Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NFL Pro Bowler Flexes Rights During Police Encounter and Wins

One of my favorite things I've been able to do through SSDP is present information on how to handle yourself in a police encounter. A question commonly asked during this sessions is, "what's the of point denying consent to a search? If a cop wants to search your car, they'll search it anyway." Well, NFL Defensive Tackle and former Florida State University student Darnell Dockett successfully asserted his rights yesterday during a police encounter Monday. Darnell even provided play-by-play live Tweets of the police stop!

The Tweets are understandably abrasive in tone (and profanely hilarious), but tell the story Dockett maintaining his cool and display his willingness to wait out the officers who had no grounds for a search. Because Dockett asserted his rights, he came out a winner.

To further address the question posed earlier in the post, yes, it is true the police may decide to violate your rights and search without your consent. BUT... by denying consent to all police searches, you have a much better chance winning in court. The consequences for failing to deny consent to a search may range from destruction of your property (if the police break your stuff during a search you consented to, good luck getting compensation) to conviction and jail time for a crime you may not have even committed. Be respectful and courteous, but be sure to deny consent.

For more information on how to handle police encounters like a pro, check out our friends, Flex Your Rights, and their outstanding rights training movie, 10 Rules for Dealing with the Police.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Update from the Green Room at NBC News in Washington, D.C.

I shot this video blog clip with my cell phone from inside the green room at NBC News on Capitol Hill right before I appeared on CNBC. I thought you may be interested to see what it looks like inside. Keep checking back here for video blog updates during this week of events highlighting the 40th anniversary of President Nixon declaring the "War on Drugs."

You can watch the full clip of my appearance on CNBC here.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mexico City Students Invite All to 40th Anniversary Vigil

17 June 2011

Where: Kiosco de Coyoacan, Coyoacan Centro

When: 19:00 distribution of candles; 20:00 lighting of candles

Please click on the image to view the invitation.

Russia's Draconian Tactics Aimed at Drug Users

"A total war on drugs" was just announced by the Speaker of the Russian Duma, Boris Gryzlov. The Guardian reports that Gryzlov, a close ally of Prime Minister Putin, wants drug dealers "treated like serial killers."

The hard-line, criminal justice approach flies in the face of recent suggestions to treat drug use as a public health issue. The Russian Government immediately dismissed the suggestion last week of the Global Commission on Drugs calling the report "propaganda" for drugs.

Gryzlov said abuse was soaring, and that it "threatened the gene pool." His proposed measures include special punishments for dealers, such as forced labor camps. For users, he calls for "prison or forced treatment."

Drug policy reformers immediately pointed to Russia's poor record of dealing with HIV infection among drug using populations. In many countries, the HIV infection rate among intravenous drug users hovers around 1 to 2 percent. In Russia overall, 16 percent of intravenous drug users are infected with HIV, and in St. Petersburg, that figure rises to around 60 per cent.

Will the initiative pass the Duma? The Guardian reports that Gryzlov has the support of United Russia, the ruling party, which also exerts power over the Parliament.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Action Alert: Help prevent overdose deaths in NY!

Here in New York, we've been hard at work trying to pass an Good Samaritan (or Medical Amnesty) bill that would protect individuals from criminal prosecution when calling 911 in an alcohol or other drug related medical emergency. This life-saving overdose prevention bill passed through the State Assembly last week and now we only have a few days left of the legislative year to get it through the Senate.

It is crucial that we flood Senator Skelos's office with calls urging his support in the next 24 hours to make sure this life-saving bill becomes a live-saving law next week!

Call Senator Dean Skelos, the New York Senate Majority Leader, at (518) 455-3171 and urge him to consider the following:
- S4454A has been carefully crafted to save lives while not allowing drug dealers to "walk free"
- The Assembly version of this bill will save lives and should pass without amendments
- Senators on both sides of the aisle have already expressed their support for the bill as currently written and no amendments are necessary for it's passage

Your supportive calls last week on this issue caused Senate Majority Leader Skelos to take notice! It's looking likely that this bill will pass, but now some are calling for amendments to weaken the bill and we need to make our voices heard.

After you call his office, we'd love to hear how it went, so let us know here. If you don't live or go to school in New York, than please pass this around to friends! We've got to act now and we can't do it without your help.

The Power of Student Activism

Check out our very own David Haseltine, president of the University of Connecticut SSDP chapter, on Huffington Post talking about how SSDP helped pass Connecticut's new marijuana decriminalization law. Go David!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Make your voice heard at the UN

From our friends at Avaaz.

To Ban Ki-moon and all Heads of State: We call on you to end the war on drugs and the prohibition regime, and move towards a system based on decriminalisation, regulation, public health and education. This 50 year old policy has failed, fuels violent organised crime, devastates lives and is costing billions. It is time for a humane and effective approach.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

(Moving) Office Space, SSDP-Style (VIDEO)

After about a decade in our national headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, this is our last day here. While we're sad to say goodbye, we're excited about our new office space in downtown Washington, D.C. We'll tell you more about our new space soon and include some video. But for now, remember that part from the movie, Office Space, where employees took a baseball bat to the hated printer?

Please enjoy this video of our Associate Director, Stacia Cosner, totally destroying trashed office furniture with a baseball bat so that it can be transported to the dump. Dedicated readers may recall that Stacia represents SSDP on the Capitol Hemp One-Hitters, a team in the Congressional Softball League made up of drug policy reform activists, so it shouldn't be any surprise that she's got a mean swing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's just a softball game ...vs. the Drug Czar's team

SSDP is the official sponsoring organization for The One Hitters, a co-ed recreational softball team in the Congressional League in Washington DC, established in 2002 our team is comprised of individuals who work for or support marijuana and other drug law reform. This year, we're officially 2-1 so far, but if I do say so myself, we're not too shabby.

