Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Happy New Year from SSDP!

This was an amazing year for Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We helped bring the issue of marijuana legalization into the national spotlight by launching the Just Say Now campaign, a project with our friends at Firedoglake, that provided important tools like a free online phone banking system for activists around the country to call voters in four states with marijuana reforms on the ballot.

Our chapter network continues to expand throughout the U.S. and with the addition of an international liaison, SSDP is now rapidly expanding outside of the states and into key places like Mexico City. And for the first time, we hosted our international conference on the west coast and with over 500 people, it was our largest conference to date! Now that 2010 is behind us, we're looking forward to 2011.

This is the last chance to give a tax-deductible gift in 2010, so please consider donating today. Our goals in 2011 are ambitious, and we couldn't do what we do without the generous support of people like you.

Happy New Year from SSDP's National Team,
Aaron, Jon, Stacia, Patrick, Garret & Edward

P.S. There's still one day left to get the early-bird discount when you register for our 2011 Training Conference & Lobby Day at the University of Maryland, March 17-19, 2011. More details at

Monday, December 27, 2010

Chapter Leader of the Week: Hilary Dulin, Northeastern University

Name: Hilary Dulin
Title: Co-founder & President, NU SSDP
School: Northeastern University, Class of 2011
Major: Behavioral Neuroscience

SSDP: When did you 1st get involved with SSDP?
Hilary: I got involved in Fall of 2008 when I met Kevin Franciotti who was working on bringing SSDP to Northeastern. I became involved and helped to found the chapter.

SSDP: What issues are important for your chapter?
Hilary: Enrollment: Keeping things interesting and getting new people not only interested but staying involved

Education: Getting out information about our group through events, and making sure our students know about their rights on campus and off

We also have members working on Good Samaritan Policies in Massachusetts, and plan to lobby for both the Medical Marijuana and Marijuana legalization bills when they are reintroduced in January.

SSDP: Do you have any events planned for the this semester?
Hilary: Yes! We are starting Wire Wednesdays, showing the wire on the off-weeks of our bi-weekly meetings

Panel on Modern Perspectives in Psychedelic Medicine: Rick Doblin, Michael Mithoefer, and John Halpern, are coming to talk about modern research on psychedelics (in humans!) and the social implications of that research on February 8th.

And of course going to the Training Conference in March!

SSDP: What do you like best about being part of SSDP?
Hilary: That its a real and necessary thing. Not only are we making change with in our campus and greater communities, but as a chapter leader I realized the importance of having someone to talk to who knows the system after getting busted. Good advice and a place to turn to can make a lot of difference!

SSDP: Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?
Hilary: Never give up! We had a rough year last year and had only 3 returning members (including myself), now we have 10-15 solid members and have hosted 1 successful event and have two more that we already have funding for.

Ask for help. You will drive your self crazy trying to do and make every decision on your own. Its much better to get people to be involved and love it as much as you do.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spontaneous Anti-Drug War Student Activism Erupts In Northern Mexico

This holiday season ABC News reports that students at the Autonomous University of the City of Juarez (UACJ) (in its Spanish acronym) have formed a group to resist the drug war. The students are targeting corruption in the police and military, highlighting human rights abuses as part of their campaign.

One videoed episode of state violence drew the students ire: the late October police shooting of nineteen year old UACJ sociology student, Jose Dario Alvarez. Student marches against the police who shot him at the entrance to the UACJ campus have apparently drawn 200 people in the northern city, and interest from student groups at Mexico City's National Autonomous University (UNAM).

The ABC reporter describes a student movement interested in human rights and social justice. The focus on the latter can be identified by community projects, such as Pistolitas por Libros, or Pistols for Books. The way these students see the intersection of different issues and the drug war, is characteristic of student movements throughout the hemisphere, including Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

The Student Association has not confined its activities to political activism. Members teamed up with medical and dentistry students doing a Health Brigade event and implemented Pistolitas por Libros, the first Pistols for Books campaign. While adults in the neighborhood sought free medical advice from the students, their children could exchange toy guns and weapons for books, games and other, more peaceful, items. The organization said between 120 and 150 participated.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Congressman makes historic speech in marijuana legalization fight

Believe it or not, two weeks ago marked the first time in history that a member of Congress specifically called for taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol — from the floor of the House of Representatives!

During debate over a terrible pro-drug war resolution that was cynically fast-tracked through the House by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the lone member to rise in opposition was Congressman Jared Polis from Colorado. During his speech, he said "by eliminating the failed policy of prohibition with regard to marijuana and replacing it with regulation, we can cut the money to the criminal gangs by half."

Of course, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) has consistently supported ending drug prohibition over the years, but my searches failed to turn up a specific call for regulating marijuana from the well of the House. Rep. Paul was one of the handful of members who voted against the resolution that Polis opposed. (I welcome any corrections from nerds who are good at searching the Congressional Record if I am wrong about Dr. Paul previously making a similar speech from the House floor.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chapter Leader of the Week: Nicholas Davies

Nick (middle) with fellow Colorado SSDP
members Kara Janowsky and Chris Pezza returning
from the 2010 SSDP Conference in San Francisco.
Name: Nicholas Davies
Chapter: Front Range Community College
Location: Longmont, Colorado 

When did you first get involved with SSDP and why do you like being part of the organization? 

I was first introduced to SSDP during my second year in Student Government when I was fortunate enough to meet a fellow by the name of Christopher Pezza. After a few legislative sessions Chris and I found that we had similar thoughts on many issues regarding drug policy and the way it should be approached (not to forget a liking for "The Talking Heads")
At the time he was also founding our current chapter at the college and was in need of help getting it going. I agreed one day to attend a meeting and from then on forth have considered myself a drug policy activist. What I like about being part of this organization is that it gives a forum for like minded people to pool their ideas and knowledge to create a positive impact on their local communities. 

What issues are important for the Front Range Community College SSDP chapter? 

