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.