Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why is the government stifling students’ curiosity?

One has to wonder why the U.S. Department of Education is so determined to prevent Students for Sensible Drug Policy from exposing the impact of a law that uses education as a sacrificial lamb in War on Drugs.

We just want to find out how many would-be college students in each state have been stripped of their financial aid because they have drug convictions. We applied for a fee waiver under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which we qualify for. But the feds told SSDP we’d never get the numbers from them so easily and that we needed to instead pay them $4,124.19 in exchange for the data.

Clearly, the government thinks this information is a pretty damning indictment of the Drug War’s ill effects. In a real stretch of reason, the Department of Education said we can’t have the information for free because, they claim, it could lead to drug legalization and that SSDP might profit from it.

Oh, does the government really want to make the argument that the more the public finds out about how punitive drug policies are impacting their communities, the closer we’ll be to ending the Drug War?

Besides, as the New York Times said, it’s simply “implausible ” that we could profit from this information. We’re a nonprofit organization!

And SSDP’s puny budget just can’t afford the more than $4,000 the government wants to take from us to get the data. If you can, please make a donation to help SSDP fight against harsh policies that use students as scapegoats for the Drug War.

Federal FOIA officers are charged with putting up as many roadblocks as it takes to prevent concerned citizens from making the government pay to reveal its activities. They probably thought that a nonprofit student organization like ours would give up easily.

They were wrong. We took them to court. And we’re going to win.

Now that the government knows we’re serious about revealing the disastrous impact that punitive Drug War policies are having on communities across the nation, it’s their turn to give up.

If the Department of Education is smart, they’ll just bite the bullet and pay the $4,000 themselves right now. Otherwise, they’ll have to engage us in a futile court battle and will ultimately have shell out the money to compile the data anyway. Plus, they’ll have to pay for their own attorneys’ fees and SSDP’s attorney’s fees (once we win).

Come on, Secretary Spellings. Direct your lawyers to surrender. Students are demanding that you uncover the dirt on this disastrous drug law. We deserve this basic information.

Lawmakers need to know exactly how many of their constituents' academic careers are being crushed by this destructive policy. Congress did recently scale back the Drug Provision. But tens of thousands of college students will continue to be stripped of their aid every year it remains on the lawbooks, even in its altered form.

Students are all-too-aware that this misguided law is hurting our peers. Once we uncover this data, there’ll be no excuse for Congress to turn a blind eye to the need to completely repeal the financial aid ban and reinstate eligibility to all determined students.

Make sure to sign up for SSDP’s periodic e-mail news updates and action alerts.

NYT Defends SSDP Against White House Bullying

Last year, the Department of Education demanded $4,000 of SSDP's lunch money in return for public information regarding the drug provision of the Higher Education Act. SSDP has taken a stand against the federal government's bullying, and today, the New York Times took our back:

The High Cost of Public Information

The Bush administration has made a habit of keeping public information from the very public that owns it. A good example can be found at the United States Department of Education. After dragging its feet for months, the agency has asked a tiny nonprofit group to pay a ruinous sum for information on the impact of a law that bars students who have committed drug offenses from receiving federal grants and loans.

The law, which cuts off former offenders from receiving financial help even when the crimes they committed were minor and long ago, has become a subject of intense debate. Congress recently approved changes that should moderate some of the law's most destructive effects. Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a small nonprofit group, asked the Department of Education to provide a simple state-by-state breakdown of the people who have been denied aid under the law so far. But the department demanded more than $4,000 for this information, an amount the group clearly could not afford. The government argued that the request was not in the public interest and implied that Students for Sensible Drug Policy had some commercial interest in seeking it. These claims are both implausible.

The fee represents an increasingly common tactic that is used by the government to discourage public inquiries. The student group has acquired pro bono representation and filed suit in federal court. Members of Congress could end the battle by requesting the information on the group's behalf. Beyond that, Congress should reinforce the Freedom of Information law — which was meant to prevent this kind of thing in the first place.
Congrats to SSDP's national staff on working with the New York Times to get this important issue covered. To help with SSDP's lawsuit, donate today and sign up for SSDP's action alerts.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Puppies against prohibition

The Drug Czar's "blog" touts the horrifying fact that traffickers are now hiding smuggled drugs inside (yes, inside) puppies as an example of what "drug money supports."