At this point one of our biggest issues at hand is changing the data; It's difficult to be taken seriously as a student's organization with out being able to own up to one's "student responsibilities."

Do you have any events/campaigns planned? 

One of our chapter mantras is to always have at least one event planned. We just finished the final week of the semester with an event where we reserved our community room for students looking for a quiet place to study. Along with the quiet study space we were given tea from the Environmental Club to provide students with a nice perk to their day. This event being is a part of our "A's before J's" campaign encouraging students and current SSDP members (and all students) to prioritize their grades before their recreational use of drugs including alcohol.

What has been your favorite experience with SSDP?

Knowing that every action we take gets us closer to a better America. That experience in itself is invaluable.

Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders? 

Know that in the action of being a student; That role, when completed with pride, will only lead to gains for our goals, and falter those whom criticize our intent.

That and go to new student orientation. Have a table. Something. It is a way to get members hooked at the very get go of the semester. If anything do it just to inform.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Increase in Teen Marijuana Use Due to Failed Policies (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 15, 2010
CONTACT:  Jonathan Perri, SSDP National Associate Director – (401) 265-9445

Increase in Teen Marijuana Use Due to Failed Policies, 

Not Medical Marijuana

More High School Seniors Now Smoking Marijuana 

than Cigarettes, According to Survey

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  Officials at Students for Sensible Drug Policy claim that a new survey by the University of Michigan showing the highest rates of marijuana use among young high school seniors in the last three decades is the direct result of the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.  Over 20% of high school seniors reported smoking marijuana compared with only 19% reporting smoking cigarettes.  

“Because marijuana is available on the black market, high school students have easier access to it than they do to cigarettes,” explained Jonathan Perri, Associate Director at SSDP. “Drug dealers aren’t going to ask for an ID before they sell drugs. If marijuana were regulated and taxed like alcohol or cigarettes, it would be more difficult for young people to purchase.”

At a press conference in Washington this week, the White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, blamed the increase on the debate surrounding marijuana legalization and state medical marijuana laws around the country.

“If the drug use numbers go down even slightly, the ONDCP takes credit for it, but when they go up, they don’t want to reassess their own failed policies. There is no evidence that medical marijuana laws have resulted in a national increase in use among high school seniors - if anything, young people no longer believe the reefer madness that the federal government has been spreading about marijuana for years," said Perri.

The group argues that regulating marijuana like cigarettes would be more effective at reducing use. “Tobacco use has become unattractive to young people through prevention education and by keeping the drug in a legal but regulated market with heavy taxes imposed,” continued Perri. “It’s time to do the same with marijuana.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 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. 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.
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Monday, December 13, 2010

Chapter Leader of the Week: Drew Stromberg, WVU

Chapter Leader of the Week


  • Drew Stromberg
  • Founder and President
  • West Virginia University SSDP
SSDP: When did you 1st get involved with SSDP?
Drew: I got involved during in the summer of 2009 when a friend of mine told me I should start a chapter at WVU.

SSDP: What issues are important for your chapter?
Drew: Good Samaritan Policy - We started working on ours last year and we are slowly but surely moving ever closer to it becoming a real university policy. (bureaucracy is designed to discourage you. Don’t let it.)

Drug education - We are working with WVU’s Senior Wellness Coordinator to incorporate drug education into the University 101 curriculum. The current program does include alcohol education fortunately. At this point in the process, we’re looking for universities with good drug education programs already in place. Do you have an open, comprehensive, and science-based program at your school? If you do, get in touch with me!

SSDP: Do you have any events planned for the this semester?
Drew: We hope to host an art show fundraiser in February. And of course we wouldn’t miss the National Training Conference in Washington, DC! Mountaineers en mass on the mall in March!

SSDP: What do you like best about being part of SSDP?
Drew: The work that we do is important and the changes we make are real. We’re shaping our world into a more sensible form.

SSDP: Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?
Drew: As part of my technology internship with SSDP this semester, I've been working on our chapter's website, and developing the SSDP Tech Tips group on Facebook, so use these and me as a resource for improving your chapter's online presence.

Also, taking your chapter to a conference is the fastest way to turn regular members into drug policy reform samurai warriors.

NIU SSDP Earns Recognition on Campus, Free Speech Violations Still Present

After SSDP's chapter at Northern Illinois University was denied recognition as an official group on campus and told that they could not apply for funding, hold meetings on campus or even post flyers promoting events or causes, they took action to protect student free speech. It wasn't an easy battle, but SSDP prevailed and have been given full recognition by NIU

Northern Illinois University (NIU) has finally given full recognition to NIU Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) after the Student Association Senate twice denied the group any recognition, which had prevented SSDP from meeting or posting flyers on campus. But Senate policy still denies funding to all "political" and "religious" student organizations. This arbitrary standard classifies Christian, Muslim, and Jewish organizations as "religious" and therefore ineligible for funding, while the campus Baha'i Club is funded as a "cultural" group. Similarly, groups such as Model United Nations are considered "political" while many "social justice" or "advocacy" groupsincluding student pro-life, pro-choice, antiwar, women's rights, vegetarian, and victims' rights groupsare fully recognized. SSDP came to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"FIRE commends Northern Illinois University for finally agreeing to recognize Students for Sensible Drug Policy, but NIU's recognition and funding policies still violate students' First Amendment rights," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. "NIU's rules brazenly flout Supreme Court precedent by discriminating against all ‘political' and ‘religious' groups. NIU needs to reform its policies to ones that do not invite such extensive double standards, confusion, and abuse."
SSDP would like to thank the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and our board member Eric Sterling for the essential assistance and guidance they provided to the NIU SSDP chapter.
We also recognize that the situation at NIU is not over. SSDP was instrumental in drawing attention to the unconstitutional policies being unfairly imposed on student groups by the NIU Student Senate and we hope to see those policies changed immediately so that no student group will be discriminated against  based on the nature of what they discuss or promote.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Miley Cyrus and a Bong: Could this be the video that makes salvia illegal?