Being in the Congressional League, we play some interesting teams, such as those who work for various Congressional offices, government institutions, advocacy groups, law firms, and others. Perhaps the most unlikely match up for a league softball game would be The One Hitters vs. The Czardinals, which is the Office of National Drug Control Policy's team. We were thrilled earlier this season when our respective coaches scheduled a game between the two teams! But then for some reason, The Czardinals cancelled on us ...again.

The One Hitters is a co-ed softball team established in 2002
in the Congressional League in Washington, DC comprised of individuals
who work for or support marijuana and other drug law reform.

contact: OneHittersSoftball@gmail.com


One Hitters Burned Again By Timid Czardinals

Office of National Drug Control Policy Backs Out of Softball Game with Drug Policy Reformers

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Once again, the softball team representing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has backed out of playing a Congressional Softball League game against the One Hitters, a team consisting of members of several drug policy reform organizations and others who support ending the “war on drugs.” A game between the two teams had been scheduled for May 25, but the ONCDP Czardinals pulled out shortly after scheduling the game, with ONDCP public liaison coordinator Quinn Staudt citing an “accidental double-booking.”

This is not the first time the Czardinals have refused to play the One Hitters. In 6 years, the team found one reason or another to avoid taking the field against this team of individuals dedicated to reforming the out-of-date and ineffectual policies promoted by the ONDCP.

This behavior is being mimicked on the national stage by the ONDCP as well. While drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has stated that he will no longer use the rhetoric of a “war on drugs” and President Obama said that he wants to move to treat drug abuse as a health problem rather than a criminal justice problem, little has been seen in the way of action in that direction. The President has also said that he does not support the legalization of any drug, even marijuana, despite the inarguable damage marijuana prohibition does to society, individual users, medical patients that benefit from marijuana treatments, governmental budgets, and respect for the rule of law.

"It is really disappointing that the ONDCP not only refuses to have an honest debate with drug policy reformers about the absolute failure of drug prohibition, but also keeps ducking out of softball games with us,” said One Hitters team captain Jacob Berg. “We think it would be a great opportunity to advance the discussion between drug law reformers and the people ostensibly in charge of drug policy in this country. I wonder if they are afraid to have that conversation. The drug czar said ‘legalization’ isn't in his vocabulary, but it's just a friendly softball game!"

The One Hitters hope the Czardinals will put aside ideological differences and accept their invitation to play a softball game this summer on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Delaware Governor Signs Medical Marijuana Bill

This morning, Delaware Governor Jack Markel signed the state's medical marijuana bill into law, making Delaware the 16th state to have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The bill received final legislative approval Wednesday. A spokesman said Markell wanted to sign the measure as quickly as possible because of the lengthy time that will be needed to get a state-run system for distributing medical marijuana up and running. 
The new law allows people 18 and older with certain serious or debilitating conditions that could be alleviated by marijuana to possess up to six ounces of the drug. Qualifying patients would be referred to state-licensed and regulated “compassion centers,” which would be located in each of Delaware’s three counties. The centers would grow, cultivate and dispense the marijuana.
Congratulations to Delaware for implementing sensible policy! Now we'll just have to wait and see if Gov. Markel gets a threatening letter from the DoJ...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Case of Mexico: The Banality of Being Against Drug War Violence

You know the context in Mexico by now.

If not, you can read about a protest SSDP-University of Oregon organized to coincide with Cinco de Mayo. This group used 36 people in a fall-down protest to signal, 1,000 for each person, the number of fatalities in the Mexican-US drug war since 2006.

And follow this sequence of events: Felipe Calderon comes into the presidency in 2006. He starts a war against drug traffickers. Even with, or perhaps partly a result of placing military as police in Mexico's cities streets and highways, the homicide rate soars. The US through the State Department and the Merida Initiative has pledged up to US$1.4 billion for a militarized campaign, and funds to revamp the criminal justice system towards greater openness.

None of these strategies has calmed the violence. By mid-2006 36,000 people have died; a quarter of a million have disappeared; the world's most dangerous city Juarez, on the US-Mexico border, has shed a quarter of a million inhabitants; Mexico is the world's most dangerous place for journalists; and nobody knows how many orphans this violence has produced, and what sort of a response Mexico's psychological services can provide. We know that forensic medical workers are overworked. These statistics and facts mean that more people have become caught up in webs of violent death, many and perhaps most just minding their business while the army, police, and drug trafficking organizations fight over the sovereignty to control an illicit, prohibited market.

These are the broad facts which comprise the context, ever-changing as it tends to be. And of course, since the country is at war, there are many more facts, most of them macabre. Many of them registered as barbarities. And within such bleakness, several protest movements have arisen.


It was inevitable. Mexico can sometimes be a country of protests, and when problems become massive and intractable, so resistance to those problems has the likelihood of being large. It happened with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional from 1994 - 2001, commonly known as the Zapatistas. It happened with the student strikers who shut down the National Autonomous University, the UNAM from 1998 - 1999. These are two massive movements considered to have undermined the Partido Revolucionario Institucional's seventy year hold over power from 1930 - 2000.

Mexico's mass protest movement du jour, popularly known as the Marcha por La Paz, was brought together by Javier Sicilia, a little known poet, writer, and Catholic militant after his son, Juan Francisco, and six other youngsters were killed in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. It is a tragic case. And perhaps because the case comes from middle Mexico, those not-quite-well to do folk, who live on the precipice of Mexico's political economy including many in the middle class, it played better in the media. After a while, and with discontent in politics at new heights, Javier Sicilia, a drug war victim, embraced the role of reformer of the state. The most consistent demands from Sicilia concern democracy, security, and justice.