More accurately, this reprehensible behavior is what drug prohibition supports. If drugs were produced and sold in a regulated legal market, there'd be absolutely no incentive for thugs to treat pups like this.

End prohibition. To protect young pups.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

It's so easy to fool libertarians

Pete at Drug War Rant found something simultaneously humorous and frightening. Really.

On the blog "The Anti-Communist," 22 year old Maxwell Hoffman spends quite a bit of time criticizing George Soros for working to end the War on Drugs.

Among countless ridiculous claims, there is this one:
There is a clear case that Soros is attempting to influence Libertarian groups into going against the drug war America is waging. [emphasis added]
Yep, Soros and the rest of us reformers really had to swindle those libertarians into fighting against the Drug War. It's a good thing they're so gullible...

Get paid to end the Drug War

SSDP and DanceSafe are hiring a publications coordinator! Check out the job announcement on SSDP's site.

Does this image remind you of your campus?

Three months and about 10,000 visits ago, I blogged about my SSDP chapter's campaign to overturn the University of Rhode Island's disciplinary policies that treat students like babies.

Since then, we have come a long way, but there is still much work to be done. Our two most recent victories come by way of a major media hit and a substantial comprimise by University officials.

Last week, Rhode Island's largest weekly publication, The Providence Phoenix, featured SSDP's campaign as their cover story. The story (entitled "Tale of Two Campuses" in the print version) takes a comparative angle, pitting URI's harsh, invasive policies against Brown University's more sensible policies.
Not surprisingly, considering how Animal House-style antics have long been considered part of the college experience, many students are chafing under the strains of URI’s new prohibitionism. Some complain that the festivities have merely been transferred off-campus, leading to tensions between students and residents in the towns near URI. Others cite inconsistency in the approach of resident assistants in different dorms. But perhaps the most galling thing is how elite private colleges like Brown University seem to favor a more tolerant approach when it comes to student partying.

At Brown, for instance, there is no rigid protocol for suspending students caught with alcohol or drugs. (After a third offense related to drugs or alcohol, URI students face academic probation or suspension from the university for one year. A violation involving drugs counts for two strikes, while one involving both drugs and alcohol results in a suspension.) At Brown, each violation is taken on a “case by case” basis, although three infractions would be taken “very seriously,” a university official says, and students can be suspended for repeated violations. Tom Angell, a 2004 graduate of URI who serves as the campaign director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy in Washington, DC, sums up the situation this way: “At private, Ivy League schools, students tend to get off easier than at state schools.”
Of course, the campaign's focus is not as simple as the "freedom to party" - rather, it is primarily about justice and safety. In a sense, we are fighting the Drug War on a local level.
For URI students like senior Micah Daigle, president of the campus chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), the school’s drug and alcohol policies seem like a trap, luring students into a confrontation with the law.

“Before, when URI was not a dry campus, most of the partying went on on-campus — it was contained,” Daigle says. “Now, there are parties going on next to people living with kids and their families, so they are understandably angry . . . You can have a few maybe drinking in the [dormitory] room and, if you’re lucky, an RA won’t catch you. But if you want to party, you have to go 20 minutes away — which means you have to drive.”


Daigle and the SSDP favor policies that offer education and treatment for non-violent drug and alcohol offenses. Given a choice, Daigle would choose the model applied at Brown University. “They’re dealing with very similar circumstances,” at both schools, he says. “It’s students who are all essentially the same age, getting into the same things, drugs and alcohol. I feel like there is another way of going about this, which would be more towards the model of Brown, where you’re not busting students.”

Tom Angell, SSDP’s national campaign director, says the lesson of the war on drugs is that strict laws and increased enforcement only guarantee more arrests, not fewer users. The problem of student drug and alcohol use is cultural, Daigle and Angell say, and no amount of law enforcement can stop it.
In addition to this great media coverage, our campaign has succeeded in establishing an unwritten but substantial policy change. As a direct result of negotiations between SSDP's activists and the president of the University, all Resident Hall Assistants have been ordered to no longer call the police when encountering a marijuana violation. Incidents involving marijuana are now to be dealt with within URI's Conduct System, a system that has major flaws but does not result in prison sentences and criminal records.