Move over Wikileaks. We've got Miley Cyrus with a bong. Tripping on Salvia. On camera.

Seriously folks, this could be a big deal for drug policy.

Miley Cyrus practically is America. She's adored by millions of children and adults alike. Her dad is responsible for making the mullet a temporarily acceptable haircut. And now lil' Miley has to go and break his achy, breaky, heart with another bong rip heard round the world (Michael Phelps was the first).

Why should we care? Because this is the sort of crap that American drug policy is crafted on.

Salvia divinorum is a short acting psychoactive herb. It's a member of the mint family and has been used in shaman ceremonies by the Mazatec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico for thousands of years. It has already been banned in a number of states but not because its use was causing significant problems. It's mostly because of high school kids tripping balls for about 5 minutes, video taping it and then posting to YouTube. Then all it takes is a tough on drugs politician to see one of those and you've got a campaign to make salvia illegal - as if the kids in these videos we're using the bong as a paperweight when they weren't legally buying salvia to pack it with. We have news for you - the bong's main use is for smoking pot and that's been illegal since 1937 but no one seems to have a hard time finding any to smoke.

Salvia's effects are not typically considered pleasant by most people. It's definitely not a party drug as the experience can be very intense and spiritual as well as very surprising for the first time user. It's sold in pure leaf forms and in extracts at various strengths. It tastes disgusting and is known for being non-toxic and non-additive. But politicians present it as a serious danger to young people everywhere.

Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Virginia have made Salvia totally illegal - some placing it under Schedule I status. Other states like Lousiana, North Carolina, Tennesse and West Virginia have made it "only legal when not intended for human consumption," essentially leaving it as a research chemical or decorative house plant. California (where Miley is during the incident), Maine and Maryland have taken a more sensible approach and placed age restrictions and laws against providing to underage persons. In Wisconsin you can possess it but you can't grow it, give it away or sell it. And there's a few more states that currently have pending legislation to ban Salvia.

Still, the federal government and DEA has yet to succeed in banning Salvia. But here's why Miley Cyrus could be their secret weapon...

It's the Len Bias effect. Len Bias was a University of Maryland basketball star who was picked up by the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Draft. While celebrating his draft to the Celtics just two days after getting the news, he died of a cocaine overdose. The Speaker of the House at the time was Massachussets Congressman, Tip O'Neill. He was from Boston and when he saw how pissed off Celtics fans were about Bias' death, he seized the opportunity to introduce mandatory minimum sentencing through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. It made Democrats look tough (apparently there once was a time when this was occasionally possible for Democrats). The new laws based sentencing on the weight and type of drug, or the presence of a firearm. It created a 100-1 disparity in the sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine, a disparity that devasted African-American communities and helped to skyrocket America's prison population. It took 24 years to reform that that law with the Fair Sentencing Act which passed this year and didn't do away with the disparity but lowered it to 18:1. It would turn out that Bias didn't even die from crack cocaine, he was using powder.

Here's the thing. Unlike Len Bias, Miley Cyrus doesn't have to die to send parents and lawmakers into a frenzy over salvia. Apparently she doesn't even have to break a single law - what she did was perfectly legal (the real crime was listening to Bush). She just has to appear like she's a normal young adult having fun with her friends and that just maybe, she isn't as cookie cutter perfect as Hollywood makes her seem. This provides politicians with needed support from Americans with love and nostalgia for Hannah Montana.

It's not that the federal government hasn't tried to ban salvia yet. In 2002 the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics successfully stopped Congress from placing salvia in the Controlled Substances Act by arguing that it was inappropriate for scheduling and should be available for research. But politicians didn't have a viral video of a teen pop sensation ripping bongs of a relatively mysterious substance and laughing hysterically in their arsenal then. Almost every lawmaker attempting to outlaw salvia has used YouTube videos of teenagers smoking it as evidence of why it should be prohibited - and there are lots of videos of people smoking this stuff online. Some of them have millions of views. And some show people looking pretty silly.

In 2008 Florida state Rep. Mary Brandenburgh introduced legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Christ making simple possession of salvia a felony that could carry a 5 year prison sentence. The DEA has stated that it could be possible for Savlia users to be prosecuted under the Federal Analogues Act:
"Salvia divinorum, Salvinorin A, and Divinorin A are not listed in the Controlled Substances Act. If sold for human consumption, S. divinorum may be subject to control under the Analogue statutes because of its functional pharmacological similarities to other CI hallucinogens like THC."
-- from DEA Diversion Salvia divinorum Page - Feb 2002
However, the drug resource website Erowid states that the DEA's analysis is flawed as very little is actually known about salvia's pharmacological properties.

So here we have this drug that most people are unfamilar with, a patchwork of state laws prohibiting or restricting the drug all around the country, failed attempts by the feds to make it a Schedule I, ambigous DEA interpertations of how to prosecute people federally and a video of an American teen icon smoking it spreading virally all over the internet. To me, it's a recipe for prohibition that people like this guy are all too willing to cook up...

Former California State Assemblyman Anthony Adams tried to make salvia a Schedule I drug in 2007 but had to settle for age restrictions for purchasing and possessing it - making salvia legal for Miley Cyrus who is 18. Adams is already calling for the federal government to step in because of the Cyrus video. "It's time for state and federal governments to renew their push toward an outright ban" he told TMZ.

I think it's likely that they will. And soon.

I can see it now, "The Saving Hanna Montana from Hallucinogenic Herbs Bill of 2011."

Friday, December 10, 2010

SSDP featured in The Nation magazine

Because of SSDP's expertise in empowering young people to change harmful drug war policies, I was invited to write a feature piece in The Nation magazine's December 27, 2010 issue about how students are motivated to work for marijuana ballot measures, here's an excerpt:

"Watching these young activists voraciously consuming information about how to win an election, just days after a historic loss, was more than invigorating. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Change is coming sooner than anyone believes. And this is what it's going to look like." Read the full article here.

