Friday, January 27, 2006

Ten thousand truths were told, and it was good

Little old DARE Generation Diary, launched just about three months ago, reached 10,000 hits today. Let's all make sure the next 10,000 happen much sooner than three months from now. Here's how:

* Put DGD on your blogroll if you have a blog, or add a link on your website if you have one
* Put a link to DGD in your e-mail signature block
* Put a link to DGD in your instant messenger profile and away messages
* Send out an e-mail to your friends specifically telling them to check us out
* Make sure to comment on other, more popular, blogs and tell folks to visit DGD
* Put a link to DGD on your SSDP chapter's flyers or mention DGD at your next meeting
* Have your SSDP chapter start its own free blog on blogspot and link to DGD (we'll link to you too!)
* Make sure to sign up for SSDP's periodic action alerts so you can forward our interesting and exciting messages to your friends when you get them

We're telling the truth about the disastrous impact the War on Drugs has on youth and everyone else here. The more people that read this, the closer we'll be to ending the Drug War.

Students spank Drug Czar at his own show

Kris Krane, SSDP's brand new executive director, along with students from the University of Central Florida NORML chapter, attended the Drug Czar's drug testing circus sideshow in Orlando a few weeks ago. Here are some exceprts from a report he wrote on the experience:

"The ONDCP held the first of four regional summits in Orlando on Thursday January 19, 2006, to promote the enactment of random student drug testing policies in district middle and high schools. Staff members from NORML, SSDP and DPA coordinated a planned action at the event to assure that our message would be heard.

We assumed that most of the summit’s attendees would be on the fence about drug testing. Therefore, we decided the best course of action would be to distribute literature and talk to the administrators during the summit itself, rather than organizing a protest or direct action outside the event. In retrospect, this was probably the best decision we could have made, and I would strongly recommend taking this approach at future summits.

Our goal in attending the summit was twofold. First, we hoped to gain local media attention, and to position ourselves as experts that the press could contact for an opposition quote. The Drug Policy Alliance sent out press releases in advance alerting the media that we would be present at the event and available to be interviewed. Both Marsha Rosenbaum of DPA and Paul Armentano of NORML submitted opeds to the Orlando Sentinal and Orlando Times in advance of the summit. DPA Director Ethan Nadelmann appeared on a radio show on this topic on local station WBDO, while criticism of the summit received coverage in the UCF student newspaper, the Central Florida Future. DPA’s Marsha Rosenbaum also had a story on the summit published on Alternet. The Orlando Sentinal did cover the story after the summit, and reported a lukewarm reception to drug testing among the summit attendees.

Second, and more importantly, our goal was to persuade those school administrators attending the summit not to take advantage of government grants, and not to implement student drug testing in their schools. In this respect, as evidenced by the Sentinal coverage and the conversations we had with attendees, we were quite successful. Attendees were receptive to our information, appreciated hearing an opposition point of view, and were not hesitant to engage us or ask questions. Ultimately, we will not truly know how successfully our message was received for months, as all three organizations plan to monitor how many new Florida school districts implement student drug testing programs.


The volunteers and I arrived at the summit with boxes of literature to distribute. We were under the impression that the ONDCP would have a literature table available for anyone who wanted to provide handouts, as they did at last year’s summits. However, upon arrival we discovered that the literature table was for ONDCP authorized materials only. The backup plan was simply to hand out literature to summit attendees in an effort to engage them in conversation (hence the production of portable tri-fold brochures). Instead we managed to take a table from another conference area and set it up directly outside the door to the ONDCP conference area. Thankfully the ONDCP did not use their own staff to organize the conference, and the conference-planning firm handling this responsibility did not seem to mind us tabling outside the summit doors.

During the summit breaks, conference attendees walked past our literature table, and to our delight, the vast majority stopped by the table at one point or another and took literature. They seemed particularly impressed with the DPA Student Drug Testing guide, and the talking points tri-fold brochure put together by NORML and SSDP. Most of the attendees simply took the literature and said thank you, but many of them stopped to ask questions and discuss their concerns with student drug testing.