Sicilia's demands have nothing to do with ending prohibition, and nobody in his movement has said very much about what happens to Mexican sovereignty when US anti-drug interests rule Mexico's political economy. This means that whatever suggestions Sicilia makes regarding democracy, security, and justice, his protests will have missed explaining why the Mexican drug war exists. In almost all of the news coverage after the march on Sunday, correspondents allowed marchers to describe the problems coonfronting the country through its drug war: the crisis of the presidency, continuing corruption, impunity, no opportunities for young and old. Almost NONE of these articulations concerned dismantling prohibition, a form of organizing the state's violence against drugs which has so clearly undermined democracy, security, and justice in a number of countries around the world.

This means that, in the current Mexican case, being against the drug war does not necessarily mean being against prohibition.

And it means that once again, coalitions -- which includes SSDP -- like those led by the Drug Policy Alliance will want to continue to pressure all political actors in Mexico, those in mass movements, and those in formal politics, of the need for anti-prohibition as the central, complex, rationale, sound, pacific policy choice through which advances in security, democracy, and justice will eventually flow.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Remembering Rachel Hoffman: Third Anniversary

Today marks the third anniversary of the murder of Rachel Hoffman, a former SSDP member and 23 year old graduate of Florida State University. Rachel was murdered by two drug dealers after the Tallahassee Police Department pressured her to become an informant in an undercover sting operation, promising to keep her safe, only to lose track of her.

Despite only finding 4 ecstasy pills and a few ounces of marijuana in her home, the police department asked Rachel to purchase 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine, and a handgun (which was contrary to department policy as it opened the opportunity for the suspected criminals to explain the presence of the gun), using $13,000 cash in a buy-bust operation. She was murdered with the very gun police had sent her to buy. Rachel's lawyer, family, or the state prosecutor were never informed about the operation and after her murder, the Tallahassee Police Department held a press conference to blame her for her own death.

Three years later, this tragic loss of life must serve as a reminder of the need for reform of drug policies nationwide. It must remind those in defense of such policies that they simply don't work. More than that, it must help us all to change our mindsets about the relationship between people and drugs. This drug war has grown so large and seemingly unstoppable that its supporters no longer seem to care about measuring it's success. Rachel was labeled as a being some sort of drug kingpin despite only a few ounces of marijuana being found in her home. Now she's gone and the two drug dealers that murdered her are behind bars for life. If the drug war works, and this is what is called success, then no one should be able to find and use marijuana in Florida anymore right? We all know that's not true.

Margie Weiss, Rachel's mom, fought hard for the introduction and passage of Rachel's Law to help prevent more young people from being taken advantage of by police as informants. The law passed in 2009 and established minimum standards that law enforcement must meet when dealing with informants. Under Rachel's Law, law enforcement must "take into account a person's age and maturity, emotional state and the level of risk a mission would entail." It also prohibits police from promising informers more lenient treatment. 

The Purple Hatters Ball, a music festival to benefit the Rachel Morningstar foundation and celebrate Rachel's life and energy is taking place next weekend in Live Oak, FL. Named after the bright purple top hat Rachel would wear to concerts, the festival features lots of great live music and embraces Rachel's passion for life.

We wish the best for the Hoffman family and thank them for their strength and determination to bring change to Florida's criminal justice system.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Somethin's Happenin' Here: Mexican Youth Congress Formulates Anti-Violence Strategy

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the center of the drug war exists in Washington, D.C. With all the bloviating, all the Congressional handwringing, all the dissimulating by the White House's Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske and all the hardheadedness of the DEA head Michelle Leonhart, the power of prohibition does seem to lie within the DC Beltway.

But what is going on in Cuernavaca, a city south of Mexico City? And how does it concern youth and students who oppose the drug war?

First, the context: in Cuernavaca, at March's end the son of a somewhat famous poet and writer -- Juan Francisco Sicilia, father Javier Sicilia -- died in despicable circumstances, along with six of his friends, all of whom were dumped in a car in Cuernavaca. In his anguished wrath, Javier Sicilia blamed Felipe Calderon's failure of a drug war. With 35,000 dead and his son and friends more statistics, Sicilia projected publicly a letter to the president which protested all violence, repeating time and again that they were all fed up with a type of imagination in public life that led only to death.

Sicilia soon commanded a massive social movement, whose first action, a march in Cuernavaca, attracted more people than at any time in its history. At the march, Sicilia called for national and international marches against violence and the drug war at the beginning of May.

A vibrant, viable social movement comprised of youth and students has emerged within this context. Last weekend, on 28 and 29 April, youth and students from all over Mexico convened an emergency national congress. In a post from the Americas MexicoBlog, on-the-ground-correspondents reported the proceedings and an outcome. What emerged was a complex document that defines what Mexican youth and students want from their government.

Among other things, the document demands reforms in the following areas:

  • Immediate Demilitarization: The War on Drugs is a War Against the People; Its US origins violate Mexican national solidarity; Youth have already won a major victory, curbing national military service and converting it to social service.

  • End the Violence and Impunity: The systemic violates human rights, and negatively affects women, young girls and boys, and youth.

  • Decriminalization of Drug Consumption: The drug war must be seen as a public health problem; legalization must be debated, and prohibition opposed as it enriches the political class and drug traffickers.

  • Lives with Dignity: Death lives among urban and rural marginalized populations, neoliberal policies have inflicted instability and misery in people's lives, making them move, making low-level drug trafficking a survival strategy.

  • Art and Culture for All: Decommodifying artistic and cultural expressions.

  • Education: Guaranteed access for all and policies that promote human liberation tied to creativity.

The Youth Declaration embraces a new type of anti-prohibition, an anti-violence strategy national in scope and local in significance. It defines the next steps to follow in order to secure the objectives, outlined above.