If you appreciate the work that we are doing, please consider making your end-of-year donation to SSDP's work today.

Ducking Obligations: More News about Violence against Children in Mexico

Children in a 2010 Juarez family development agency, from Reuters.

Unpredictable violence in Mexico continues to jeopardize a peaceful childhood. The fighting between security forces and drug trafficking organizations continues to claim the lives of children and their parents, with the former often labelled “collateral damage.”

But as reported last summer Mexican education and public safety officials stated their intention to roll out duck-and-cover trainings in the nation’s schools. The notice came hot on the heels of a spate of violence in Nayarit State, and its governor placed many schools in summer recess a week early.

Now, come winter, Reuters reports that a similar fear for children’s safety has arrived in the Pacific coastal resort of Acapulco. State officials have instituted similar duck-and-cover techniques. This time, though, instructors are not just teaching techniques in classrooms. The public safety officers are also brandishing toy guns that replicate the sound of real guns and making students respond in simulated shootouts.

While all this seems like a normal response to danger – after all, and as is well known, US children experienced such trainings during the Cold War, one wonders if raising children’s personal anxiety is actually permissible under international human rights law.

Mexico’s a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). While the first part of Article 19 of the CRC makes governments responsible for the protection of children from violence, the second part states that the government must roll out social – not individual or personal – programmes to ameliorate children’s welfare.

2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child…

Outside observers have not yet identified what the government is doing in communities such as Acapulco, Nayarit, or Ciudad Ju├írez to follow up after the violence has abated. And since Reuters reported a growing number of orphans from the violence not enrolled in social programs, it’s unclear if the Mexican government is actually attempting to ameliorate the plight of children or just ducking international and domestic obligations.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

SSDP responds to "Operation Ivy League" drug arrests at Columbia University [PRESS RELEASE]

CONTACT: Stacia Cosner, SSDP Outreach Director - 410-299-3433 or
Katharine Celentano, Columbia University SSDP - 914-420-2525 or

NYPD Charges 5 Columbia University students in “Operation Ivy League”
SSDP: Arrests Will Not Reduce Drug Use, But Will Ruin Students’ Lives

NEW YORK, NY. – An aggressive NYPD raid of the students’ school residences was conducted Tuesday morning with students reporting dozens of police cars, dogs, and battering rams surrounding the fraternity houses some of the students were affiliated with. Five students were arrested & charged with drug distribution charges, but one student group on campus says the drug bust is unlikely to have any effect on drug use or availability at the Ivy League school.

“The real problems related to drug use that desperately need to be addressed, such as youth use and addiction, take a backseat to enforcing prohibition”, said Katharine Celentano, a student leader of the group Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) at Columbia. “We certainly do not condone the illegal activities of the students who were arrested, but the reality is that drugs are still here, and this is a problem we can't arrest our way out of."

Stacia Cosner, a national staff member with SSDP adds "such pervasive drug war strategies like those employed Tuesday waste police resources and tax payer dollars and have no clear effect on drug use or availability and could actually make drug problems worse for students who now face scarring experiences within the criminal justice system and enormous barriers to education and career opportunities.” Cosner adds, “and the once promising trajectory for these five young lives with great potential, as Ivy League graduates will be thwarted by these dramatically negative results of a drug conviction.”

Celentano says “continuing such draconian policies will keep drug law violations strictly in the hands of criminal justice, while the public health aspect of drug use is left unaddressed.” She explains, “as long as police resources are being used to enforce strict drug laws, while being diverted from protecting victims from violent crime -- our campus community will continue to bear the social and economic consequences of these realities.”

SSDP emphasizes that mitigating harms associated with campus drug use using the iron fist of law enforcement is not the answer to the question of how to address youth drug use.

# # #

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 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. 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.

# # #

Chapter Leader of the Week: Tom Zocolo, Kent State University

Tom at the 2010 SSDP Conference
in San Francisco
Name: Tom Zocolo
Chapter: Kent State University
Position: President

What was your most exciting experience with SSDP this year? 
Hands down, the Midwestern conference was the most exciting thing to happen both personally and for our chapter at Kent. It was really a monumental planning effort that was well rewarded with both attendance and excitement from the SSDP community at large.

What issues are important for the Kent State SSDP chapter?

Right now our chapter is working towards getting a decrim bill on the  2011 ballot in Kent and other Ohio cities. We're working towards this both for the benefit and protection that such a measures will afford, and as part of a larger effort to encourage public discourse about marijuana legislation that will hopefully lead to Ohio being a medical marijuana state in 2012.  

Do you have any events planned for the this semester? 

Our chapter is planning on holding a music festival  during the spring semester entitled Folk the Drug War Fest that we will use as a platform for outreach about issues such as medical marijuana, harm reduction, and crack/cocaine disparity sentencing.

What do you like best about being part of SSDP?

 I like being a part of ssdp because there is such a tremendous amount of energy and vitality in the movement. It is refreshing to see a large group of my peers who are interested in correcting blatant civil injustice and dismantling one of the most blatantly anti-humanitarian political devices in the world. 

Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders? 

My advice for other chapter leaders: Learn to play the game. Learn how to work the bureaucracy both inside your school and within your community. We are trying to rewrite the way this monster operates and we aren't going to do it with rocks and spears. We need to be refined, professional, composed, and intelligent. We need to be inside of the system and outside of the system at the same time. If you think this sort of philosophy constitutes "selling out" you're misguided.

You need to be bigger than your dreadlocks and tie-dye. You need to be bigger than your suit jacket and your letterhead. Otherwise, you're a slave to something - whether it's the system or your anti-establishment worldview. I can submit this advice only as a humble aspirant to the ideal I put before you. But it is my most sincere hope and, I believe, the key to our collective success that we strive toward this end together.