Overall, I would estimate that over 2/3 of the conference attendees stopped by the table at one point or another. While one or two attendees, mostly from the drug testing industry, were upset with our literature and message, it was clear from the reactions and conversations that the overwhelming majority of school administrators appreciated our presence. These administrators arrived at the summit unsure of whether or not to implement drug testing in their schools, and they appeared to consider our information to be on par with the information they were getting from the ONDCP. A few administrators expressed their discontent with the ONDCP “propaganda” and thanked us for presenting a counter view. The UCF students did an incredible job remaining professional and courteous throughout the seminar.

Inside the sessions, we hoped to ask a number of difficult questions of the speakers. We had pre-written questions ready to ask of every speaker. Unfortunately, the ONDCP was prepared and they did not provide a true question and answer period. Instead, all attendees received two yellow index cards in their conference packets. In order to ask a question, attendees had to write them down on these cards and pass them to the front, which allowed the speakers to pick and choose the questions that they wished to answer.

However, many of the speakers did choose questions posed by reformers. Unfortunately, while they allowed the questions to be asked, the speakers were extremely adept at avoiding providing actual answers. For example, Sonja Hoppe, VP of Southwest Laboratories, was asked whether she was concerned that students would turn to hard drugs, binge drinking, and tobacco because marijuana metabolites stay in the system for up to 30 days. She responded by explaining that her lab can test for alcohol and tobacco and went on to explain the procedure, completely avoiding the actual question. Chris Steffner, principal of Hackettstown High School, was asked whether she was concerned that students who fail drug tests will be embarrassed and stigmatized by their fellow students and faculty members. She responded by saying that she surveyed the entire student body and not one student said they were embarrassed by the drug testing program, a dubious claim at best.

The only speaker who actually took questions directly from the audience and allowed for follow up was attorney William Judge, who presented on the legal issues surrounding drug testing. This led to the following exchange between Mr. Judge and Roger Scott of the NORML Legal Committee:

RS: Can you tell us the average cost of defending one of these lawsuits?
WJ: If you hire me, it’s free.
RS: That’s nice, but what is the average cost?
WJ: Well, I will fly anywhere in the country and defend any school district in the country pro bono if they are sued for a drug testing program.
RS: Are you even licensed in the state of Florida?
WJ: No. However if I a local school district files a ‘pro hac vici’ motion, I can legally represent them.
RS: Wouldn’t you then be required to consult with local counsel?
WJ: Yes I would.
RS: Well how much would THAT cost?
WJ: You are only asking these questions because you are opposed to drug testing programs, and you want to sue schools that have them.
RS: Actually, I am a lawyer. I’ll represent whichever side will pay me.

The exchange clearly demonstrated to the administrators that no matter what the ONDCP said, there would be cost associated with any lawsuit that might arise as a result of implementing drug testing.

One thing that the UCF students astutely observed was that many of the speakers talked about students and heroin use. This was an obvious attempt to scare the administrators into thinking that heroin is a big problem among students, when studies show the most widely abused drug among high school students is alcohol. For future summits, it would be advisable to be prepared to ask as many questions as possible about student alcohol abuse compared to hard drug abuse, and to continue to stress the likelihood of a student testing positive for marijuana compared to alcohol.

Another misleading fact raised by most of the speakers was the cost of implementing a drug testing program in schools. More than one speaker claimed that a comprehensive drug testing program can be implemented for under $3000. This obviously does not cover follow up tests for those students who falsely test positive, nor does it cover potential legal expenses if a school district is sued over a testing program or by a parent who claims his or her child’s positive test was false. At future summits, we should make an effort to ask questions that highlight the actual costs of a drug testing program, and make sure this is featured prominently in the literature we distribute.


In the end, it was clear from the media coverage and conversations with school administrators that our presence was welcomed and appreciated. We will have no way of knowing the true impact that we had on these administrators until we can follow up on how many new Florida districts implement drug testing programs over the next years.

It was also clear that since most of these administrators were truly on the fence about whether or not to implement drug testing policies, our tactic of engaging the participants and handing out literature was far more effective that a protest or direct action. These administrators clearly had the best interest of their students in mind, and appreciated our willingness to engage them in discussions on this issue. A protest almost certainly would have been confrontational and turned them off to our side of the issue."

