Friday, February 04, 2011

LEAP Debates Medical Marijuana on USAToday

After getting President Obama to answer a tough question on the legalization of drugs, McKenzie Allen of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition debates Coalition for a Drug Free California's founder, Dr. Paul Chabot on the issue of medical marijuana in California.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

North Dakota Bill Aims to Ban Alcohol at College Sporting Events

President Obama enjoys a beer at a basketball game
next to a child. A new proposal would ban alcohol at ND
college sporting events where minors are present.
Representative Chuck Damschen (R-ND) has introduced a bill that would ban drinking or possessing alcohol at college sporting events if anyone under the age of 18 is attending the game. If adopted, the bill would prohibit alcohol in stadiums and tailgate parties, even if they took place across the street.
"I thought this is a chance for everybody who says that they care about this problem to get on board and support a step in at least getting the discussion going," said Damschen of his bill.
But Damschen's effort to ban booze at sporting events is opposed by many, including the general manager of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, home to University of North Dakota hockey games. Others say it's unnecessary all together because some schools, like North Dakota State University, do not serve alcohol in its arenas.

What do you think SSDP?

Chapter Leader of the Week: Sam Chapman, University of Oregon - Eugene

Sam is holding the SSDP banner and looking sharp in a suit

Sam Chapman has been involved with SSDP at the University of Oregon - Eugene since 2009. He's helped to organize many successful events and led student organizing during Oregon's Measure 74 campaign last fall. I asked Sam a few questions about his involvement in SSDP and here's what he had to say:

What was your experience working on the Measure 74 campaign like?

I worked on the measure 74 campaign as the college outreach coordinator to rally student
support for bringing medical marijuana dispensaries to Oregon. The challenge was convincing students that medical marijuana was relevant to them. We decided that the most effective way to get students to vote was to convey the fact that Oregon needed to prove it could regulate medical marijuana dispensaries before any marijuana legalization could be taken seriously.

What issues are important for your chapter?

Currently our chapter is working on preventing our Department of Public Safety officers from gaining the same rights as a police force, which means they would be able to carry guns and tasers on campus. About 80% of all the DPS encounters with students are drug and alcohol related, so when deadly force comes into the conversation, we want to represent student concerns.

Do you have any events planned for this semester?

We are in the process of building a coalition with other student organizations in opposition to the idea of an armed police force on campus. Within the next week we will be kicking off a signature drive to show the administration that a overwhelming majority of UO students and faculty do not want guns on campus.

What do you like best about being part of SSDP?

The best part about being involved with SSDP is the challenge it presents in debating sometimes taboo ideas that no one else is willing to take up.

Any fun facts about Sam Chapman?

I am currently working with a group called M-Scale that helps clarify, classify and communicate the medicinal affects of marijuana. This summer I will be traveling to Thailand with the M-Research team to work on the Thai Medical Marijuana Studio Production and Cultivation Project in the Kingdom of Thailand.

Do you have any advice for other chapter leaders?

Attend the SSDP National Lobby day conference on March 17th in Washington D.C.! Last years conference in San Francisco was the first conference I attended. It literally changed my life and my outlook on the work we are all doing to end the war on drugs.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Cannabis in the Commonwealth

Like many states, Virginia arrests more people for marijuana than all other illicit drugs combined. In fact, almost 20,000 people were arrested in 2008 alone. Recently, members of Virginia Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapters collaborated with drug policy reformers across the state to organize a statewide lobbying day in support of marijuana decriminalization. If passed, VA HB 1443 would have decriminalized simple possession of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor to a $500 civil fine. With help from Marijuana Policy Project, Virginians Against Drug Violence, and Virginia NORML, VA SSDPers were able to gather widespread constituent support through a collaborative grassroots campaign.

On January 17th, SSDP at VCU and SSDP at NoVA convened chapter members to meet with their state delegates, lobbying in favor of marijuana decriminalization. SSDP’s delegation then met with several delegates who comprised the referring committee, those of House Courts and Justice. Following the lobbying, drug policy reformers packed the hearing and awaited the outcome of the bill. Del. Harvey Morgan (VA-R), the bill’s chief sponsor, said that he was not advocating marijuana use “at all,” but rather that if a person is arrested -“even if it’s set aside” by the first offender law in Virginia - the arrest and possible conviction are “always on your record as an arrest for a drug offense.” Because of this, he said, “anyone who has that on a record finds that it is an absolute barrier to employment for a commercial driver’s license, to work in a health care profession, and to be a teacher.” This is especially damaging in fields that require the use of background information for security purposes. Morgan stated, “they do a background check and up pops a drug offense and they just cannot hire you.”

After his comments about the legislation, Morgan presented three witnesses to testify in its support, including Richard Kennedy, PhD., a retired CIA analyst. The hearing continued with more than a dozen members of the public uniformly testifying in favor of the bill in front of the House committee. This group included two members of SSDP at Virginia Commonwealth University, Brooke Napier and Devon Tackels, and one member from SSDP Northern Virginia Community College, Mike Cavender. Nobody spoke out against the legislation, and Del. Morgan made note that he had overwhelming support from constituents.

Despite the harm of marijuana prohibition to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and potential benefits of decriminalization, committee leaders were not open to changing the current policy. Committee members seemed out of touch with constituents and afraid to publicly support the legislation. In the end, the committee chose to PBI, or pass the bill indefinitely for the session. Although we are disappointed with the outcome, we understand that marijuana reform does not happen overnight. Virginia drug policy reformers must continue to engage in state’s delegates education, and advise them of the crucial nature of this legislation for the future of our state.  However, despite our loss this round, VA SSDP reaffirms its power to reform marijuana policies in the Commonwealth. We will not stop until we meet this objective, and at this juncture in our movement we require more students to lobby all state delegates, in Virginia and other states where marijuana reform looks likely.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Press Release: SSDP responds to Obama's statement on drug legalization

For immediate release: January 31, 2011
Contact: Washington DC Headquarters (202)293-4414, San Francisco Headquarters (415)875-9463

Student Activists Praise Obama’s New Position Welcoming Legalization Debate
Statement in YouTube online town hall meeting called step in right direction, but still not enough

Washington, D.C. — Officials at Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) today praised President Barack Obama’s statement last week indicating that drug prohibition is “an entirely legitimate topic for debate.” Obama’s comments came Thursday in response to a question from former Seattle narcotics detective Mackenzie Allen, whose question about repealing drug prohibition received the most votes in an online competition hosted by YouTube.

Responding to Allen’s question about regulating and taxing drugs to cut down on black market profits, President Obama said, “I think this is an entirely legitimate topic for debate…I am a strong believer that we have to think more about drugs as a public health problem.” Obama continued, “On drugs I think that a lot of times we’ve been so focused on arrests, incarceration, interdiction, that we don’t spend as much time thinking about how do we shrink demand. This is something that within the White House we are looking at very carefully…look[ing] at what we’re doing when we have nonviolent first-time drug offenders. Are there ways that we can steer them to the straight and narrow without automatically resorting to incarceration?”

Drug policy reform advocates highlighted the stark contrast between Obama’s recent comments and his laughing dismissal of marijuana legalization the last time drug policy came up at an online town hall event.

“This marks a historic turning point in the White House’s rhetoric about taxing and regulating drugs,” said Aaron Houston, executive director of SSDP. “Despite his rejection of legalization, President Obama acknowledged that our current policies don’t work. We’re very glad to see him start to lead the way on this issue.”

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots network of students who educate their peers, parents, and policymakers about how the drug war has failed 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.