Northern Illinois University Student Group Denied 
Recognition for Views on Drug Policy (Press Release)

CONTACT: Jonathan Perri, SSDP Associate Director – (401) 265-9445 or

Erik Haslinger, NIU SSDP Publicity Chair – (815) 575-9420

Northern Illinois University Student Group Denied 
Recognition for Views on Drug Policy

Students for Sensible Drug Policy claim the NIU Student Association Senate violated their First Amendment Rights.   

DEKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois University chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy have been denied recognition as an official student organization for the second time after the group refused to classify itself as a political group and asked to be considered a social justice advocacy group. The decision means the group cannot meet on campus, post flyers or apply for funding. However, groups involved in similar advocacy work but on different issues, including anti-abortion groups, are eligible to receive funding.

“It’s clear that the NIU Student Association Senate is incapable of fairly imposing it’s policies on student groups and after speaking with lawyers and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), we believe that the NIU Student Association Senate is in violation of the First Amendment,” explained Jonathan Perri, Associate Director at SSDP. “Unfortunately, it also seems that some members of the Senate are simply opposed to SSDP’s mission to promote an open and rational discussion about alternatives to current drug policies, including marijuana legalization, and that this may be the basis for their decision.”

FIRE and SSDP believe that the Senate has specifically violated all five of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Perri explained that it is uncommon for SSDP to have such difficulty with becoming an official group. “We have chapters on almost 150 campuses around the country and have been active for 12 years. This is the first time I’ve seen such blatant unfairness from a student government and we ask that NIU President John G. Peters immediately intervene and protect NIU student rights.”

SSDP hopes to work with NIU administrators to ensure that student speech and rights are protected for all groups on campus. A petition hosted at has been created, asking NIU President Peters to take action.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 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. 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.
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Thursday, December 02, 2010

SSDP on Drug War and Wikileaks

By now you must have seen the coverage of Wikileaks, the US Embassy, and the Mexican Drug War. And of course there is a slew of coverage in Latin America relating to a number of countries named in documents.

As International Liaison I'll put together a summary of that coverage, where it goes, how the authors read the sources, and how much of a fissure there is emerging in drug policy. I'm looking forward to the reading, and I'll try to report back as best I can.

So, watch this space, SSDP will have something to say about Wikileaks, the Drug War, Latin America, and Asia, to name but a few troubling topics and issues.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Columbia University SSDP now closer to policy change

The SSDP chapter at Columbia University in New York came one step closer to passing a Good Samaritan Policy at the Ivy League school. The Columbia College Student Council and Engineering Student Council have both voted unanimously in support of the policy proposal.

Katharine Celentano, who is this week's featured SSDP chapter leader, says the next step is to bring the policy change to the school's Dean and the senior assistant dean of judicial affairs and community standards who will make the final decision.
Columbia is the only Ivy League school that has not adopted a “Good Samaritan” policy, which advocates like Katharine Celentano, GS and a member of SSDP, say will curb the consequences of alcohol poisoning and drug overdose.

“It’s very important that it’s clearly stated that people aren’t going to get in trouble,” Celentano, an author of the proposal, said. “Making that life-saving call is all about the psychology of the moment.” 
If the proposal passes, it would create official policy allowing students to call the  Columbia University Emergency Medical Services (CAVA) for help during drug related emergencies without the threat of punishment from the school.

Find out more about SSDP's Good Samaritan Policy work here:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Flex Your Rights on Freedom Watch

Our friends Scott Morgan and Steve Silverman of Flex Your Rights discuss their new film 10 Rules for Dealing with Police on Fox's Freedom Watch.

Hosting a screening of 10 Rules for Dealing with Police is an excellent way to recruit new members to your SSDP chapter and to educate your peers about their constitutional rights during police encounters. It also provides a great opportunity to co-sponsor your event with other groups on campus like the ACLU and Students for Liberty.

Flex Your Rights has even put together a helpful guide to hosting a screening that involves, you guessed it, 10 rules.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chapter Leader of the Week: Katharine Celentano, Columbia University

SSDP: When did you first get involved with SSDP?

Katharine: A few years ago, when I wasn't even a student! I was taking time off from school for health reasons. I'd been interested in mental health advocacy since about 6th grade, but my experiences with some self-identifying addicts inspired my interest in drug policy reform more specifically. As stigmatized as I felt for my own struggles, I realized my addict friends had it worse. When I got sick - I went to the doctor. My friends whose illnesses involved behavioral components tied to illegal substances faced incarceration. It was thus, in effect, illegal for them to be sick.

Watching this play out up close made clear to me that The Drug War was actively preventing recovery and instead inadvertently encouraging drug abuse. Several of my friends fatally overdosed or contracted blood borne disease. Too many earnestly working to get better found themselves tangled up in a criminal justice system rife with rape and violence, weighed down with criminal records which barred meaningful access to housing, education, employment, and health care.

The wheels in my head were already turning when one of my active 12-step friends with a significant amount of clean and sober time sat me down to discuss the need to legalize and regulate. He was the first person to ever use the "L" word with me in a serious way. Shortly thereafter, a knee injury left me in bed for a few months with little to do but read - and read I did.

I read everything I could find about drug policy, criminal justice, treatment strategies, mental health, addiction, and so forth, exposing me to other important reasons for a paradigm shift as well - from cancer patients without access to medical marijuana to violence at the U.S./Mexico border to the fact that - hey - not everyone who uses recreational drugs is an addict!

With the data so clearly backing up my concerns, I started to look for ways to get involved, leading me to SSDP. Not yet back in school, but still a young person, I explained my situation via the form on the website. Amber Langston, the Northeast regional outreach director at the time called me promptly - amazing! I started familiarizing myself with the movement, started working with LEAP and booking gigs for their speakers - often through SSDP chapters, attended the 2010 SSDP Conference in San Francisco (where I met Aditya Mukerjee, CU SSDP's president), and now I'm attached to an actual chapter at Columbia where I've matriculated.

