I sent out e-mails across the nation after the 2012 Cannabis Law Reform Conference hosted by Oregon Students for Sensible Drug Policy, 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 Portland State University. Chapter President Romain Bonilla was kind enough to send over the following responses (TWB questions are in bold, above Romain’s responses):
How long has your Students for Sensible Drug Policy Chapter existed?
Portland State SSDP was founded at the beginning of Fall 2011.
How many members does your Students for Sensible Drug Policy currently have?
Our chapter currently has around 200 members.
What is your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy doing to recruit new members?
As a chapter, we have done much tabling and fliering, organized several bake sales, and screened movies for free at the PSU campus. Many of us are also getting the discussion started in the classroom by making drug policy presentations as part of our coursework. We also have several media campaigns in mind, including a “Not A Stereotype” campaign where supporters of drug law reform could contradict the preconceptions associated with the legalization movement.
What are the goals of your Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter for this academic year?
Portland State SSDP is hoping to raise awareness of drug policy issues, focusing on the harms of prohibition and possible alternatives. We are hoping to bring relevant speakers to PSU in order to further develop the public debate on drug policy, and will work towards promoting harm reduction and drug education.
How would you describe the marijuana culture on your campus?
Everyone experiences a culture differently. As an SSDP leader, there is a definite bias in the sense that a lot of my discussions on-campus are related to drug policy. It seems to me like a majority of people are 420-friendly, and it’s not uncommon for some to be open about their use. But overall, I’d say Portland State’s marijuana culture is very discrete, or perhaps more so than some other schools in the region.
How would you describe the campus laws towards marijuana?
According to articles I’ve read in the Portland State Vanguard, drug possession in the dorm rooms usually results in disciplinary measures, rather than criminal prosecution. I think it’s great that PSU can deal with drug offenses independently of the criminal justice system, it’s not the case in every school.
If you could give advice to college students that are reading this interview, what would it be?
Do things. If you believe in the cause of drug policy reform, talk to people about it. Educating yourself and others will help dismantle the prohibitionist paradigm and the fallacies it’s based on. Once you find other supporters of reform, organize! Joining or founding a student group is one of the best ways to get involved, and SSDP has an incredible network of awesome people to learn from and collaborate with. For those that are already involved, keep in mind who our audience is. People support drug law reform for a variety of reasons, and it’s important to adapt your message beyond the 420-friendly crowd. Business professionals, retired folks, college professors, and moms and dads are also receptive to the arguments for reform; it’s important to remind them that all of us can all benefit from legalization, users and non-users alike.
What would be the benefits of legalizing marijuana?
Moving the cannabis industry from an uncontrollable black market to a legally accountable system of production and distribution would allow for effective regulation to be established. This could include reducing the availability of cannabis to minors, quality-checking the products, and taxing the industry to provide additional millions of dollars in tax revenue. On top of this, prohibition-related harms, such as organized crime and excessive incarceration, would be on their way out. The industry of hemp also depends on cannabis legalization, and this is something that matters to a lot of Oregonians, as hemp could provide more jobs, more eco-friendly products, and cheaper prices for consumers. Overall, I think the best potential benefit of legalizing cannabis is to reduce the drama associated with it. Making it “boring” would allow us to find more rational solutions when it comes to policy and regulations.
What are the drawbacks of continuing marijuana prohibition?
Continuing cannabis prohibition involves perpetuating prohibition-related problems in society, such as mass incarceration, a dangerously powerful network of criminals (from drug cartels to neighborhood gangs), and wasting law enforcement resources on non-violent drug offenders. We would essentially be turning down millions in tax revenue and handing it out to profit-minded traffickers who do not care about public safety or health. The economic crisis is threatening a lot of effective social services, and politicans tell us their budgets aren’t sufficient to fund those programs, but somehow we can still afford to waste billions on a drug policy that has failed in its own terms! Continuing prohibition would prolong the drug problem, empower criminals here and abroad, and delay us from finding solutions to these problems.
How would marijuana legalization affect your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
There is no one-size-fits-all drug policy, even within legalization. There may be problems with cannabis policy even within the framework of a legal regulation system. There may still be inherent discrimination or ineffective regulation in the new policies. The word “legalization” essentially means any alternative to prohibition, and although we know prohibition does not work, not all of those alternatives are necessarily a good thing. There is no perfect drug policy, and SSDP will continue to be around even after ending prohibition to ensure that drug policies are science-based, compassionate, and effective at reducing the harms of drugs in society.
Do you have any Students for Sensible Drug Policy events coming up in your area?
While we wait for PSU funding, we are planning on bringing speakers to Portland State, screening drug policy films, and hosting workshops to inspire future discussions. A lot of us are rich in ideas, so there will be more coming up!
How can readers support your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
Donations are always nice, but collaboration can be even nicer! If you are or know someone that would like to collaborate with our chapter to further the cause of drug policy reform, send us an e-mail. We’re all in the same boat, and we’ve got to start working together!