- Convene a plural, inclusive, democratic space to discuss and construct the proposal of our Pact for Rebuilding the Nation on May 9 at 10 in the morning at the Journalists’ Club (Club de Periodistas) in Mexico City

- Propose to the new forum that a national body be formed to struggle for Peace with Justice and Dignity

- Organize mobilizations at the headquarters of the institutions responsible for the war

- Occupy symbolic spaces and build organizing centers with regular activities that allow us to have a presence and be a point of reference in the fight for Peace with Justice and Dignity

- Build a strategy to consolidate this process we’ve begun today based on the following initiatives.

- Convene a national meeting in Ciudad Juarez within the framework of the Signing of the Pact, which would follow up on youth networking and organizing

- Convene Committees for Peace with Justice and Dignity in every school, neighborhood, community or work center

- Convene a second Youth Meeting for Sept. 1-3 at UNAM’s University City

- Pay homage to the children and mothers killed in the armed conflict on May 10 in Mexico City’s Zocalo

-National Art and Culture Festival for Peace in Mexico, along with a protest march

- Organize an international academic forum for discussion of the armed conflict and the social problem at its root.

No conclusion yet exists to summarize what is happening in Mexico. The Mexican population of various generations and in various parts of the country seems fed up with Washington's security discourse, promoted by the Calderon government. Something IS happening here. And what is happening stands directly in contrast to the drug war policy objectives of Barack Obama's government.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Better to Live: Mexicans Mobilize against the Drug War

The last few months have seen bodies heaped upon bodies in Mexico. In some cases, the heaping is quite literal: drug graves have been opened up in the northern Gulf state of Tamaulipas, the largest contained almost two hundred people. Authorities sent cadavers to Mexico City for identification by forensic specialists. Though killed by drug gangs, investigators in Tamaulipas suggest that the local police was complicit.

And yet the greatest outcry to this uptick in brutality came in the wake of the deaths of several teenagers in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. Cuernavaca is known as the city of eternal spring, it has an enviable climate: spring, all year round, and is the second home for many Mexico City residents. It's now also known as the place where poet, writer, and journalist Javier Sicilia initiated protests against the Mexican government and its failed drug war policies. Why has Sicilia become an outspokent figurehead for pain? At the end of March, Sicilia had to confront that which all parents fear, the death of his son. Juanelo Sicilia and six other friends were found dead in a car near Cuernavaca, the result of drug war violence.

Deaths in Mexico attributed to the drug war now number 35,000 since 2006. Juanelo Sicilia and his friends are yet more grim statistics. Yet Javier Sicilia decided to use the deaths of his son, and those of his friends, to move people to protest the violence in Mexico, its scope, and President Felipe Calderon's inability to imagine his government acting in ways that do not heighten violence.

At the end of March Javier Sicilia convened a national series of marches. The Cuernavaca march ended up being the largest in the city's history. He also convened more marches for the week of 5 - 8 May. The second Cuernavaca march starts on 5 May and ends in Mexico City's main square, zocalo, on 8 May, a distance of almost 100kms. Many Mexican cities are participating, as are some foreign cities. You can find a list of registered marches, here.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Organizing Tip of the Week: Use Gmail to work smarter, not harder

There are tons of reasons why having a Gmail account is a great idea for your SSDP chapter:
  • easy to remember & promote
  • presents a professional image of your group
  • allows more than just one person to access
  • preserves institutional knowledge
  • ability to utilize other Google services (many chapters find Groups, Documents, Calendar to be particularly helpful)
  • and the list goes on...
It's simple and free to create a Gmail account for your SSDP chapter (ex: RowanSSDP@gmail.com). Then, set it up so that your chapter e-mails get forwarded to your regular e-mail inbox (ex: JaneChapterLeader@gmail.com).

It's easy to forget to check multiple e-mail accounts, so once you've set up forwarding, you'll have all of your messages in one central location. I did this for the first time in 2005 when my @umd.edu e-mail address was created. I didn't like the school's mail program so I had it forward to a @gmail.com account I created and I've never used anything else since.

Share responsibility for managing your chapter e-mail with your other officers. Provide them with the password to access your chapter Gmail account, and show them how to set up forwarding for themselves.

Then you'll all be able to see what messages have been sent, received, and which ones still need to be taken care of. Not to mention, future chapter leaders will likely appreciate having so much institutional knowledge categorized and accessible by searching for key terms or names that appear in older e-mails.

Already an avid Gmail user?
Take organizing to the next level by using Gmail filters to tame your inbox. These are especially useful for managing those useful but often high-volume Facebook notifications.

Sneak a peak inside my own inbox.
Watch this short screencast and you'll see how I set up a new filter, then I'll show you my existing filters --I have more than 50!-- that help me manage my e-mail.

(Sidenote: I used this awesome free screencapture program, Jing, to record this. More on screen sharing and other helpful web tools to come!)

I hope you find this information helpful, stay tuned for more organizing tips of the week by subscribing to the Dare Generation Diary and by joining our community on Facebook.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easy Star All Stars help spread the PA medical marijuana message

When Trevor Hosterman from West Chester SSDP volunteered to table the April 17th Easy Star All Stars/Cas Haley show at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, PA, he had no idea he'd end up on stage with the band. ESAS and Cas Haley are both in the AMPLIFY project family of artists, but not until now has an artist given our chapters such a voice. Here's what Trevor had to say about his experience:

The musical collective and SSDP AMPLIFY member, The Easy Star All Stars, had just wrapped up their set and walked off the stage, leaving the crowd inside the World Café Live in Philadelphia standing on edge, eager to hear more dubbed out tunes. Periodically, over the course of the show, I had held up a PA Medical Marijuana poster that we had been using while tabling the concert. I now found it appropriate to hold up the sign once more while the crowd waited for the All Stars to take the stage for their encore. It was then, that vocalist Kristy Rock walked out on to the stage and pointed at me and asked me to come join the band. I was dumbstruck, but managed to find my way up onto the stage where I came face to face with the crowd, proudly holding my PA Medical Marijuana poster. Once on stage, side by side with Kristy, she smiled at me, and began to tell a story. She spoke of her mother who lives in Denver, and how she is currently battling cancer, and is enduring the process of chemotherapy. Her mother is also a medical marijuana patient, and uses marijuana to help treat the pain and nausea associated with her chemotherapy treatments. Kristy gave a full endorsement of medical marijuana, and then handed me the microphone to inform the audience of our pending medical marijuana bill. I will ask you the same thing I asked the crowd, for those of us who live in Pennsylvania or have friends and family in the state, please encourage everyone you know to contact their state representative by phone, email, or writing a letter, and lets make Pennsylvania the next medical marijuana state!

