Monday, January 24, 2011

Chapter Leader of the Week: Rob Pfountz, University of Arkansas

Basics:
  • Robert Pfountz
  • SSDP State Coordinator for Arkansas
  • Former President, University of Arkansas SSDP
  • Major: Political Science Minor: Economics
SSDP: When did you 1st get involved with SSDP?
Rob: The first SSDP event that I attended was to see Norm Stamper of LEAP speak on-campus at the University of Arkansas in 2008. I had always supported marijuana policy reform, but this event was the first time I realized that we also needed the same reform towards a regulated market with dangerous drugs like methamphetamine that have had a pernicious effect on our families and friends here in Arkansas.

SSDP: What has been your favorite SSDP experience?
Rob: My favorite SSDP experience was attending the Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque, NM in 2009 as a representative for our SSDP chapter at the U of A. I have never been around so many well respected and intelligent individuals from all around the world who share a common goal of reforming our failed drug policies. If you haven’t attended this unparalleled event I suggest for you to go to the one this November in Los Angeles, CA (reformconference.org).


SSDP: What issues are most important for your chapter?
Rob: With a stable economy and only a population of close to 80,000 our city of Fayetteville does not typically encounter some the drug problems frequently seen in the larger neighboring cities of Little Rock, Tulsa, and Kansas City. This has lead us to focus our attention on marijuana since it is the most widely used illicit substance in our area, and because it is the most politically feasible to accomplish significant progress towards reducing the harm caused by its prohibition. We have made inroads towards this goal by making marijuana the lowest law enforcement and prosecutorial priority in Fayetteville by initiative in 2008 with 66% of the vote, and by passing a SAFER initiative in 2009 with 67% of the student vote to equalize the penalties for alcohol and marijuana on our campus.

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

Rob: In February we are having US Marine Corps Veteran Glenn Kunkel come speak about the medical applications that cannabis has for soldiers returning home with physical and mental ailments such as PTSD. Events like this one that was set up by our current president Stephen Duke will go a long way towards helping us attain safe access for medical marijuana here in Arkansas. We will also be attending SSDP’s 2011 Training Conference & Lobby Day at the University of Maryland!!!


SSDP: What do you like best about being part of SSDP?
Rob: There are few other student organizations that gather such a diverse background of individuals towards a common goal. Where you were once rejected you will find acceptance here at SSDP.


SSDP: What's your favorite "SSDP quote"?
Rob: I don't necessarily have a favorite SSDP quote, but the most memorable one was stopping the chant "Smoke Weed Everyday" that was started by a former chapter president in front of our student union. You have to remember that people will only take us as serious as we present ourselves.

SSDP: Any fun facts about you?

Rob: I am originally from Memphis, TN, but I have also lived in Dallas, TX and Toronto, ON Canada. In my spare time I enjoy reading, playing guitar, and skateboarding. During my time as a teenager roaming the downtown streets of Toronto I made it into Thrasher skateboarding magazine in 1998. My reading usually gravitates towards US drug, foreign, and monetary policy that promotes individual and economic liberty. I am a non-traditional student, and before I returned to school I worked for the federal government for 4 years as a USPS Rural Carrier Associate. I was recently awarded SAFER’s 2010 Outstanding Student Activism Award, and helped lead our chapter to a number 8 ranking by SSDP for the top 20 schools for drug policy activism in 2010. Last semester I helped Jason Malonson establish our second Arkansas SSDP chapter at NWACC in Bentonville where Wal-Mart’s headquarters are located. Currently, I am working on a medical marijuana initiative to place on the Arkansas 2012 ballot.

SSDP: Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?
Rob: As a chapter leader you have to remember it is you that has to push the group forward, and when doing this you will be held to a higher standard than other student organizations because of the stigma still attached to drugs. It is important to network and provide incentives for member involvement in chapter activities, but if you work hard others will notice and will naturally be attracted towards your determination. Drug policy reform is a lifestyle, and you will find many opportunities to make a difference. The best way to be prepared for this is to be well read on the issues so you can effectively communicate our tragic social condition. There are few no-brainers in politics, but drug policy reform is one of them. Don’t ever be ashamed or afraid of speaking the truth, because our opponents are on the wrong side of history.