Cannabis: No Smokescreen Here: Students for Sensible Drug Policy moves the conversation forward

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Student movements have been integral to the political and social progression of American culture. From Vietnam to Parkland, from the fight for civil rights to the war on drugs, young people have been one of the driving forces behind concrete policy changes and cultural shifts. The energy that students and young people bring to social justice movements is a huge asset when it comes to community organizing, campaign building and forward-thinking leadership. And it is certainly no small task to mobilize the raw passion of young adults into a coordinated and organized effort for change, but Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is an organization that makes it look easy.

SSDP was founded in 1998 after the Rochester Cannabis Coalition started collaborating with other student activist groups to end the already failing War on Drugs. Using the internet to communicate between chapters, they launched their first coordinated political campaign when they took on the discriminatory Higher Education Act, eventually achieving a partial repeal of the Aid Elimination Act in 2006.

Since its founding, SSDP has grown to include 6,231 members on 231 campuses in 38 countries. This network of drug policy activists includes the organization’s founders, alumni like myself, current college students and supporters across the world. During that time, we have spearheaded youth participation in campaigns surrounding marijuana policy reform, decriminalization of all drugs, good Samaritan policies, and harm reduction approaches to nightlife drug use and the opioid epidemic.

SSDP neither condones nor condemns drug use, but rather respects the right of individuals to make decisions about their own health and well-being. SSDP’s mission is to empower young people to participate in the political process, especially surrounding counterproductive drug war policies that harm students and youth. Through this youth civic engagement, SSDP helps to develop leaders who advocate for policy changes based on justice, liberty, compassion and reason.

These days, SSDP also pushes for psychedelic policy reform, hosts international conferences and organizes massive phone banking campaigns like the one that just wrapped up in preparation for the midterm election. Our network has developed a peer education curriculum that offers a science-based alternative to abstinence-only drug education programs like DARE, which failed so many of us as children. SSDP also works to elevate and center the voices of marginalized communities that have been the most negatively affected by the War on Drugs, with the knowledge that a just and sensible future of drug policy, whether it comes to the cannabis industry or the death penalty, depends on speaking truth to power and leveraging individual privilege for the good of all.

The work of SSDP is entirely student-driven, student-led and student-focused, and the organization is structured around student chapters and a student-majority board of directors, with a small paid staff that helps keep things running (and funded). If you’re interested in their work, check out their website (ssdp.org), donate to the organization, or go to their events. In Rhode Island, the chapters at URI and Brown University regularly hold forums, film screenings and opioid overdose reversal trainings that are often free and open to the public. And no, I’m not advising that you go and talk to young people about drugs — but rather, that you to go and listen to them.

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