This is just one example of how SSDP's AMPLIFY project can help your chapter's voice reach more people. The First Light Tour may be coming to a close soon, but you can always keep track of AMPLIFY shows here.

Feds Send Warning to Rhode Island: Compassion Centers Violate Federal Law

Rhode Island's Medical Marijuana Program has been a shining example of a successful and sensible drug policy. Most importantly, it's supported by the state's voters and legislature. But with three non-profit compassion centers set to open in the next few months, the federal government is now threatening it could prosecute in a three page hand-delivered letter to Gov. Lincoln Chaffee: 

"The Act, the registration scheme it purports to authorize, and the anticipated operation of the three centers appear to permit large-scale marijuana cultivation and distribution," Neronha wrote. 
"Accordingly, the Department of Justice could consider civil and criminal legal remedies against those individuals and entities who set up marijuana growing facilities and dispensaries, as such actions are in violation of federal law."
The Edward O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act was enacted in 2006 by the state's legislature. When then Gov. Donald Carcieri vetoed the bill, the legislature overrode him. The same happened with compassion center legislation. 

The law also has support from members of RI's medical community:
  • Rhode Island Medical Society
  • RI Academy for Family Physicians
  • Rhode Island State Nurses Association
  • United Nurses and Allied Professionals
  • AIDS Project Rhode Island
Federal government: Rhode Islanders think our medical marijuana law is wicked awesome and you have better things to do then trample our rights and waste federal resources (don't you?). 

Gov. Chaffee and other elected officials: Tell the Department of Justice to back off. 

*I'm from Rhode Island and was once an intern with the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition

Oklahoma Makes Hash Manufacturing a Felony Punishable by Life in Prison

You read that correctly. The Oklahoma legislature just passed a bill that would make manufacturing hash a felony punishable by life in prison.

the bill met little to no opposition and is now awaiting the signature of Governor Mary Falin:

The measure sailed through the Senate with little debate, passing on a vote of 44-2. The House also approved the measure by a large margin, passing it on a vote of 75-18. 
The bill, House Bill 1798, creates a new felony of converting marijuana into hash. A first conviction could garner a $50,000 fine and prison sentence of two years to life. And that's a mandatory minimum two years. Second or subsequent convictions would net doubled penalties.
Dan Riffe at the Marijuana Policy Project points out just how absurd this new law is:
Here are some other crimes and their maximum punishments under Oklahoma law:
  • Domestic abuse = 1 year
  • Drinking and driving with a child in the car = 4 years
  • Aggravated assault resulting in "great physical injury" = 5 years
  • Assault with intent to kill = 5 years
  • Kidnapping a child = 5 years
  • Second degree rape = 15 years
  • Sexual battery of a child = 20 years
If you're a citizen of Oklahoma, contact Gov. Falin today and tell her to veto this bad bill. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

At 2011 NORML Conference, SSDP & the NORML Women's Alliance announce "Sister-to-Sister"

Last week, Aaron Houston and I represented SSDP at the 40th Anniversary NORML Conference in Denver, CO. Aaron spoke on Thursday's panel, "The Feds, Marijuana and You" (watch the video here).

On Friday, I had the pleasure of joining 4 incredibly inspiring women reformers on the "Closing the Cannabis Gender Gap" panel (full video here, I'm the last speaker beginning ~45:00) See the slides from our presentation on our website. It was there that we announced the launch of an exciting new project that SSDP is proud to be working on with the NORML Women's Alliance.

The purpose and goals for "Sister-to-Sister" Cultivating Female Activists Mentoring Project are as follows:
  • To connect women in the marijuana movement with each other in order to facilitate a close-knit community of female drug law reform advocates.
  • To make women feel welcomed as part of the larger reform movement by connecting those who have been involved for less than 2-3 years with those who have been involved for more than 2-3 years.
  • To build strong professional and personal relationships between women of all demographics who wouldn’t have otherwise been introduced to one another.
  • To share skills, information, resources, contacts, and other useful knowledge that will help female reformers be more engaged and more effective as they work toward common interests.
  • To empower and instill confidence in women who are interested in seeking leadership positions within their respective groups and organizations.
  • To help close the gender gap that currently exists within the marijuana law reform community.
To read more about "Sister-to-Sister" and to find applications for the program visit our website and to learn more about the NORML Women's Alliance, visit norml.org/women.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Last Sacred Cow: FAMM on Cutting Criminal Justice Spending

In the video above, Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) director Julie Stewart speaks during a briefing on Capitol Hill titled, "The Last Sacred Cow: How Congress Can Cut Criminal Justice Spending Without Compromising Public Safety." The briefing featured prominent conservative leaders such as Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute and Grover Norquist, highlighting the importance of criminal justice reform.

FAMM has put together an incredibly useful fact sheet citing specific actions Congress can take to reduce criminal justice spending.

More videos from the briefing are here:
Part 2: Asa Hutchinson
Part 3: Tim Lynch, Cato Institute 
Part 4: Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform

Friday, April 15, 2011

SSDP Tip of the Week: Get Visible on Campus!