Folks who want to spread truth at the upcoming drug testing summits in San Diego, Milwaukee, or Falls Church should contact SSDP!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Drug Czar thinks he knows you better than you do

Really, he does.

Director Walters address drug treatment providers during a visit to the First Step Home in Cincinnati last year.
Photo courtesy of Drug Czar's "Blog"

SSDP sues the government

SSDP filed suit today against the U.S. Department of Education over a Freedom of Information Act dispute. All we want is a state-by-state breakdown of the 175,000 students who have lost financial aid to the HEA Drug Provision. But even though SSDP is a nonprofit organization, the government won't give us the data for free because, they claim, it could lead to drug legalization and that we might somehow profit!

Below is our press release. Please sign up for important SSDP news and action alerts!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - January 26, 2005

Education Department Sued for Withholding Information

Student Group Seeks to Expose Impact of Drug Law

Government Says Info Could Lead to Drug Legalization and Profiteering

WASHINGTON, DC – One of the largest student organizations in the country sued the U.S. Department of Education today over a Freedom of Information Act dispute. The group, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), wants to know how many people in each state have lost financial aid because of a law that blocks eligibility to students with drug convictions. Congress is expected this month to scale back the law, which has stripped aid from more than 175,000 students nationally since being enacted in 2000.

SSDP, represented by the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The suit stems from a refusal by the government to waive a hefty fee to provide the data. The Department of Education erroneously claims that providing the information is not in the public interest, but instead could further the commercial interests of those who might profit from the legalization of drugs.

“The requested records reveal how the government operates when determining who does and does not get financial aid,” said Adina Rosenbaum, the Public Citizen attorney handling the case. “The public interest in disclosure of the records clearly outweighs SSDP’s nonexistent commercial interest in the information.”

Added Scarlett Swerdlow, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, “It’s no big surprise that the government is afraid to reveal the true impact of its punitive Drug War policies. If citizens and legislators knew how this misguided and ineffective policy impacts their communities, we would be much closer to erasing it from the law books. Blocking college access to thousands of would-be students only makes our nation’s drug problems worse.”

Although the Department of Education is willing to release the information, a records officer said that SSDP hasn’t provided enough evidence to demonstrate an entitlement to a waiver of the $4,000 processing fee required to compile the data.

A copy of the suit is available at

Students for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization with college and high school chapters, is committed to providing education on harms caused by the War on Drugs, working to involve youth in the political process, and promoting an open, honest, and rational discussion of alternative solutions to our nation's drug problems. Visit Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. Visit

# # #

Contact Tom Angell at tom//at// for more information.

Ben Franklin would be proud...

This Tuesday, SSDP's very own Shawn Heller and Chris Evans got together with some fellow Georgetown Law students and made an ass of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.Gonzales's trip to Georgetown is just one part of a desperate national propaganda campaign aimed at justifying the illegal and unconstitutional wiretapping program that the Bush administration hid from the public until forced to disclose it recently.

Those older than I will remember that the Drug War was the first post-Cold War program to justify domestic wiretapping on a large scale. It wasn't very hard for the DEA to acquire warrants to conduct these wiretaps, but at least they had to present some evidence that a crime was being committed. But now that the Bush Administration has conjoined the drug trade with terrorism - a la NarcoTerrorism - it's not hard to imagine that these warrentless wiretaps are being used for much more than catching Al Qaeda members.

The protest was covered by the national media, including: CNN, the New York Times, and (gasp!) even BoingBoing!

Bravo, freedom fighters!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Students are dying to see campus drug policies changed

USA Today has a sobering article on the all-too-high rate of college student deaths. The paper conducted an analysis of 620 deaths of four-year college and university students since Jan. 1, 2000.

It turns out that many of these deaths would have been prevented by sensible campus drug policies. But instead, far too many colleges and universities keep looking for more and more ways to punish students for using alcohol or other drugs, even if the threat of these punishments deters students from taking simple lifesaving steps.

Lynn Gordon Bailey, a student at the University of Colorado, died shortly after the start of his freshman year because his fraternity friends didn't call the paramedics for help in time, out of fear they'd be punished. The call was made the next morning, only after it became clear that he was already dead.

