Friday, June 11, 2010

Re-living the Magic of the 2010 SSDP Conference

It's been exactly three months since hundreds of students gathered in San Francisco for SSDP's 11th Annual International Conference, "This is Your Brain on Drug Policy". Helping us reflect on the experience, Drew Stromberg, our Production Intern and chapter leader at West Virginia University, created this fun photo compilation video.

Also this week, the August 2010 issue of High Times Magazine hit stands and features the latest SSDP Report column written by Chris Pezza, chapter leader at Front Range Community College in Colorado. In the article, titled "The Power to Change the World", Chris Pezza tells his story of how he got involved in the student movement to end the war on drugs and gave an account of his first SSDP conference experience. For more information on how your chapter can submit articles like this for future SSDP Reports, visit this page on our site.

This video and article do a great job highlighting what it's like to participate in an SSDP conference, but nothing compares to experiencing one first hand. Keep an eye out for details about the date and location of our next International Conference in 2011 by signing up for our Action Alert list and by becoming a fan of us on Facebook.

Visit SSDP at Harmony Festival

SSDP will be out in full force at Harmony Festival 2010  in Santa Rosa, CA this weekend. Come stop by our tent and say hi.

We'll have SSDP gear like t-shirts, tote bags and stickers for sale. We'll be registering people to vote for the November election and I'll also be running a workshop on student activism!

Harmony Festival features 3 bands that are part of SSDP's AMPLIFY Project:

Slightly Stoopid
Toubab Krewe

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How to be a Better Online Activist

Craig Newmark, founder of, has some tips for online activism that will be useful for any SSDP chapter.

1. Power comes in numbers
2. Be useful to others
3. Etiquette still applies
4. Know each site's strength
5. Get to the point
6. Make sure you're right
7. Remember that people are lazy

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Colorado Makes Strides in Marijuana Reform

This week, Colorado became the first state to enact a regulatory system for pre-existing medical marijuana dispensaries. In 2009, when President Obama advised against targeting those in clear compliance with state medical marijuana laws, fear seemed to dissipate as the number of dispensaries in Colorado began to rapidly increase. H.B. 1284, the dispensary regulation bill sponsored by Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs) and signed into law on June 7 by Gov. Bill Ritter (D), creates a clear licensing scheme for this growing industry.
Dispensary owners and operators will now be subject to licensing fees and criminal background checks. Dispensaries will also be required to grow at least 70% of their inventory themselves, and may not operate within 1,000 feet of a school. H.B. 1284 also contains provisions licensing growing operations connected to dispensaries, establishes standards for allowing some on-site consumption of medicine for patients who cannot safely use their medicine elsewhere, and makes medical marijuana purchases for indigent patients exempt from sales tax.

Also on June 7, Gov. Ritter signed S.B. 109, which re-defines the doctor-patient relationship for medical marijuana patients. It requires doctors making medical marijuana recommendations to provide a full physical exam and medical history check before making a recommendation, and to offer follow-up care to patients to determine the effectiveness of their treatment.
These two laws provide more legitimate ground for the medical cannabis industry to expand on. In addition to these new medical marijuana laws, Gov. Ritter signed a third bill regarding marijuana policy. H.B. 1352 increases the amount of marijuana a person may possess to two ounces (previously one ounce) while only being guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine. All of this is a large step towards more sensible drug policies.

H.B. 1248 has caused mixed reactions by dispensary owners, patients and advocacy groups in Colorado. 

Legalizing Marijuana is Top Idea on Republican Voting Site

Currently on the Republican website “”, the issue of Marijuana legalization has become the most voted on issue. In the “Open Mic” section, where web users are encouraged to “start your own debate”, Marijuana legalization stands at the top, with 1,800 votes.

In second place is…also marijuana legalization, with 1,003 votes. If you add up all of the similarly worded marijuana legalization topic votes, vs. all the non-related votes, you get 5,088 votes for marijuana legalization, and 3,097 votes for all other topics. The message is clear: people, on both sides of the aisle, want marijuana legalized. However, Washington, as always, is so far removed from the population at large, and so soaked in both rhetoric and money that you would never be able to tell from Congressional debates on/around the subject that this was the case. Frankly put, the writing is on the wall that this is what the people want, and in addition to outright opposition, you now have a sort of filibuster, or suing for time, taking place on the national level.