Use posters, events, and media to
magnify your chapter's visibility on campus!
We're starting a new series of blog posts aimed at helping you run successful chapters that engage in campaigns, constantly recruit new members, and become the most active and exciting groups on campus. To start things off, here's a lesson on visibility

It might seem like a no-brainer, but if you're not promoting your chapter's meetings, events or campaigns, then how will people know to join SSDP? Check out these great and easy ways to make sure people know about SSDP at your school. 
  • Posters: Make sure you're putting up flyers every week to promote your chapter's meetings. This simple action is likely to not only increase attendance at your meetings, but it will make sure people are at least familiar with SSDP. If you have members that are talented graphic designers, put them to work! When the posters are printed, make putting them up around campus a fun team effort. 
  • Events: Events, small or large, prove to your campus community that SSDP is active and working hard. It doesn't matter if it's a simple movie screening or a day long symposium on the injustice of the drug war, if you're constantly providing the community with opportunities to learn about drug policy, you'll bring credibility to your chapter and awareness to our mission. Events keep your chapter members interested and engaged. In addition to all this, if your chapter is consistently active, it will be hard for anyone on campus to try and stereotype SSDP members (we know the opposition tends to rely on name calling because the facts are on our side!). 
    • Events are also great for highlighting campaigns you might be working on and really help to draw in new members that might not otherwise attend a general meeting. For instance, if you're just starting a chapter, consider holding a Know Your Rights movie screening and Q&A before your first meeting. That event is likely to draw in a much more diverse and possibly larger audience than the meeting would, providing you with the perfect opportunity to pitch SSDP and promote your upcoming general meeting!
  • Campus Radio and TV: Reach out to shows on your campus radio or television stations and offer to give an interview about SSDP or a relevant drug policy issue. For example, if a medical marijuana bill was recently voted on in your state, that's a great opportunity for you to lend your expertise on the bill. Be proactive - don't wait for them to contact you. Once you're on the show, they're likely to call you back when similar stories arise. 
  • Letters to the Editor: Probably one of the easiest ways to increase your chapter's visibility is to frequently submit letters to the editor to your campus paper and local media outlets. As a recognized student group, there is a high probability your piece will be published. Plus, LTE's are generally around 150 words so you can write one in about 10 minutes! 
  • Build Coalitions: Research other groups on your campus and reach out to them by offering to combine efforts and work together. Groups working on issues like human rights, criminal justice, personal liberty, the environment, economics and racial injustice all tie into aspects of the drug war. Attend their meetings and see what you can do to help them - not only what they can do to help SSDP. 
I hope you've found this helpful. Each of the items listed here will be expanded on in upcoming "Tips of the Week" so subscribe to the SSDP Blog RSS feed and be sure to read through the SSDP Student Organizing Manual (soon to revised and updated!). 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why Republicans Didn't Block Medical Marijuana or Needle Exchange

President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner worked out an agreement that avoided a federal government shutdown this past week. In order to reach a deal, Obama and Reid bowed to GOP demands to ban the District of Columbia from using any money to fund abortions.

But for all of the fierce partisan debate surrounding budget cuts and social "riders," several supposedly hot-button issues were conspicuously absent from the bickering, namely medical marijuana and needle exchange programs in DC. This is a new development. Until just last year, the District was banned by federal law from implementing a medical marijuana law its residents overwhelmingly passed in 1998.

What happened? Did Republican leaders' hearts grow several sizes?

Both parties have realized that, when it comes to cultural issues, they are roughly a decade behind the rest of the country, and they've taken notice of the fact that we are at a tipping point on drug policy reform. Leaders in Congress are smart people, and they tend to have some thoughtful advisors. But those advisors are practical, even cynical. So it's particularly notable when cynical, win-at-all-costs strategists abandon what they previously used as a platform for scoring points on the other side. They haven't done so because they suddenly looked in the mirror and felt icky about being dishonest. Leaders in both parties have realized that the old reefer madness strategies simply don't work anymore.

Monday, April 11, 2011

New Chapter Spotlight: Lewis & Clark College

One of SSDP's newest chapters, Lewis & Clark College located in Portland, OR, has jumped right into forming an active student group with a focus on reforming Oregon's marijuana laws. One thing I been incredibly impressed with is chapter founder Christopher Van Putten's enthusiasm and his ability to get the Lewis & Clark chapter officially recognized and up in running in just about one week! I asked Chris a few questions about his experiences with SSDP so far.

How did you find out about SSDP and what made you want to start a chapter? 
I was first introduces to Students for Sensible Drug Policy when I matriculated to Lewis & Clark College. A skit was performed about alcohol policy at the college and while there was no chapter at our college, SSDP was somehow involved. I didn't pay the organization any attention until returning to Lewis & Clark this spring. I worked for four months last spring on Washington State's marijuana legalization initiative as a county volunteer coordinator. I followed the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2010 which was mostly ignored in light of Oregon's measure to create medical cannabis dispensaries. My creation of the Lewis & Clark chapter has been motivated mostly by my interest in seeing the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 qualify for the ballot, then pass when voted on.

Was getting your chapter started a challenge? Fortunately Lewis & Clark College is quite hospitable to students who are interested in creating new student organizations. After about a week of planning and finding a faculty advisor I signed on as the primary student contact with another reformer signing on as secondary contact. Our chapter was officially recognized by the school about one week after I decided to create the chapter. We also lucked out on applying for a budget at the right time. Two weeks after our certification we had a scheduled hearing with the Finance Committee to propose a budget for the 2011-2012 academic year.