SSDP: What issues are important for your chapter (Columbia University, New York, NY)?

Katharine: Recently we've focused on harm reduction, marijuana law reform, and policing practices, and we are excited to continue to respond to and work on issues relevant to our members, campus, local community, and the broader movement.

SSDP: Does Columbia SSDP have any events planned for the this semester?

Katharine: So far, we've hosted speakers from our own faculty as well as LEAP, DPA, and The Legal Aid Society, screened "10 Rules," traveled to D.C. for the Rally to Restore (Drug Policy) Sanity, phone banked for Prop 19, tabled for the Just Say Now petition and also with the Iranian Students Association on syringe exchange.

We are partnering with CUHRON (Columbia University Harm Reduction Outreach Network) and The Washington Heights CORNER Project (a local syringe exchange) to coordinate harm reduction efforts across all schools at the university as well as within the community beyond campus. We’re also hoping to hold a discussion before finals on the Four Loko fiasco. Plus, we have all sorts of (really exciting!) things in process for next semester - stay tuned!

SSDP: What do you like best about being part of SSDP?

Katharine: Students are only part of campuses for a finite amount of time. We are presented with a unique opportunity to engage students on the topic of drug policy in a serious way in the context of a scholarly community during a formative period of their lives. SSDP is on the front lines of the paradigm shift.

SSDP: Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?

Katharine: The Drug War hurts everyone - so everyone is your base, even if they don't realize it yet. Do not limit yourself. Avoid partisanship. People get involved with drug policy reform for many reasons - always challenge yourself to think beyond the reasons that you or your members got involved. Find out what people already care about on campus, and meet them there. Try not to get too angry at those who disagree with you - people often disagree out of deep caring (coupled with misinformation).

Your opponents can become your biggest and often most powerful allies. If someone winces at your petition drive, ask them why with compassion. Maybe they've lost a family member to addiction - meet them with open arms, acknowledge their suffering, and explain why what you're doing directly addresses their pain. And my favorite piece of advice: this is about more than marijuana. Marijuana is a detail. Make sure your campus understands you know this.

Be aware of stereotypes, and then smash them! Oh, and network - on and off campus - across all disciplines. Politicians. Activists. Student leaders. Faculty. Health care providers. Patients. Business leaders. Clergy. Community organizers. Administrators. Journalists. Everyone. Invest in business cards. Present professionally.

SSDP: Anything else you'd like to add?

Katharine: I don’t use any drugs recreationally - not even alcohol. Yah, not even a sip of champagne at weddings. If you are confused by my involvement with the movement in light of this, stick around to learn more, because it sounds like you may hold stereotypes about drug policy reform(ers) as inaccurate as the ones I once held. I welcome you!

P.S. If you know anyone in the abstinence based recovery community (provider, client, 12-stepper, family member, etc.) who's supportive of reform, please get them in contact with me. I'm working on something awesome. Confidentiality will be respected.

12 NV Students Suspended for Pro Legalization Signs

Last week, 12 students at Carson Valley Middle School in northern Nevada were suspended after putting up signs advocating for the legalization of marijuana.
Carson Valley Middle School Principal Robert Been said the signs, including ones reading "Legalize Weed" and "Free the Weed," violated a policy requiring all signs to be approved by staff before being displayed.

The group hung nearly 30 signs at the Gardnerville school, about 50 miles south of Reno, after three classmates were taken into custody on suspicion of smoking marijuana next to campus on Nov. 9. Most signs urged authorities to "free" the trio.
This makes me wonder, if the students had put up anti-legalization signs without having them approved first, would they still have been suspended? I'm willing to bet the answer to that question is no.

This case is similar to Morse v. Fredrick, also known as the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case that went all the way to the supreme court. SSDP filed an amicus brief in that case and in the end, it was ruled that students cannot be punished for practicing free speech concerning drug policies at school, including marijuana legalization,  but can be for encouraging the use of drugs.
Thankfully the Supreme Court agreed with the arguments SSDP set forth in our brief, limiting punishable speech to that which expressly promotes drug use.  In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts states: “[T]his is plainly not a case about political debate over the criminalization of drug use or possession.”  In a concurring opinion, Justices Alito and Kennedy joined with the majority, with the understanding that the ruling “provides no support for any restriction of speech that can plausibly be interpreted as commenting on any political or social issue, including speech on issues such as ‘the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.”
I think the administrators at Carson Valley Middle School need to play Bong Hits for Jesus - The Game!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chapter Leader of the Week: Angela Shen, UCSD

Name: Angela Shen
Chapter: University of California, San Diego
Position: President

What was your experience working on the Prop 19 campaign like?  

Working on the Prop 19 campaign was definitely an interesting experience. Prior to this quarter, our SSDP chapter was just a humble gathering of a few like-minded individuals. We saw Prop 19 as a chance to really expand our organization and get our name out there, so we poured pretty much all of our free time into making this possible. Weekly meetings and events, tabling on campus every day - running a campaign is exhausting! But at the same time, it was definitely fun. 
We held a bake sale to raise money, got some amazing speakers to come through, and Dr. Bronner's Firetruck came to our campus twice. How can anything that involves talking about marijuana legalization and handing out stickers that say "Yes We Cannabis" not be fun? In the end, we did get our name out there and created some great relationships with other student organizations like Young Americans for Liberty, who brought famous LEAP speaker Judge Jim Gray to our school and graciously put our organization as a co-sponsor. 
Even though the Prop didn't pass, I feel optimistic for 2012. 3.4 million people voted for it - if we all convinced just one other person to vote for legalization in 2012, we'll win in a landslide!

What issues are important for your chapter? 
Real drug education and harm reduction are issues that our chapter is interested in addressing in the future.

Do you have any events planned for the this semester? 

