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Students Tackle War on Drugs

Wed, 09 Oct 2002 - The South End (Wayne State University, MI)
©2002 The South End Newspaper
Contact: gina@southend.wayne.edu - Website: http://www.southend.wayne.edu
Author: Stacey Robinson

Wayne State University is one of over 200 campuses nation wide that maintain a chapter of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). SSDP is an organization dedicated to providing education on the problems caused by the War on Drugs. They strive to get youth involved in political processes and promote the discussion of alternative solutions to drug problems in America.

The Higher Education Act of 1998 sparked the emergence of the SSDP as a national campus organization. The Act contained a provision that delays or denies all federal financial aid eligibility to students who have drug convictions, no matter how minor.

"This provision represents an extra-judicial penalty impacting only students of poor and working class backgrounds. In addition, unequal enforcement of drug laws means that people of color will be disproportionately affected," said Shawn Heller, the national director for SSDP, as posted on the organization's Web site.

Some SSDP members have convinced their schools to provide scholarship and loan programs to assist students who are denied financial aid as a result of the Higher Education Act. Local chapters are encouraged to gather endorsements from college and university presidents and administrators.

At the legislative level, the SSDP agenda includes having the various chapters lobby members of Congress to support the H.R. 786 bill, overturning the drug provision and restoring educational opportunities for all students in need.

Along with concerns regarding the Higher Education Act of 1998, the SSDP's National Agenda for 2002-03 includes issues of the Drug-Free Student Aid Provision Educational Campaign, Replacing Zero Tolerance with Harm Reduction, 1999's Plan Colombia, and the discontinuance of student Urine Testing.

The SSDP believes that issues of zero tolerance and drug education are ripe for reform, and can serve as a catalyst to a large community debate on drug policy.

Since the fall of 1998, the SSDP has expanded from a single chapter at the Rochester Institute of Technology, to the largest national student organization of its kind. SSDP has chapters in high schools and universities across North America, striving to increase drug policy discourse on campuses and communities of all demographics.

Members communicate through e-mail, a list serve and with the assistance of Darrell Rodgers, the National Outreach Coordinator of SSDP.

"Individual chapters are able to work on whatever form of the drug war they are interested in," said Rodgers. "This can include appealing the Higher Education Act on their campus, working on harm reduction needle exchange programs, or replacing zero tolerance policies on campus. There is a large range of issues that students can work on.

"The drug war reform is the new student anti-war moment, and while policy makers have declared the drug war in our name to protect us, we are now becoming the target of those policies. We want to see treatment instead of incarceration referendums in more states. Our goal overall is to end our current drug war and replace it with a more sensible, rational and human policy."

Rodgers also believes that particular drug issues and policies affect Hispanics and African-Americans who are disproportionately targeted and persecuted in the drug war.

"It's important to bring the SSDP to Wayne's campus, because the issues directly impact our community," said Amanda Brazel, the President of the WSU chapter of the SSDP.

This is Brazel's second year as a WSU student, and the first semester for the SSDP. Brazel is interested in coordinating her efforts with others to educate and increase awareness on various related issues.

The WSU chapter of the SSDP meets every third Friday of the month. Their second meeting will be held on Friday, October 18 in Room 16 in the basement of the Student Center from 2-4 p.m.

The WSU and University of Michigan chapters of SSDP are helping to co-sponsor the upcoming Journey for Justice tour. National organizations The November Coalition and Common Sense for Drug Policy are presenting the first weekend of this four-year nation-wide tour in the Detroit area. It will eventually travel to every state in the nation, and will be hosted by The Drug Policy Forum of Michigan (DPFMI).

"We recognize that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected and has primarily targeted the poor, youth, and persons of color. The war on drugs is a miserable failure," said Debra Wright, the Co-Chair of the DPFMI, in a recent press release.

"The drug war has had unfortunate and alarming consequences for the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan," said Wright. "We need to move in a positive direction, and this conference will allow people to view some alternatives to the current war on drugs."

The events begin with a presentation, rally and march through town on Friday, October 11 at 7 p.m. in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan, Modern Language Building.

On Saturday, October 12 from 1-5 p.m. at the University of Detroit Mercy Law School, there will be a panel presentation highlighting drug war issues and offering alternatives to current drug policies. Speakers include Congressman John Conyers; Kevin Zeese, Executive Director of Common Sense for Drug Policy; Nora Callahan and Chuck Armsbury of The November Coalition; Michigan attorney Greg Schmid; Ron Allen, community activist; Pam Lynch, a harm reduction advocate; Dan Salano of Police Officers for Drug Law Reform, and others.

"So far the response has been good. We have been raising a few eyebrows and peaking interest lately. A lot of people were not aware of our issues; they just went along with the government message that all drugs users are bad and need to be prosecuted. That isn't the way it needs to be," said Brazel. "I encourage everyone to get involved, because the drug war affects us all in one way or another, or at least people we know."

Contact Amanda Brazel at waynessdp@hotmail.com, or visit the national SSDP office at www.ssdp.org on the Web.

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