What campaigns does Lewis & Clark SSDP plan to work on? Lewis & Clark College SSDP has already been working on the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012 which would legalize the Cannabis genus, both industrial hemp as well as marijuana for adults 21 and over. The act creates a new committee called the Oregon Cannabis Commission and places a structure of growth and sale of cannabis is a fashion akin to liquor. The act also legalizes adult (21 and over) cultivation of marijuana without sale. We are also working on Washington State's I-1149 which removes all civil and criminal penalties for adults 18 and over relating to cannabis, except driving under the influence.

Do you have any advice for other new chapter leaders? Fortunately Lewis & Clark has a very cannabis-friendly student body. This has been a wonderful tool for establishing the organization, already having petitions in hand when recruiting members into the organization. If you already have an item to work on, prospective chapter members will be more engaged knowing that you already know one campaign you'll be working on.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Outstanding Student Activist Award: Christopher Pezza

Chris after meeting with Congressional
Representatives in Washington, D.C.
At the 2011 SSDP Awards Dinner, Christopher Pezza was one of only two students recognized for their outstanding activism within SSDP.

Impressively, Chris has formed not one, but two SSDP chapters that are both currently active in Colorado. First, he organized students at Front Range Community College in Longmont. Under his leadership, the FRCC chapter worked on numerous campaigns and helped spread SSDP throughout the state. Before transferring to the University of Northern Colorado, Chris ensured that leadership was successfully passed on to Nick Davies (who earned himself Chapter Leader of the Week back in December 2010).

At UNCO, Chris quickly formed a new chapter of SSDP, and recruited other enthusiastic activists to help spread the message. He's currently campaigning for Director of University Relations position in the UNCO student senate.

In addition to all this, Chris now volunteers as SSDP's Colorado State Coordinator, helping to increase communication among established chapters in the state and also proactively seeking students to form new chapters.

2 brand new SSDP chapters now on the map!

We're excited to announce the two newest additions to our chapter network this week. Welcome to the team, GWU Law and Wheaton SSDP!

Kellen Ruscinello is currently pursuing his JD/MPH degrees as a 2nd year student at GWU Law. Since 2010, he has served as President of the GW Student Association for Drug Law Reform, which was re-chartered yesterday as GW Law Students for Sensible Drug Policy! The group has been hard at work this school year, they've held several events including yesterday's panel entitled "Mexico: Violence, Corruption and Drugs: Social Issues and Reform in Mexico" with Maureen Meyer from the Washington Office on Latin America and Eric Sterling from the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. GWLSSDP joins our network as our fifth law school chapter, see the full list here.

In January, James Salamon heard about SSDP when his professor brought us up in his Mysticism and Spirituality course. After doing some of his own research and becoming more and more intrigued by the issue, he got in touch with the national staff to get the ball rolling. Earlier this week, Wheaton SSDP stood before their Student Government Association and received official student group recognition! As a group, they feel that their presence on campus can act as an educational tool to the college community and beyond.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Outstanding Alum Award: Victor Pinho

Victor became involved with drug policy when he founded the University of Maryland chapter of NORML in 2005. There he teamed up with the campus chapter of SSDP and established a reputation of solid membership, leadership, and political credibility within the drug policy reform efforts at UMD.

As an alum, he continued to stay involved. After graduating in 2006 and moving back to his home state of New Jersey, Victor took an active role in advising new chapter leaders, contributing to discussions via e-mail, organizing leadership retreats and strategy sessions, and providing general advice and support from his experiences. He also organized the first northeast regional SSDP camping trip in 2009, which has since become an annual tradition and has grown to over 60 attendees (we are planning to return to Cedar Rapids Campgrounds in Barryville, NY for a third time this summer, join the NE regional Facebook group to receive updates). Victor has returned to UMD's campus as a speaker on several occasions, including an event last November, as well as speaking on the "Ask an alum!" workshop during our conference last month where he also organized an SSDP alumni network dinner.

Outside of campus, Victor has been active in New Jersey state drug policy reform efforts. As a Community Organizer with the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ, Victor organizes media events and coordinates public education efforts. Most recently, he has begun work on developing a 911 Amnesty Policy for the Garden State.

Victor currently volunteers his time to SSDP through his role as New Jersey State Coordinator. Greg Hansch, graduate student adviser to our Rutgers - New Brunswick chapter, shares some insight on the value of Victor's role in NJ:

" The guidance that he has provided Rutgers and other chapters in the state has been critical to those chapters' formation and growth. He has not only been great about emailing us and talking to us on the phone when we need help, but he also has come to New Brunswick on several occasions and led planning meetings, introduced guest speakers, and gave a pro-bono presentation on medical marijuana in New Jersey. His connections to other drug policy reformers in the area have provided us with some amazing guest speakers. Victor's the man. Thanks for taking the time to honor a truly outstanding SSDP alum!"

Victor led by example and established a tradition of smooth leadership transition, allowing UMD SSDP and NORML Terps to continue to thrive. I saw him working hard, taking initiative, conducting research, writing letters to the editor and working with the media on a variety of issues. I also saw how other campus leaders turned to Victor as an expert in all matters related to marijuana and other drug policies. I can say from personal experience that without Victor's leadership, UMD SSDP and NORML Terps would not be where they are today. We've been able to follow his lead. And because of the solid foundation built by him and others, I'm confident that the impression he left during his time at UMD isn't going away anytime soon.

Chapter Leader of the Week: Brandon Levey, University of Maryland

SSDP: When did you 1st get involved with SSDP?

LEVEY: I first got active in SSDP at the end of my first semester in college, in the spring semester of 2009. I looked through the student group directory that semester, checked out a few student groups, and of many groups found SSDP and NORML at UMD to be the ones that really were trying to make a difference. The members, people who I didn't know at the time but now are some of my closest friends, seemed the most committed, most organized, and most ready to make change.

SSDP: What has been your favorite SSDP experience?

