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 University of New Hampshire. Chapter representative Evan West was kind enough to send over the following responses (TWB questions are in bold, above Evan’s responses):
How long has your Students for Sensible Drug Policy Chapter existed?
Our chapter was originally formed in 2009 as a college NORML chapter. This past year we had the pleasure of becoming a joint chapter of NORML/SSDP. SSDP recognition has brought a lot of new energy and great ideas to our organization, and has allowed us to discuss a wider range of topics in addition to marijuana policy.
How many members does your Students for Sensible Drug Policy currently have?
We have a huge number of people who are supportive of what we do, a significant number of people who actively participate, and a smaller group of students who have actively taken on leadership roles within the chapter. Our core group of active members consists of around 20 people.
What is your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy doing to recruit new members?
We’ve been trying to reach out to other student organizations on campus for networking purposes, as well as to find common ground between the issues that our respective clubs are so passionate about. One thing I find so fascinating about drug policy reform is that its activists come from such varied backgrounds. Our members each bring their own unique perspective to the table, whether it be human rights, environmental sustainability, criminal justice, or economics. Because of this variety in expertise, we try to recruit new members from a variety of sources.
What are the goals of your Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter for this academic year?
Our immediate goals are to increase increase the number of active members we have on campus. Right now we have a lot of students who are sympathetic to what we stand for, but who are hesitant to take on more leadership oriented roles within the chapter. We also want to supplement our on campus events with more opportunities to engage in activism around New Hampshire. We feel this is especially important considering that New Hampshire is the only New England State without a medical or decriminalization law on the books.
How would you describe the marijuana culture on your campus?
There is definitely a significant marijuana culture at UNH. However, I feel that it is a relatively harmless presence when compared to the issues associated with binge drinking that our community faces. Because of the draconian penalties that too often come with “drug” charges, many students feel unwilling to openly discuss their illicit drug use, while the consumption of alcohol remains are much more socially acceptable libation. That being said, students continue to use marijuana behind closed doors, often times more responsibly than their peers who choose to drink.
How would you describe the campus laws towards marijuana?
UNH’s police force continues to direct an immense amount of time and resources towards enforcing marijuana laws on campus. We would argue that this investment is a failed one that is disproportionate to the risks associate with cannabis use. If caught with even the smallest amount of marijuana, students face a number of serious risks, including losing their on campus housing. While laws against theft and violent crime clearly make us safer, our school’s drug policy destroys more futures than it saves. We hope to continue to engage in an open dialogue with campus police on this issue, and to ultimately make UNH a safer place to learn and live.
If you could give advice to college students that are reading this interview, what would it be?
You need to be vocal. The Drug War isn’t going anywhere until each of us takes a proactive role in changing the status quo. One of the most prevalent misconceptions about those involved with this movement is that we lack motivation. I can think of no better way to disprove these claims than to take a stand and oppose these failed policies in a mature and articulate manner. We need to show the policy makers that marijuana users are confident, responsible members of society.
What would be the benefits of legalizing marijuana?
The legalization of marijuana would have numerous benefits for this country that would go far beyond those who choose to personally use. Those involved in the cannabis trade would be able to sell their products in a safe, regulated environment, as well as to settle their business disputes through a legitimate legal framework. The revenue coming from these businesses could be taxed and put towards education rather than incarceration. This redirection of cannabis profits would also cripple the violent cartels that currently have a monopoly on the industry, and who use this monopoly to fund other far more dangerous enterprises. We would also be able to fully research cannabis for industrial and medicinal purposes, and unleash a new era of American innovation in a time when this country so desperately needs it.
What are the drawbacks of continuing marijuana prohibition?
There are a number of drawbacks of continuing marijuana prohibition, but there is one in particular that stands out to me: It drastically undermines confidence in the rule of law. When prohibitions are put in place that an overwhelming majority of citizens support, they are perceived to be legitimate. But when laws are created to marginalize large portions of the population, they drive a wedge between law enforcement and those they are sworn to protect. We have seen this model play out with the prohibition of alcohol, and continue to see its negative impact on our current marijuana policy. Ultimately we need to understand that a free society has no business attempting to regulate the morality and personal behavior of its citizens, so long as their actions do not impede on the freedoms of others.
How would marijuana legalization affect your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
We would be able to refocus our efforts towards education and harm reduction, rather than towards activism. We would also be able have a more open and honest discussion about the pros and cons of marijuana use. Most importantly though, I think we would finally be able to break down the stereotypes associated with cannabis users, and to foster an environment of mutual respect for our student body and campus administration.
Do you have any Students for Sensible Drug Policy events coming up in your area?
We have our annual 4/20 event coming up, and are also excited to welcome comedian Doug Benson to campus on April 30th.
How can readers support your chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy?
Any exposure through blogs and articles would be a great way to raise awareness for our chapter. We would also appreciate any opportunities to collaborate with other drug policy reform groups for any of their own upcoming events. If anyone would like to get in touch with our chapter to set something up, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!