Whether it be the Obama administration’s claim that “legalization isn’t in our vocabulary” (see his derision here with commentary from The Young Turks), or our continued support (both direct and indirect) of devastating chemical attacks on the environment in both Mexico and Columbia.

What remains to be seen now is how the GOP will tackle this. In a surprising way, the GOP (often thought of as the more out-of-touch party on this issue), has been much more receptive to its more vocal members in the past few years. The Tea Party Takeover of the GOP has been swift and decisive, and not only are many Tea Partiers in favor of reducing or ending the War on Drugs, but today’s Republican Party is more malleable than it has been in over a decade.

If marijuana legalization takes off in the conservative blogosphere and grassroots networks, then who knows? Maybe the final push drug policy reformers have been waiting for will come from the Right.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Philadelphia's New Marijuana Law Starts Today

In an attempt to unclog their courts, Philadelphia is allowing some marijuana possession charges of one ounce or less to be downgraded from a misdeameanor to a summary offense. Law enforcement will still process the offenders after taking a class and paying a $200 fine, most can have their records expunged. 
Take a class, pay a $200 fine and any record would be expunged - that's what is likely to happen now in several thousand cases a year, said Deputy District Attorney Ed McCann.

Just don't expect hands-off treatment by police, if you're caught with a small amount of marijuana, defined as 30 grams or less.

"You're still arrested, you're still brought in, you're still fingerprinted, you're still given a prelim," said Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office.

Only at the preliminary arraignment are procedures changing, as many cases will be "diverted" from misdemeanor charges, said McCann.

That won't be automatic either.
Obviously Philly could do more to unclog their court system with marijuana offenders but this is a positive and sensible change. With some more SSDP chapters in PA, maybe we could get other cities to follow suit!

A poll at asked readers "Should marijuana be legalized?" 79% have answered yes.

Rave Deaths May Lead to Ecstasy Hysteria... Again

The tragic deaths of two young men at the POP concert held at the Cow Palace last weekend is already being used by politicians to further misinformation and hysteria about MDMA, the drug more commonly known as ecstasy. Some lawmakers are talking about banning future raves and the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution opposing raves at the venue but this approach is something the government has already tried.

In 2003 the National Institute on Drug Abuse started a campaign to publicize the dangers of ecstasy based on a study that found MDMA caused severe brain damage and that even one dose could lead to Parkinson’s disease. Taxpayers footed the bill to create advertisements showing the frightening images of "brains with holes in them."

It was soon discovered that ecstasy wasn't even used in the study at all (among other flaws); the researchers used only methamphetamine and the study was retracted. But the damage was done and the hysteria caused by this information led to increased punishments and passage of the Reducing America’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act, a bill that allows venue owners to be held accountable for any illegal drug use that occurs in their venues.

What happened at the Cow Palace is more a result of the failures of prohibition policies that push production of MDMA underground, resulting in unknown dosages and purity and make sales lucrative for drug dealers. Worse, laws like the RAVE Act leave concert promoters afraid to make available any type of harm reduction information that explains simple ways to reduce the possible harms related to ecstasy use for fear of being accused of condoning drug use and losing their business. Even providing plenty of free water for concert goers at an event like POP could land the event producers in trouble. It's not unlikely that free water, pill testing and harm reduction information may have prevented these deaths:
Daly City police homicide investigators would not comment about the deaths, but hospital officials have said the victims were suffering from severe dehydration consistent with taking ecstasy and dancing in a hot, enclosed environment without drinking water. The combination can cause kidney failure.
Police set up a sting operation called "eBuy4" and there were nearly 80 arrests at this event. Police say they seized 800 ecstasy tablets and other drugs including LSD, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. When a sting operation yields 80 arressts, 800 "ecstasy" pills and the seizure of other drugs yet we still have 2 deaths and other injuries, do we need more proof that prohibition doesn't work?

If the goal of making these arrests is to reduce the number of people that get hurt from taking drugs, it should strike us all as strange that more effort is made to make these arrests than there is to make non-biased evidence based harm reduction information available.     (I tried to find out more about the eBuy4 operation and ended up at Fugitive Watch, a group that wants to make communities safer by helping law enforcement. In their ripe with misinformation post about the Cow Palace incident, they have an advertisement linked in the word ecstasy, for discounted pharmaceutical pills like Valium).

