figure out the truth on their own, the result is a generation of angry youth. They are appalled that their innocence and trust has been undermined by images of your egg-brain in a frying pan.
By 1998, the first wave of the DARE generation of youth had reached their college years. And many of them had fallen victim to the escalating War on Drugs. That same year, the Higher Education Act of 1965 was up for re-authorization. The act contained, within it, a provision which denied federal financial aid to students with marijuana or other drug convictions. The HEA was the subject of fierce debate and criticized for disproportionately affecting minorities, working-class, and disabled students.
But the young adults were about to fight back. Through the power of an early version of the internet it was students at two schools, Rochester Institute of Technology and George Washington University, who united to form a coalition in response to the anti-drug provisions of the HEA.
Nurtured and Nurturing
Over the last 16 years, SSDP has flourished and reshaped itself into the powerhouse that it is today. Under the leadership and direction of Executive Director Betty Aldworth and Deputy Director Stacia Cosner, the organization has become international. SSDP is nurturing a huge new surge in awareness – educating and spreading its message to its widest audience ever.
SSDP functions primarily through a network of mostly autonomous chapters in universities, colleges, and high schools around the world. SSDP promotes activism for policy changes and works on orchestrating a stronger shift in attitudes toward marijuana prohibition, drug use and drug abuse, and laws. We are focused on empowering not just students, but teachers as well. Today, there are more than 200 chapters of SSDP worldwide, with the largest concentrations in the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, and the UK.
SSDP remains a completely student-run organization SSDP’s national headquarters keeps a full-time staff in Washington D.C. It is 2014 and we are proud of our robust student and alumni network that continues to support and help grow the organization.
Our Work Today
Our fight for a fair Higher Education Act continues, but our platform is diverse. Current efforts include:
– Working on campaigns, include the promotion of Good Samaritan Policies for those who call 911 about heroin overdoses
– Changing campus drug policies
– Promoting drug education and counseling
– Ending “zero tolerance” policies
– Advocating the end of the international War on Drugs
– Promoting an end to ineffective government anti-drug advertising
– Influencing President Obama
– Lowering the drinking age
– Coaxing politicians to go on the record about drug policy,
– Removing educational barriers for students in prison,
– Working against student drug testing
– Lobbying politicians for national marijuana policy reform.
As if all that work wasn’t enough to keep SSDP students, staff, and board members busy, the organization also continues to hold consultative status with the United Nations. SSDP even wrote an amicus curiae brief for the Supreme Court case Morse v. Frederick.
SSDP: Into Adulthood
Perhaps most important, SSDP now has alumni in almost every branch of government from interns at the White House to politicians’ office and even in the military. SSDP members and chapter leaders cut their teeth in politics by working on these issues. Our first generation of activists are now well into their 30’s. They are becoming the policymakers and government officials. Now as the newest members of SSDP go out to advocate for change, they may find some of their own across the desk.
As SSDP evolves past its 16th birthday, we can expect the organization to tackle new and interesting challenges, including paving the way for marijuana legalization in more and more states. Visit us online www.ssdp.org