Saturday, August 16, 2008

SSDP on MTV Think!

SSDP is now a group on MTV think. Create a profile and join the group right here.

I know what your thinking. MTV? Involved with something that isn't lowering the quality of popular music and convincing the average 16 year old that they are entitled to a Mercedes Benz and a birthday party that is incomplete without flame throwing trapeze artists and Siberian Tigers? Yes actually.

MTV think is super cool and promotes that young people should organize, speak out, vote, and have a say in policies that affect them. By joining the SSDP group you can promote discussions, upload videos and audio, complete goals and earn badges/prizes, and network with plenty of other organizations and young people from around the world. Groups are broken up into issues such as substance abuse, poverty, health, education, human rights and environment (unfortunately each group is only allowed to pick 2 issues and SSDP is related to just about all of them). One important part of think is that it allows us to bring the reform message to young people that are concerned about substance abuse but haven't heard our side of the story yet. Check out this forum.

Please create a profile and join the group (we only have one member right now and its me!)

Friday, August 15, 2008

DARE Conference Wrap Up

Update: The UStream broadcast mentioned below has been canceled. It will be rescheduled.


I'd like to let you know that I'm alive and well -- albeit intellectually exhausted -- following my attendance at the DARE conference this week.

I have video clips and insights to share, but I'll save those for my UStream broadcast next week. I hope you can tune in:

SSDP members everywhere.
Hosted by yours truly (Micah Daigle, SSDP Associate Director).

Recap of the DARE conference and discussion of SSDP's role in promoting effective drug education programs.
(UStream allows participants to discuss topics within a chat room, while the host leads the discussion via video feed.)

Wednesday, August 20th
9pm Eastern, 6pm Pacific


In the meantime, I'll be editing my footage together into a video to post on the internets and YouTubes. The footage varies from interviews with genuinely good-hearted DARE officers talking about the relationships they've built with young people through their time teaching the program, to die-hard zealots preaching about their disdain for evidence-based education programs and harm-reduction.

Although the latter footage is much more damning (and thus valuable to those who oppose the DARE program), I'm going to do my best to portray my experience at the conference in a fair light. We may score quick points by being selective about what we see and hear, but we'll never win this fight if we become zealots like the prohibitionists who oppose us.

Until next time...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

DARE Conference live blogging: confessions

It's beginning to heat up in San Antonio (figuratively and literally -- it's 100 degrees!).

Before I tell you about what just happened, I should preface it with a few things:

1) As I mentioned in my previous post, I have the utmost respect for the vast majority of law enforcement personnel and truly beleive that the D.A.R.E. program is carried out with the best of intentions. (This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I had a great relationship with my DARE instructor growing up.) Even if we are critical of the program itself, we must remember that their goal is to keep young people safe, and they probably wouldn't be teaching DARE if they didn't truly believe that it works. My experience this week has reinforced that conviction.

2) Since I give DARE officers the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their intentions, I'm trying to be respectful and nondisruptive even when I hear something that makes my skin crawl. If I "come out" as an SSDP member, it would create a scene and I'd probably be removed from the conference, which wouldn't be productive. Thus, I'm doing my best to keep a low profile even though my age, video camera and lack of a cop uniform make me stick out like a sore thumb.


3) I'm a terrible liar. A big reason I'm involved in working to make our drug policies more sensible is because I've always been drawn to truth. So whenever I'm the least bit deceptive, my pulse quickens, I feel uncomfortable, and I swear my nose grows four inches.

With all this being said, you can probably understand why I froze when I was identified as being a DARE critic during a packed session and questioned afterward about what brought me to the conference.

The session was entited "How the Media is Killing Our Children." Throughout the course of the presentation, the speaker claimed the following:
-It doesn't matter if DARE is effective or not. It matters whether it has the potential to be effective. In fact, we shouldn't trust studies or numbers. The studies and numbers don't matter, so long as there's a chance that DARE miiight be working.
-If your state passes a medical marijuana law, that means that the guy flying your plane or the guy "driving your taxi when your family visits the 911 memorial" could buy a fake penis to pass a drug test and then get you killed.
-Oh, and the media is killing your children.