Ecstasy tablets are notoriously impure and often contain cheaper stimulants like caffeine, amphetamine, methamphetamine and DXM. Of the 800 "ecstasy" tablets seized at this event, it would not be surprising if half of them contained no MDMA at all. found that in 2009, about 9% of the tablets they tested contained only MDMA.  26% contained a mix of MDMA and other substances and 64% did not contain any MDMA at all. Considering this and the fact that toxicology reports for both the deaths that occurred will not be released for another 8 weeks, it is odd that some police officers are claiming that "tainted drugs" were not involved in the deaths and that it was an overdose from ecstasy.

In all respects, MDMA in its pure form seems to be a relatively safe substance. Hundreds of millions of doses of the drug are taken each year and we hardly ever hear of overdose deaths. When simple precautions are taken, like staying properly hydrated and understanding possibly dangerous interactions with other substances, the chances of any negative side effects occurring when taking MDMA are greatly reduced.

The rush to squish rave culture is misguided and unfair. It's based on hysteria and misinformation about ecstasy. Frankly, you're likely to find more problems occurring at a Dave Matthews Band concert than you will at a rave. Fatal drunk driving accidents involving people coming home from rock concerts or football games occur far more often than deaths at raves or deaths caused by ecstasy use alone. We don’t see any politicians actively engaged in banning football games because it is an unfair and backwards way of dealing with the problem.

Like any drug, MDMA use carries risks but banning raves or increasing penalties for ecstasy possession clearly makes the problem worse. It provides an easy way for politicians to appear tough on the drug but this “war on drugs” mentality is becoming outdated and if it worked in the first place, young people wouldn’t have easy access to drugs. Once again, lawmakers are using the "what about the children?" argument while ignoring the science about MDMA.

Policymakers should get smart about drug use and support repeal of the RAVE Act which would allow event producers to provide plenty of free water, places for people to rest, harm reduction information and even pill testing without fear of losing their livelihood.

NJ Marijuana Initiative Signatures Away from Qualifying for Ballot

 If you think your tax dollars and police resources would be better spent on violent crimes rather than on enforcing marijuana possession laws, now is the time to do something about it! Help is needed to make possession of marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority in New Brunswick.

Sensible New Brunswick
was created last year by local student activists who have been have been doing everything they can to make this policy change happen. They need your help to get the final petition signatures and need petitioners like you to help reach their goal in the next two weeks.

Any amount of time you can spare will really make a difference, so please  VOLUNTEER TODAY if you are interested in helping to collect petition signatures. 

Because many students have gone home for the summer, volunteers are more vital than ever to the success of this campaign. Once the required amount of signatures have been collected, then the voters of New Brunswick will be able to cast their vote on this issue during this November's election. Several cities have successfully implemented such a change in the law. Read more about lowest law enforcement priority initiatives here.

There is less than a month left until the deadline for ballot initiatives to be included on November's ballot, so please don't hesitate to contact to see when and where you can get involved.  

Forward this message to family and friends who might be willing/able to volunteer. 

Monday, June 07, 2010

Washington Enacts "911 Good Samaritan" Law

On Thursday, Washington is set to become the 2nd state with a "911 Good Samaritan" Law, aimed at getting immediate medical attention to someone suffering from a drug overdose. The law would enable people to make responsible decisions by granting immunity to those who call 911 to get help for anyone showing signs of an overdose. It would protect the caller and the victim of the overdose from any drug possession charges. This is important because the threat of punitive policies often cause hesitation in calling for help during overdose emergencies. 

Currently, over 90 college campuses have enacted Good Samaritan/ Medical Amnesty Policies that are similar to these statewide policies. More than half of these campus policies cover situations involving all substances, while just under half cover only those involving alcohol. Many of these policies were created and implemented by SSDP chapters through the Campus Change Campaign. It is important to ensure that people are able to receive immediate medical attention, regardless of what they overdosed on. Nothing constitutes the involvement of drugs other than alcohol as a reason to deny somebody life saving treatment.