We have a radio show at the on campus station called "Higher Education with SSDP."  Weekly installments where we focus on the effects of different drugs (and play appropriate music) is an idea that we've been tossing around and will probably implement next quarter. 
Collaborations with other student organizations are definitely going to happen as well. 

What do you like best about being part of SSDP? 

The fact that any student can start a chapter and make real, tangible changes about drug policy - something that so urgently needs to be addressed - is so empowering! Also, I've met awesome people through this organization. SSDP seriously attracts the coolest people on campus - some of my best friends are people I met through this organization! 
No, really though. I don't care if I'm being cheesy - I heart SSDP!

Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?

Utilize your campus' resources! If you are a registered student organization, you have power! Reach out to the press, other student organizations, and professors. Don't forget to follow up with people that you talk to. That's something that I need to work on. 
Oh and plan ahead! One thing that I wish I had done for the campaign was register more voters - I realized too late that I should have organized voter registration drives at freshman orientations and move-ins over the summer. 
And finally, delegate duties fairly and wisely - utilize everybody who said they'd help!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What does the International Liaison Do?: Notes from a Recent Trip to Mexico

My job makes me feel privileged. I'm the first International Liaison for Students for Sensible Drug Policy. My job enables me to travel outside the US, working with students and youth in other countries to set up SSDP chapters. It's a great task which requires patience and perspicacity to find out what issues and ideas represent the interests of students outside the United States and who might want to form a chapter in their country and join an international youth network.

So far this year SSDP has sent me outside the United States on two occasions. In late August representatives from SSDP in the US and Colombia attended the Second Latin American Drug Policy Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As an organizer, I have to attend conferences to connect with people who might want to help SSDP. In Rio I found drug policy activists from Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay who expressed interest in SSDP's activities. Talking to the representatives of groups from these countries made me feel as though my task could know no limits. But I also know that fruitful organizing emerges from strategic decisionmaking. After four days in Rio, I knew that all of SSDP's international organizing had to focus on Mexico, at least at first. It's one of the most urgent and yet unacknowledged human rights disasters.

Mexico's importance for anti-prohibitionists coincides with my job's remit for a number of reasons. It goes without saying that the US's southern neighbor is in the grips of devastating violence linked to state authoritarianism and drug dealing ferocity. And, since SSDP is a student and youth group, it pains to look at the death toll with an eye to the deaths of people under the age of twenty five. In Northern Mexican states like Sonora, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas the death rate for this group has not just doubled or tripled it has soared. Students have on several occasions been killed by government forces on their campus. An awareness of this situation helped me understand just where students fit in terms of government policy towards their protection, or at least the denial of their protection, even on college campuses that are meant to be autonomous of government intervention -- even down to not allowing police forces to enter the university precincts.

Mexico is important, too, because some of its students -- mostly in the capital's public universities -- form a hard core of anti-prohibitionist consumers. They are sensitized to the way in which they are treated, even as part of a legal scenario that includes decriminalization for small amounts of other drugs. Many students who consume drugs reported ways in which they were treated by authoritarian and corrupt police. Many agents who arrested students I spoke to, failed to respect the legal limits and instead confiscated their drugs and pressured to send them to a judge to face penal sanctions. (The other alternative, under the permissible amounts, is to face treatment.) As in the US with the Higher Education Aid Elimination Penalty, there are ways in Mexico that authorities use to discipline their student body.

But neither of these two bits of data could help me organize meetings with anti-prohibitionist students -- and in a twelve day period. All this data did was enable me to think about what wouldn't work in the Mexican context. It's of little merit to students that the FAFSA can restrict access to education. Similarly, since prisons don't have much to do with the student experience in Mexico, it was difficult to conceive of a presentation which focused on mass incarceration. Instead, when organizing in a foreign country like Mexico, friends -- rather than issues -- count for a great deal. Fortunately SSDP made contact in Rio de Janeiro with a Mexican anti-prohibitionist and pro-regulation group called CuPIHD. And it was CuPIHD that facilitated access to students who might be intersted in SSDP.

All in all I was in Mexico City for almost two weeks in October. In this time my presentations began at CuPIHD in their offices and to about a dozen students. Then I received an invitation to present at the Instituto de Estudios Sociales in the UNAM, to a seminar run by the UN Chair in Drugs and Society, Luis Astorga. After this presentation, I received another invitation to present from students at Mexico's foremost political science faculty, also in the UNAM, the Facultad de Ciencias Politicas y Sociales. Another engagement sprang from that, offering students a pizza lunch near their university. Food was essential to bringing together students who did not know one another to talk about a subject, drugs, that essentially remains taboo in Mexico. After this presentation, and just before I left the country, I accepted an invitation to present at Mexico's foremost technocratic institution, the ITAM. Again, friends were important to set up this final invitation: the Fundacion Nauman, a German educational institution helped me gain access to the ITAM's students.

All told, in a two week period, I introduced SSDP to about 60 students. And I was aware that none of these contacts would occur without friends (CuPIHD) or goodwill (students who recognized that SSDP does care about the Mexican situation.)

And now stateside I am trying to use the data I collected from students in Mexico City to stay in touch with them, to make them feel as though they could benefit from continued interaction and depth of engagement with SSDP. For some, I've been able to continue on conversations by e-mail, Twitter, and FaceBook. But so many students in Mexico don't use the web on a daily basis, nor do they have FaceBook accounts, nor is e-mail universally used for rapid communication. Instead, and now back home, I have to rely on the ones who are committed to organizing in a particular space, but who also use the web.

It's a tough task. But as I wrote I feel more than privileged to do it. And once SSDP has chapters in Mexico City and beyond, they can shoulder the task of responding to the nastiness of the drug war and US support for it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Proposition 19 - Hidden Victories in a Hollow Defeat

A Hollow Defeat?