The signs of death were obvious to emergency medical technician Thomas Dunn as he examined Lynn Gordon "Gordie" Bailey's face on Sept. 17, 2004. Answering a 911 call, rescuers found that the college freshman had died the previous night from an alcohol overdose.


As he went door-to-door inside the Chi Psi house in Boulder, Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of Northern Colorado and part-time EMT, woke up students to ensure that there were no more victims from the initiation party. When he looked around the house littered with empty bottles, Dunn says, it was his experience as a teacher that spoke to him. "I thought, 'Where did we let these kids down?' " Dunn says. "Very little about that house, from what I saw, had any evidence of scholarly pursuits. ... I was appalled."

As Dunn woke up still-drunken students and told fraternity leaders that Bailey was dead, he watched them go from crying to becoming fearful and silent.

You can listen to the belated 911 call here.

This is just one of several examples mentioned in the USA Today article, and is one of way too many preventable college student deaths each year. Luckily, some schools and state governments are now taking action to save lives.

After Bailey's death, the Colorado Legislature enacted a law that grants immunity to anybody drinking illegally who calls 911 to get help for a drunken friend. Dunn says medics are now getting more calls.

National fraternity leaders are encouraging students to call for help without worrying about getting the fraternity in trouble.

"One of the biggest problems out there is students are afraid to call for help," says Geof Brown, director of alcohol-education initiatives for the North America Interfraternity Conference, which has 5,500 chapters at 800 campuses. "Our groups are taking a more proactive posture these days."

This is one of the reasons SSDP has just launched a new campaign that will help students enact sensible drug policies on their campuses. Colleges and universities aren't going to take action by themselves. Its up to us to make them adopt policies that stop killing students.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Don't show me the money

An unsigned opinion piece in the Bay City Times out of Michigan has the right idea when it comes to the federal government's student drug testing grants:
And in Iosco County - hey! - the drug testing would be free.

Tawas St. Joseph Health Systems received $525,000 from the federal government for the program after officials in the Tawas, Oscoda, Whittemore-Prescott and Hale school districts backed the grant application.

Just as we teach our younger children not to take candy from strangers, Iosco County school leaders should think long and hard before they ally with a program that may have unintended consequences.

The federal government's money would be better spent in schools on new education programs about the dangers of drugs. And to enlist parents and the community in the campaign against drug and alcohol abuse.

Too many schools around the country are being baited by the millions of dollars the Drug Czar is dangling in front of them. The money would be better spent on other things (or just left in taxpayers' pocketbooks).

The Drug War means young people get shot

Two young people in Cincinnati have been shot in back of a local high school. According to police, the shooting is the result of a drug deal gone wrong.
Officers said two carloads of people were behind the school just after 8 p.m. when gunshots rang out. Eric Nelson, 17 was found minutes later at the intersection of Dana Avenue and Grigg Avenue with a gunshot wound to the upper left chest. Raymond Montgomery, 20, was also wounded.
When was the last time you heard about two beer distributors getting into a gunfight over who gets to stock a particular store? The answer is never, because beer is a true controlled substance and distribution disputes are handled in the courts.

If we regulated drugs, disasters like this one would be much less likely to happen.

Constitutional conundrum

I know the constitutional issues at play here are a little more complex than this, but:

Isn't it strange that the Supreme Court says doctors in Oregon can kill people but aren't allowed to give them medical marijuana?

Monday, January 23, 2006

A film the Drug Czar doesn't want you to see

Filmmaker John Holowach asked me to plug the premiere of his new documentary "HIGH: The True Tale of American Marijuana," which is being hosted by the Ohio State University SSDP chapter.

* February 28th, 2006 @ 7:30 P.M.
* Campbell Hall, Room 220; Ohio State University; Columbus, OH
* Admission: $5, which will directly benefit OSU SSDP
* There will be a Q&A session with John Holowach after the film
* Here are directions to the building
* E-mail osussdp[at]gmail[dot]com for more info
I've seen an advanced copy of the film, and it's very entertaining and moving. You can check out the trailer here.

Interestingly, John began researching the film while still a high school student (in his words) "under the influence of DARE." Just another positive unintended consequence of good ol' DARE (not unlike the founding and growth of SSDP itself)...

Contact John if you'd like more info about the film, especially if you're a student and would like to host a screening.