With the hopes of reducing the harms associated with drug use/abuse, Washington's law also includes provisions for greater access to a prescription medication that counters the effects of an opiate overdose. Naloxone is frequently used by doctors and paramedics as an antidote for heroin, methadone, or OxyContin overdoses. The new law allows doctors to prescribe the medication not only to those at high risk for an opiate overdose, but also to those who are likely to witness an overdose, such as family members of people who are on high doses of prescription pain medication. Statistics indicate that since 2001, the drug reversed the effects of nearly 2,500 opiate overdoses. Eventually, the drug could be distributed through public health departments to heroin users; similar to clean-needle exchange programs. Sadly, Washington's law comes too late for a 16 year old girl who died after drinking and reportedly taking ecstasy and whose friends would not bring her to the hospital after she showed signs of an overdose for fear of getting in trouble.

Although this legislation is completely sensible, Washington is only the second state to enact a "911 Good Samaritan" law. The legislation is modeled after New Mexico's statewide policy. These policies remove the hesitation caused by fear of punishment and give people the confidence to make a life-saving call. It is a preemptive policy that promotes responsible behavior rather than a reactive policy that rewards responsible behavior after the fact.

Ordinance Set to Close More Than 400 Dispensaries in Los Angeles

The L.A. City Council approved a city ordinance that limits the number and locations of medical cannabis dispensing collectives in Los Angeles months ago. Today, the deadline is in effect for collectives to comply with the ordinance. Collectives that registered with the city before 2007 will be able to remain, as long as they are not within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, and other public gathering sites. This will force more than 400 medical cannabis dispensaries into new locations or to close down completely.

While regulations are necessary and welcomed, LA's regulations seem to be excessive.  Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project explains it well:

"This new ordinance is all but guaranteed to have a disastrous impact on Los Angeles. By imposing zoning laws on medical marijuana collectives that are stricter than those for gun dealers, adult entertainment businesses, alcohol vendors, or pharmacies, the city is placing an undue burden on thousands of medical marijuana patients whose quality of life may depend on safe and reliable access to their medicine. There is no rational reason to impose stricter regulations on medical marijuana collectives than on liquor stores, which sell a substance that everyone knows is more harmful than marijuana and doesn't require a doctor's recommendation to purchase. With so many collectives being forced to close shop, many patients whose neighborhood dispensaries close will no doubt turn to the criminal market to obtain their medicine. That means sales taxes won't be paid on those transactions, it will be impossible to monitor the quality or origin of that marijuana, and the typical turf wars and crime associated with black markets will become more prevalent in surrounding communities.

"Even in terms of simple economics, closing these businesses makes entirely no sense," Smith continued. "Why, in the midst of a recession, in a city already plagued by economic stagnation, would anyone think it's a good idea to shutter more than 400 legitimate businesses that employ hundreds of residents and contribute millions in tax revenue? More empty storefronts are not the solution to L.A.'s financial woes."
Unfortunately, it is common for a medical cannabis dispensary and it's patients to be alienated, rather than embraced in a community. Many neighborhood residents have the misconception that a dispensary in their area would lead to an automatic increase in crime, this is just not true. A medical cannabis dispensary is there to provide safe access to medicine for their patients. Legitimate collectives also pay taxes, create jobs, and ideally, improve the community by giving back. 

SSDP's New Executive Director: Aaron Houston

After an exhaustive three-month search, SSDP is thrilled to announce that Aaron Houston will be our next executive director.  Aaron has worked for Marijuana Policy Project for the past seven years, serving as their national field director and director of government relations. He led the way to numerous victories, including the Department of Justice's memo on medical marijuana last year.  His notoriety in DC can be measured by his many television appearances, including a universally coveted guest spot on The Colbert Report.

In addition to his work in drug policy, Aaron has experience in student organizing, serving as the executive director for the Colorado Student Association in Denver.  This week Aaron begins what we hope will be the longest ED tenure in SSDP history.

It's thanks to SSDP's explosive growth over the past years and its many local successes that a veteran like Aaron has decided to take the helm.  But despite our growth in numbers, our budget has remained relatively unchanged.

We can't take SSDP to the next level without your help.

Ensure SSDP's continued growth and efficacy and welcome Aaron to the team by making a donation online RIGHT NOW!