To be fair, some of the information about alcohol advertisements geared toward children was spot on. And he was a fun guy with a compelling presentation style.

But he must have caught me squirming in my seat when he said "I don't trust numbers" because he pointed at me and said "so if this guy is a DARE critic, you can tell him..." He then asked me to turn off my camera and I complied.

During a break in the session, the presenter approached me and politely explained that he asked me to turn off the camera because the presentation includes copyrighted material. He then asked where I was from and why I was at the conference.

I was torn on what to say. I didn't want to lie, but I also didn't want to get in an argument, cause a scene, and jeopardize my ability to continue gathering information about DARE to bring back to all of you. So I told him that I direct the nationwide Good Samaritan Campaign, an effort to prevent overdoses on college campuses. Not a lie by any means (since I do direct SSDP's Good Samaritan Campaign) but not entirely the whole truth either.

The whole truth would have involved me telling him that my friend's mother, who was finally able to relieve her MS symptoms legally after RI passed its medical marijuana law, has presumably never bought a fake penis for the purpose of passing a drug test, nor is she a taxi driver. The whole truth would have involved telling him that I've seen the studies on DARE and realize that the potential to do good also comes along with the potential to do harm -- in fact, some studies have indicated that DARE may actually increase drug use among young people.

But even though I was being completely honest and defused the situation successfully, I still feel slimy. As a friend joked via email today, I'm a wolf in wolves' clothing.

So consider this post a confession of sorts. Although I knew from the start that my goal was to gather information without making too much of a scene, it's getting more and more difficult to hold my tongue because the truth deserves a proper defense.

Tomorrow may be my chance to do just that. It's the last day of the conference, so I don't have much to lose. Besides, they may have googled me and found this blog by now anyway. That doesn't mean I'll be rude or disruptive, but I'll probably be more inclined to ask tough questions and show my cards.

But for now, I've got a bowling tournament to get to. Oh, and I just did a thoroughly entertaining and informative interview with Miss Texas and Miss Maine. I'll post the video soon.

I'll wrap this post up as I began one in 2004:

"I am Christopher Columbus at a flat earth conference.
I am Charles Darwin at a creationist conference.
I am Micah Daigle at a DARE conference."

Not much has changed.

Higher Education Act Supports Drug Abuse

After a full 10 years of contacting representatives, gathering signatures, writing articles, and spreading the outrage, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, along with hundreds of supporting organizations was sure their determined efforts would finally pay off and that Congressional leadership would follow through with their pledge to repeal the counterproductive Aid Elimination Penalty of the Higher Education Act. However, we have yet again been terribly deceived.

If you’ve ever wondered why you’re asked about drug offenses when applying for federal financial aid through FAFSA, thank Representative Mark Souder (R-IN), who somehow managed to slip the AEP into the Higher Education Act in 1998 without any debate or vote. Since then, this amendment has denied over 200,000 students federal financial aid, and in turn access to education. While we assume the reasoning behind Souder’s action was that he thought it would decrease drug abuse, it’s done the exact opposite by forcing students to drop out of school, therefore increasing their risk of drug abuse and criminal activity.

Regardless of the penalty's intentions, it has blatantly attacked hard-working students, people of color, and the lower and middle class. Since the FAFSA already requires satisfactory academic progress in order for a student to be eligible for federal financial aid, the AEP only affects hard-working students who have been doing well in school. While African-Americans make up a fairly small portion of the population, racial profiling leads to an absurdly disproportionate higher number of African-Americans arrested for drug offenses. And since middle and lower class families are depending solely on financial aid, it’s easy to see why wealthy families may not be too concerned.

Many members of Congress who were on our side initially have informed us that they became terrified of facing negative attacks, fearing they’d be labeled as “pro-drug”. In reality,it is precisely the Aid Elimination Penalty they are supporting that continues to increase drug abuse and decrease education. Anybody who is against racial profiling, increasing drug abuse, and decreasing education should be against this penalty. Please fill out this pre-written letter and demand an explanation from your local legislators! Unless they hear from their constituents, they won’t realize what their people want and will continue to follow their misguided instincts.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SSDP at the D.A.R.E. Conference: Day One

Today was a bit of a bust. There were only two training sessions, followed by a parade of all the "pimped out" D.A.R.E. vehicles seized via asset forfeiture laws, a motorcycle stunt show, and an opening reception with mariachi music and fajitas. (Okay, so it was kind of fun.)