LEVEY: When we were pushing for a Good Samaritan Policy (something that ended with success this semester!), we decided to reach out to parents on "Visit Maryland Weekend." While I knew that a GSP was something that was important, I was new to SSDP and a bit skeptical about talking to parents, an audience that might not have been as receptive to some of our issues as students. However, to my surprise, the parents were just as supportive of the policy as the students!

This was when I realized that SSDP was really a group that could appeal to all demographics. Drug policy reform is not at all limited to students or people our age, but is something that would positively affect everybody, even if they don't realize it yet.

SSDP: What issues are most important for your chapter?
LEVEY: In the 1980's, Len Bias, a rising basketball star, was about to graduate from our school when he died of a cocaine overdose. More recently, there have been other UMD drug and alcohol overdose deaths, including Danny Reardon of an alcohol overdose in 2002. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, these deaths led to a University and even statewide crackdown on underage drinking and drug use, with harsher penalties and even the establishment of mandatory minimums.

Thanks to the incredible past leadership in our chapter, however, we finally got a Good Samaritan Policy covering alcohol overdose for both the victim and caller passed this semester. The general mindset on our campus has changed drastically towards a harm reduction rather than punitive approach, and SSDP has played the vital role in this. We hope to work and make this Good Samaritan Policy comprehensive in the coming year, and also plan on working towards an "alcohol-marijuana equalization" initiative. The punishments in our university for marijuana use are some of the strictest in the nation, and we will be pushing for more rational policies

SSDP: Do you have any events planned for this semester?

LEVEY: We've got a ton! Just in April alone, we are having a "religion, spirituality, and drug use" event where we will be hosting a campus Rabbi to discuss religious texts and how they look at drug use, both legal and illegal. We also plan on having Neill Franklin from LEAP at the end of this month, and having an event with our campus NORML chapter on the prohibition of synthetics such as K2 and Spice.

On the "fun and networking" side, SSDP and NORML on campus are hosting a "Safe Rave"- a rave to benefit our groups with harm reduction drug information and free water, as well as "Domefest"- a music festival featuring Papadosio and giving us an excellent opportunity to network with other groups and people on campus. Additionally, we will be participating in Relay for Life with many other students from around campus.

Join our Facebook group and/or our e-mail list to stay informed about these and other events at UMD.

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

LEVEY: The people, and the fact that all of us together really are making such an amazing change- on a school, local, regional, and even national level. Victory is coming sooner than we think.
SSDP: Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?
LEVEY: Get as many new members as you can to conferences, both regional, national, and international! The one thing that will keep a member involved really is experiencing first-hand how awesome, organized, effective and fun SSDP is! Also, make sure that SSDP isn't a "meeting-only" type of organization by making sure to interact with active members in a different more relaxed setting as well.
SSDP: What's your favorite "SSDP quote"?

LEVEY: One of our super rock stars and chapter leaders, our secretary Justin Kander, said this about ending the drug war and allowing people to live in freedom:

"I'm just happy we have the opportunity to help eliminate pain the world, whatever we can do. Right now we sit in such comfort, but life can be absolutely destroyed by pain.. It must be eliminated to the greatest extent, no matter what, which is why we must keep fighting for what is right."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Outstanding Student Activist Award: Katharine Celentano

Earlier this month over 400 people gathered at our 2011
Training Conference and Lobby Day, and to wrap things up on the last day, SSDP recognized the achievements of several extraordinary student and non-student members during the Awards Ceremony and Benefit Concert. In the coming weeks, keep an eye out as we will write one blog post for each award recipient highlighting the hard work that made them stand out from the crowd.

Two students each year receive the "Outstanding Student Activist" award. In our first award profile, it's easy to see why Katharine Celentano (Columbia University) deserves this honor. In fact, I think "outstanding" might even be an understatement...

Katharine Celentano made hundreds of calls to California voters last year urging them to support the passage of Proposition 19 to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Katharine earned the title of "Professional Phonebanker" using the Just Say Now phonebanking tool, rising to and staying near the top of the leaderboard during the entire campaign. With 551 points earned, only two others made more calls than she did, all while tackling her first semester of rigorous coursework studying Neuroscience and Behavior at CU.

Katharine has been advocating for a Good Samaritan policy on campus at Columbia, currently the only Ivy League school that does not protect students from punishment when calling 911 in alcohol and other drug related medical emergencies. Because of the work she and others have done, the school administration is now closer than ever to adopting this life-saving overdose prevention policy.

She also initiated a coordinated media response to last year's "Operation Ivy League" drug bust involving five Columbia students, shining light on campus drug law enforcement and calling for a change in policing practices.

Last month, she helped draft and issue this press release in response to startling data indicating an increase in low-level marijuana arrests targeting youth and people of color in New York city.

Katharine has been instrumental in building a coalition of on- and off-campus individuals and groups such as CHURON, the Columbia University Harm Reduction Outreach Network, and the Washington Heights CORNER Project, a local syringe exchange program, to coordinate harm reduction efforts with the SSDP chapter across all CU schools at the university as well as within the larger community.

This is not the first time we've told you about her work, and it certainly won't be the last.

Congratulations Katharine!

Sign the Letter to AG Holder: Stop the Raids

Despite the Department of Justice memo advising the DEA and federal prosecutors not to spend resources arresting medical marijuana patients and raiding medical marijuana providers in states that have passed legislation protecting these people, federal agents have recently shut down 26 medical cannabis dispensaries in Montana and California. 

Just Say Now, SSDP's partnership with Firedoglake has written a letter telling Attorney General Holder to enforce his memo and prohibit federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries. We want you to sign on to the letter. 

As Attorney General, Holder has the ability to enforce his memo and end these raids. He should send a strong message that federal law enforcement resources should not be abused and wasted to override state's rights.