With 100% of precincts reporting, California’s Proposition 19 fell less than 3.9% short of victory, leaving many in the media to focus on why Prop 19 did not get majority support. Ultimately the failure to pass Prop 19 will prove to be less important than what was gained during the campaign. Besides, how solid of a defeat could it have been when the opposition’s argument of greatest resonance was “if you are going to vote for legalization, this is not the bill to do it with?” That’s a tacit admission by the opposition that legalization is inevitable, a waving of the white flag while simultaneously fighting one last battle. A bizarre political tactic to be sure, but a sign for us that things are headed in the right direction.

So perhaps it is best to view the Prop 19 Campaign in terms of where marijuana reform stood at the beginning of 2010 versus today. These 4 outcomes from the campaign show why despite losing at the polls, Prop 19's legacy will prove to be extremely positive for reformers.

Hidden Victory # 1 - Without the Prop 19 Campagin Schwarenegger Doesn't Sign SB 1149

California’s SB 1449, which essentially decriminalized marijuana in the state, was signed into law because of the Prop 19 campaign (by “Prop 19 campaign” I am principally referring to the efforts of Yes on 19 and Just Say Now). Without the Prop 19 campaign, it is likely that Gov. Schwarzenegger would not have signed the bill. After all, it had been introduced in some form 4 times in the past decade without success. There was little reason to expect this year’s version would fare any better, as Schwarzenegger said, “I am opposed to decriminalizing the possession and recreational use of marijuana.”

However, the unexpected happened when Prop 19 consistently polled for a victory to the surprise of many. At least 10 polls conducted in the weeks and months leading up to the signing of SB 1449 had Prop 19 winning (after the signing of SB 1449, it began to reverse). In a last ditch effort to scuttle Prop 19, the Governor reluctantly signed SB 1449, using the signing ceremony to decry Prop 19 by saying that it “is a deeply flawed measure.” In an effort to defeat Prop 19’s realistic chance of passing, Schwarzenegger chose what he believed to be the lesser of the two evils (decrim). " The success of the Prop 19 campaign forced Schwarzenegger to make a concession previously thought unattainable by many. In terms of the daily lives of Californians, far fewer people are going to have criminal record as a result of the Prop 19 campaign.

Hidden Victory #2 - Behind the Youth Voter Turnout Numbers

Some have suggested that the youth voter turnout in California was disappointing, but that assessment seems inaccurate. The LA Times has said that youth voters made up 13% of the electorate, which may seem low, but according to Rock the Vote, youth voters only accounted for 10.2% of the electorate in 2002 and 11.2% in 2006. This means the youth vote in California this year was proportionately 16% greater than 2006 and 27% more than the 2002 number, hardly something to sneeze at. In fact, there was such a groundswell of college-age voters that many college-area polling stations could not meet the demand and ran out of ballots. What’s more is that these increases were accomplished in the face of SB 1449 being signed right as voter registration efforts were being launched into full gear, which created more difficult circumstances to register youth voters even under these stepped up efforts.

Hidden Victory #3 - Geographic Success with Limited Resources

The Prop 19 campaign was only able to raise about a third of the money predicted necessary to ensure a win on Nov. 2nd. Consequently, there were insufficient staff to run an ideal campaign, which meant efforts could only be focused in certain geographic areas. The campaign made the decision to try to turn out the most voters in areas that were more open to legalization rather than the prohibitionist regions of the state.

In the SF Bay area, where much of the Prop 19 campaign took place, support for Prop 19 was tremendous. Five of the nine bay-adjoining jurisdictions supported Prop 19, all but one by 9 points or more, two with landslide margins of support. In three of those jurisdictions where it did not win, it lost by fewer than 2.5 points. Nearby Santa Cruz supported Prop 19 by over 27 points.

Moving further south through California, the Prop 19 campaign had fewer resources. Support extended down the coast to Santa Barbara, but the campaign lacked the financial resources to crack into Los Angeles and San Diego. However, many of the aforementioned college polling stations that ran out of provisional ballots were in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas. This is further evidence that marijuana legalization truly brings out the youth vote, something the political establishment would be foolish not to consider going into 2012.

A related aspect is impressive number of calls made through the Just Say Now and Yes on 19 phonebanking tools. SSDPers and others from across the country made at least 15,000 calls to California voters, which certainly translated into a stronger total in favor of Prop 19.

Hidden Victory #4 - Experience: Got One Under Our Belt

One of the greatest hidden victories of the Prop 19 campaign was that it trained the emerging generation of marijuana reformers on how to run a legalization campaign, and left virtually all of them wanting to win on this issue in 2012. To be certain, the Prop 19 campaign made its share of mistakes, but given the low expectations of passage, the mistakes made this year will likely not leave much lasting harm and will help pave the way for more successful campaigns across in various states in elections to come. Prop 19 may not have written the history book, but it will have at least written the playbook for success in years to come. (As a sidenote, when the history book is written, it should be recognized that many, if not the majority of those worked for both Just Say Now and Yes on 19 are SSDP students, alumni and/or current/former staff).

Similarly leaving reformers in a better position for future campaigns were the many coalitions forged, signaling the end of marijuana reform being a third rail issue for other advocates of social justice. From organized labor to the NAACP, mainstream organizations began flocking to marijuana reform like never before. Given the prospects for future success, it seems likely that these relationships will last for years to come.

What it All Means

So yes, I am deeply disappointed that we could not get Prop 19 passed this year, but looking at the big picture, the campaign was a categorical success as it resulted in the decriminalization of marijuana in California and brought out an unexpectedly high number of youth voters. The defeat suffered this year should ultimately prove fleeting, and should be viewed as the launching pad for future success. As the LA Times recently noted, the success of the Prop 19 campaign has pushed marijuana reform from the sidelines to the mainstream spotlight, an accomplish. Change in civil rights issues is a long process peppered with numerous defeats, but it is in these defeats where advocates discover what is necessary to win, and few such events have paved a brighter light to ultimate victory than the Proposition 19 campaign.

(thanks to Irina Alexander for editorial suggestions)