I did get a lot of great video footage today, but nothing too juicy to blog about yet. Tomorrow is when the conference really gets going, so there will be much more to report on then.

Also, I found out that the Drug War celebs who I thought were speaking (Gonzales, Hatch, & Walters) are going to be no-shows. The video I posted earlier indicated that they'd be here, but they are nowhere in the program materials. Bummer.

Tomorrow, I'm attending the following two workshops:
  • Drug Trends in America: Raves, Ecstasy, Club Drugs and Inhalants
  • How the Media is Affecting Our Kids

The latter workshop is four hours (good grief!) but should be pretty entertaining.

Over and out.

DARE conference live blogging: "Responsible shoplifting"

I'm sitting in a session that's about parents who provide alcohol to teenagers in controlled settings and how "irresponsible" those parents are.

The instructor just gave a speech about harm reduction actually being "harm promotion" and made an analogy about parents teaching their kids how to "shoplift responsibly."

Riiiight. Perfect analogy. Because every high school student shoplifts the night of prom and then tries to drive home while putting on the dress/tux they just snatched up, resulting in deadly collisions.

The logic is flawless.

Monday, August 11, 2008

SSDP at the D.A.R.E. Conference: Prologue

It has been four years since I represented SSDP at the D.A.R.E. conference, a gathering of hundreds of well-intentioned police officers from across North America who teach misinformation and scare tactics rather than honest, reality based drug education.

Well, here I am in San Antonio, TX, getting ready to do it again.

And after watching this promo video, I have to tell you, I'm pretty darned excited. Keynote speakers include drug warriors from all branches of government, like amnesiac victim Alberto Gonzalez, nutcake police Orrin Hatch, and Johnny P. Walters, who needs no introduction. But here it is in case you do.

As was the case last time, the main purpose will be to gather information on D.A.R.E.'s curriculum, which has been proven time and time again to be ineffective, possibly causing more drug abuse than it prevents. As a D.A.R.E. graduate, I demand better results from a program that has been adopted by more than 75% of public school districts.

But as you can see from the letter I distributed at the conference in 2004, my intent is not to attack the motives of these public servants. In fact, I think that the vast majority of police officers are good people -- it's the laws and the programs that they carry out that are unjust and counterproductive. As much as I may disagree with their stance on drug education and drug policy, I have to give them all the credit in the world for putting their lives on the line every day keeping us safe.

One day, when we finally stop using law enforcement to deal with public health issues, young people will look at police officers like they look at firemen and paramedics -- as heroes, not adversaries. And then (and only then) it might not be a bad idea for police officers to be involved with the rest of the community in the difficult but important task of teaching young people about drug abuse.

Each evening of the conference (Tues - Thurs), I'll be keeping you informed about my experience at the conference via blog posts. At some point, I'll also broadcast a live video transmission from SSDP's UStream channel. Keep an eye on this blog for info on the timing of that broadcast.

So, what questions should I pose to D.A.R.E. officers? Your suggestions in the comment section. Keep it respectful.

Remember kids, the world's most dangerous narcotic is ignorance. Just say know.

We Can't Forget: Rachel Hoffman

It has been 3 months since 23 year old Rachel Hoffman was killed in a botched drug sting set up by the Tallahassee Police Department. After being arrested twice for marijuana, Rachel was given an ultimatum, turn informant of face up to 5 years in prison. As a recent Florida State University graduate and with plans to attend culinary school Rachel agreed to work with the Tallahassee police department.

Rachel was given $13,000 cash to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun from 2 men she did not know. The buy was obviously suspicious and police quickly lost track of Rachel after sending her on the sting.

Rachel's death represents the failure and tragic irony of drug prohibition; a war on drugs created in the name of protecting young people destroys more lives than drug use alone. ABC recently featured Rachel's story on 20/20.

Please make a donation the Morningstar Foundation. The foundation was started by Rachel's mother with the goal of passing a law requiring civilians to seek legal advice before consenting to undercover police work.