If you have harsh, prohibitionist policies on your campus, you can fight back and win. Visit the national Campus Change Campaign webpage or contact Tom Angell for more information on how you can make a difference.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

HEA Drug Provision reform sent to President Bush

After seven years of sustained student activism, Congress finally gave financial aid back to some college students with drug convictions today. Unfortunately, tens of thousands will be left behind without the aid they need to go to school.

To make sure you stay up-to-date on all the latest Drug War news, sign up for SSDP's periodic e-mail alerts.

Here's SSDP's press release:

CONTACT: Tom Angell – 202.293.4414, 202.557.4979, or tom//at//

Congress Softens Drug Conviction Penalty

Some Students Denied Financial Aid Will Regain Eligibility

Students Left Behind to File Suit Claiming Law is Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON, DC – Today Congress scaled back the law that strips financial aid from college students with drug convictions. The change to the Higher Education Act allows some students with past offenses to receive aid, but those convicted while enrolled in college will still lose eligibility. The law has affected more than 175,000 students, and some of those left behind by the change are working with the ACLU to challenge the penalty’s constitutionality in court.

“After years of political posturing and empty promises, Congress has finally helped some students harmed by this misguided policy,” said Kris Krane, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “But this minor change is just a ploy to sweep the penalty’s problems under the rug. Tens of thousands of students will still be pulled out of school every year because politicians failed to listen to our concerns. The only option students have left is to take action in court.”

The revision to the HEA Drug Provision is included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which Congress previously approved late last year. Today’s House vote was a procedural one sending the measure to the President’s desk. The Drug Provision was originally enacted in 1998.

In January 2005, the congressionally-created Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance recommended that the drug conviction question be completely removed from the financial aid application, calling it “irrelevant” to aid eligibility. The committee also stated that the drug question’s mere presence on the form deters countless eligible students from applying. Under today’s change, aid applicants will still have to answer a drug conviction question.

Last week SSDP filed a separate lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education over a Freedom of Information Act inquiry into the number of students in each state who have lost aid due to drug convictions. The government refused to grant SSDP a fee waiver, claiming the information could lead to drug legalization and that the nonprofit group may profit from it.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization with college and high school chapters, is part of a coalition supported by more than 250 education, addiction recovery, criminal justice, civil rights, and religious organizations seeking the full repeal of the HEA Drug Provision. For a list, see

# # #

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Union

President Bush just said:
"Drug use among youth is down 19 percent since 2001...

These gains are evidence of a quiet transformation - a revolution of conscience, in which a rising generation is finding that a life of personal responsibility is a life of fulfillment. Government has played a role. Wise policies such as welfare reform, drug education, and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country. And everyone here tonight, Democrat and Republican, has a right to be proud of this record."

DARE bites

Yet another DARE disaster:

NEW ALBANY, Ind. -- Courtney McGarry had a day at school that she will never forget.

“Well, they brought in a DARE dog and they were showing us how it sniffs out drugs,” she describes. “He had kids like petting it and it just snapped and it bit me in the face.”

It was just after a police demonstration at Hazelwood Elementary. The sixth graders were in the classroom.

“I was scared to death,” says her mother, Michelle McGarry. “I can't believe they let a dog in school like that.”

“This is what I would classify as a typical demonstration that school resource officers and police departments do for students to show students how dogs handle searches,” says New Albany Assistant Superintendent Tony Bennett. “The dog wasn’t searching kids or searching the school, it was strictly there for the presentation, so it was very much under control.”

Oh yeah, really "under control..."

But even in light of this terrible tragedy, little Courtney says she doesn't want the dog put down because of its behavior.

But it is way past time to put DARE to sleep.

SSDP's lawsuit gets more coverage

The UCLA Daily Bruin covered SSDP's lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education.
Erik Cooke, an SSDP legislative director, said a state-by-state analysis of the impact of the Drug Provision is vital to inform legislators of the law's effect on constituents and for them to start paying a more particular interest in it.

"When we're in a meeting with legislators, they want to know how this is going to affect their constituents. By withholding this information, it is bad for our advocacy efforts to inform Congress. It limits Congress's ability to quantify how the law affects citizens across the country," Cooke said.

