Many of you have heard me talk about how I was inspired at the 2012 Cannabis Law Reform Conference hosted by Oregon Students for Sensible Drug Policy last weekend. That event wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for a very, very hardworking marijuana activist by the name of Bradley Steinman who leads the Lewis and Clark Law School Chapter of SSDP. I was once a scholarship law student at the other private law school here in Oregon, and watching this guy can tackle law school and fight for the movement at the same time is one of the most impressive things I have ever seen.
As I stated before, I sent out e-mails across the nation, and even to some international Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapters, with interview questions in order to write articles like this one to highlight their efforts. I will continue to post the responses as I receive them. This Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter interview on TWB will be with Lewis and Clark Law School. Chapter President Bradely Steinman was kind enough to send over the following responses (TWB questions are in bold, above Bradley’ responses):
How long has your Students for Sensible Drug Policy Chapter existed?
Less than a year. I began the preliminary steps of starting L&C Law SSDP in June of 2011, by trying to lock down interested students, secure law school professors to serve as our faculty advisors, and working with the law school administration and our deans to get their blessing. We became an official student group when we won a majority vote from our Student Bar Association, which is a law school’s student government. That was in early October.
How many members does your Students for Sensible Drug Policy currently have?
We have over 60 on our e-mail list, but I’d say the number is fluid. The real number is closer to 20 if we’re talking about consistent participation, dedication, and identification with the cause. These ‘core’ members have done a lot of great work this year.
What is your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy doing to recruit new members?
Holding events on our campus to educate our student body about the legal and political issues, as well as trying to inform them of career opportunities in drug policy reform. We try to be visible on campus, and contribute to the overall law school community by supporting our SBA, co-sponsoring events with other student groups, and being active leaders on campus and in the community. I think when law students see us holding events like the 2012 Cannabis Law Reform Conference, or get experience doing pro bono legal work that makes a tangible difference, then they’ll get more excited about joining SSDP.
What are the goals of your Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter for this academic year?
To kick-start the legalization of marijuana in Oregon and bolster the legal protections of Oregon’s Medical Marijuana Act. Also, to educate ourselves and our community about other drug policy reform issues, such as the national prescription drug overdose epidemic, Oregon’s drug court programs, our state and federal drug laws, and to identify the right law students to serve as our chapter’s next exec board.
How would you describe the marijuana culture on your campus?
Generally our law students are extremely open-minded and progressive. Even students that wish not to be associated with SSDP due to career concerns or to avoid controversy tend to approve of our efforts. The administration has been very accommodating and fair in their treatment of SSDP. While they are not about to give one of the legalization petitions an endorsement, I would say that the law school recognizes that our efforts are well intentioned.
How would you describe the campus laws towards marijuana?
The school’s policies are just, but enforcement of campus marijuana law is largely a non-issue. The college may be a different story, but you’d have to talk to Chris Van Putten from the undergrad L&C chapter for that.
If you could give advice to college students that are reading this interview, what would it be?
Learn as much as you can, and then focus on being able to apply that knowledge to your work and life. Study something practical and challenging, and learn about what you are most passionate about on the side. Focus on making yourself useful, rather than getting what you think you deserve. Be a good person. Listen to Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Enjoy your friends and the good times of college, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
What would be the benefits of legalizing marijuana?
Legalizing marijuana may be one of the only things that could help save our economy, or at least inspire some ideas that could save us from the great depression part deux. Law enforcement resources could be diverted to solving violent crimes instead of the low-hanging fruit of marijuana violations, which have no victims, and consist of relatively less detrimental behaviors than what you’d see in a bar or club on a weekend.
New tax revenues in the hundreds of millions would be realized, and will be available for reinvestment in education, public health, public safety, mental health and addiction treatment services, domestic transportation improvements, scientific research, and any other use you could think of.
Overwhelmingly, the most obvious benefit would be the restoration of the American people’s faith in our legal system, and our ideals of justice. The War on Drugs has always been a war against people, not drugs. Our African American and Hispanic populations have been unfairly discriminated against for decades by our drug laws, and have borne the brunt of the drug war’s harms. I’d like to see a less discriminatory, more just country, where are laws are equally enforced. America should stand unyieldingly behind the principles of liberty and justice, and our current drug policies contradict these ideals.
What are the drawbacks of continuing marijuana prohibition?
Legalizing marijuana is so critical because marijuana is the overwhelming focus of state and federal drug war enforcement resources. Our attention should be directed toward more pressing societal concerns than persecuting potheads and medical marijuana patients, like getting people back to work and fixing the economy. I cannot fathom why after 40 years, countless wasted lives, and one trillion taxpayer dollars, Nixon’s reefer madness continues to dominate our national politics, in spite of the objective failure of the DEA to meet any of its objectives year after year.
Someone is arrested in the U.S. for a drug law violation every 19 seconds, and chances are that it’s for a marijuana violation. This is because half of all drug related arrests are for marijuana violations! Of those charged with marijuana violations in 2009, according to the most recent FBI Uniform Crime Report, 758,593 individuals, were charged for a possession violation only. From 1980 to 2006, the number of people incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses in state and federal prison increased by 1,412%, from 23,900 to 361,276. We lock up more people on drug charges in America (about 500,000 each year), than Europe locks up for all crimes put together. So a huge drawback is hypocrisy, that is, our supposed land of liberty and freedom incarcerates more of its population than any ‘free country’ in history.
Each one of these individuals is arrested, prosecuted in court, convicted, rehabilitated or incarcerated, and monitored by our government and privately owned corrections institutions. All of this is extremely costly for our state and federal budgets, and takes a heavy psychological and human toll on the populations most affected.
In terms of budgetary impact of ending cannabis prohibition, in 2011 alone, our federal and state governments spent a combined $54.14 billion to continue waging the War on Drugs, which has failed at reducing supply, demand, potency, availability, usage rates by teens, abuse rates, and has directly lead to the rise of powerful, ultra-violent international drug cartel syndicates.
I don’t think I stand alone in believing that the war on drugs has failed, with devastating human and financial consequences. The drawbacks consist in letting these figures stagnate or escalate, while more pressing societal issues remain unfixed. Legalizing marijuana is a no-brainer.
How would marijuana legalization affect your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
In short, it would improve our career prospects. It would make our resumes more palatable to traditional government and big law employers. The biggest thing preventing a lot of students from getting involved is the legal uncertainty, and the apparent stigma associated with doing public interest legal work on drug policy reform.
Do you have any Students for Sensible Drug Policy events coming up in your area?
I think we’ll have one more event this semester, but I’m going to let someone else take the lead on planning it. Organizing the 2012 Cannabis Law Reform Conference took a lot of my time and energy away from school and my job, so I need to play catch-up and buckle down on law school and work until finals. I’d like to hear from the other perspectives out there, by hosting a drug court judge, district attorney, or local drug enforcement officers for this year’s last event.
How can readers support your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
Sign I-24 aka Citizens for Sensible Law Enforcement aka Section 46 of the Oregon Constitution! Also, start an SSDP chapter at your school if there isn’t one there yet, and join SSDP if you do. And donate to SSDP at schoolsnotprisons.com.