Makes you wonder what the federal government's true motivation for preventing SSDP from getting our hands on this information really is, doesn't it?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Getting them hooked

Not unlike the mythical drug dealers we all heard about in DARE, the British drug testing company Preventx is giving schools and parents free samples of their product in hopes that they'll be hooked.
Preventx director, Michelle Hart said: “This is the first of what we hope to be many schemes that we are involved with that will help tackle school drug issues."
Yes, this is quite the "scheme."

SSDP v. DoE gets press

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered SSDP's lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education. I'm pasting the full piece below because you need a password to view it on the Chronicle's website.

Lawsuit Accuses Education Dept. of Unfairly Withholding Data on Drug
Offenders and Student Aid


A drug-reform advocacy group sued the U.S. Education Department on
Thursday, accusing agency officials of blocking the release of
information about how many students in each state have been denied
federal financial aid because they have been convicted of drug offenses.

According to the U.S. Education Department, a total of 175,000 students
have had their aid stripped since 2000, when the agency began enforcing
a law that bars those who are convicted of possessing or selling illicit
drugs from receiving federal grants or loans for college.

In December 2004, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nonprofit
organization with college and high-school chapters, sent a Freedom of
Information Act request to the department asking for a state-by-state
breakdown of students affected by the ban. In June 2005, the department
agreed to provide the data but denied the group's request to waive a
processing fee.

The group, known as SSDP, learned that it would have to pay about $4,100
to the agency before it could obtain the information it was seeking. In
the lawsuit it filed on Thursday in the federal district court here, the
organization is asking the court to require the department to provide
the records without any charge.

At issue is whether the organization's request met the government's
criteria to receive a waiver: that the release of the information "is in
the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to
public understanding of the operations or activities of the government
and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester."

In a letter to the organization in September, Michell Clark, the
department's acting chief information officer, explained his rationale
for denying the waiver request. He said that he did not believe the
release of the data would "contribute meaningfully or significantly to
the general public's understanding of the subject of your request."

He explained that the data requested would provide only a partial answer
to the group's question. That's because, he said, the organization had
asked for information on only those students who had lost their aid
because they had acknowledged -- in answer to a question on the
financial-aid application form -- that they had been convicted of a drug
offense. The group's request, however, did not ask for data on students
who had become ineligible for financial aid because they had refused to
respond to the question.

"The information in question will not, by itself, show how many people
the law affects and how many people are ineligible for student aid
because of it," Mr. Clark wrote.

Mr. Clark also said that he believed that the data would benefit
Students for Sensible Drug Policy financially. "The principal goal of
your organization is to 'end the war on drugs,'" he wrote. "As SSDP's
campaign could directly benefit those who would profit from the
deregulation or legalization of drugs, I cannot conclude, based on the
information you have made available to me, that SSDP has no commercial
interest in the disclosure sought."

In the lawsuit the leaders of the advocacy group rejected the arguments
that the release of the information wouldn't be in the public interest
and that the group would profit from it. They asserted that, by refusing
to waive the fee, Bush administration officials are hoping to prevent
the group from gaining access to data that could be used to fight the
existing policy. The administration supports the denial of aid to
students who are convicted of drug offenses while in college.

The group's leaders said that the release of the data is clearly in the
public interest as it will provide greater information to lawmakers
about how the law is affecting their constituents. They also argued
that, as a nonprofit, the organization "could not use the information
for monetary gain or commercial advantage."

"It is no big surprise that the government is afraid to reveal the true
impact of its punitive drug-war policies," Scarlett Swerdlow, the
organization's executive director, who's departing from the top position
next week, stated in a news release. "If citizens and legislators knew
how this misguided and ineffective policy impacts their communities, we
would be much closer to erasing it from the law books."

A budget-cutting bill that Congress is expected to approve next week
would soften the student-aid restriction. That measure would allow the
government to deny student aid only to applicants convicted of
drug-related offenses committed while they were attending college. Now
students can be penalized for convictions that occurred as long as a
year or two before they actually enroll.

But the leaders of Students for Sensible Drug Policy said they would not
be satisfied with anything less than a full repeal of the law.