Educators for Sensible Drug Policy is an organization devoted to harnessing the weight and credibility of the teaching professions to the task of bringing about more enlightened drug policies, especially as they relate to schools and students. Originally known as Teachers Against Prohibition (TAP), the organization changed its name last year after founder Adam Jones, a young University of Montana-Billings education major, was forced by law enforcement pressure to drop out. Jones, who was on probation on a minor drug charge, was harassed and jailed repeatedly by his probation officer, forcing him to temporarily give up activism if he wanted his freedom (See http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/290/dearave.shtml).
Now, veteran Canadian educator Jude Renaud has taken up the banner. A resident of British Columbia's remote central coast, Renaud has long experience as a teacher, principal and educational consultant, with a particular interest in education in Canada's First Nation reserves (Indian reservations for you Yankees).
Drug War Chronicle spoke with Renaud Tuesday.
Drug War Chronicle: Is this a continuation of Teachers Against Prohibition (TAP)?
Jude Renaud: Montana education student Adam Jones had just formed TAP when he had to step down, and I had just written him a letter that week. He had asked if I would take on a Canadian wing of the organization. Adam had seen Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and wanted to do a teachers' LEAP. After Adam left, I had a conference call with [DrugSense activist] Richard Lake, and we decided that while an anti-prohibitionist educators' group was a good idea, we didn't like the word "against;" we wanted to be for something. I hadn't even heard of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at that point, and I liked TAP as a name, but I think it's better for parents to hear the word "sensible" coming from teachers. But it is the same organization. Richard has stepped down as executive director but still acts as a consultant.
Chronicle: Are you still against prohibition?
Renaud: Oh, yes. We want to make all drugs understandable, and to do that we need to get past this punitive prohibitionist approach. Let's reach out and legalize it all so we can get to the core issues: poverty, racism, here in Canada generations of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome among the Native people. We have social networks to deal with alcohol abuse because it is a legal substance, but not for cannabis or other drugs. If they can deal with alcohol abuse because it's legal, then let's make cannabis legal and deal with it. Similarly, here in Canada EFSDP is taking the lead with Marc Emery and saying let's support Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party, which wants to legalize cannabis. We need people like that in government.
Chronicle: What issues does EFSDP concentrate on?
Renaud: Some are country specific, like the Higher Education Act drug provision in the USA, but others, like effective drug education and opposition to drug testing and punitive policies, concern educators everywhere. In Canada, we will try to take Marsha Rosenbaum's work with her Safety First drug education curriculum and spread it around up here. There are so many Native communities that are not getting this information, and it is up to the teachers to take it into the schools. Teachers like to have something in front of them, if not they are often ill-prepared. So when a problem becomes evident, the first reaction is to bring in DARE and hand it over to the police. While we all want our schools to be safe places, we do not want schools to be a place where kids are living in fear of the authorities and are afraid to tell the truth, and DARE encourages kids to turn in their parents. We owe it to our kids and grandkids to do better than that. With DARE, we end up with this punitive approach, and when kids start getting expelled or suspended, it becomes a community issue. Instead, we need a curriculum that is health-based and relates to the rest of the academic curriculum-social studies, chemistry, biology. I see teachers get excited when they start thinking they could actually create units to address serious drug problems.
When I talk to kids and I mention magazines like Cannabis Culture and Cannabis Health and Adbusters, they begin to understand there is a lot of history they are not getting anywhere else. There is real potential for us to start building grassroots, community-oriented drug education and prevention programs that work. That can be our strength. As teachers, we are credible for the same reason that Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is credible. There are some very disgruntled parents who are conservative, and we are not going to win them with a radical approach, but we can present them with factual information and science and statistics. People listen to teachers.
Chronicle: So how is EFSDP going to go about changing things?
Renaud: Here in Canada, one of our strategies is to hit every one of the provincial teachers' federation annual general meetings. I spoke to over 800 fellow teachers at the BC meeting, and nearly everyone was saying it was about time to look at drug policy in our schools. Because that experience was so successful, we are going to try to do that in every province.
And like LEAP, we want to create a strong speakers' bureau. As we begin to network more, we should be able to do more.
Maybe with retirees. Retirees are ready to talk. They don't have to worry about losing their jobs by speaking out, but they can still bring their experience and credibility to bear. They don't have anything to lose. And if we can get some of those older teachers talking to some of the younger teachers, the younger teachers can learn.
Chronicle: What kind of influence do US-style school drug policies have in Canada?
Renaud: Mostly negative. They mostly influence us to try to follow a different path. The US-style approaches create a real mistrust within the schools. Drug testing has not been popular here. We see it as creating an atmosphere of fear for students, an aura of extensive surveillance, and that lessens our ability to have an open dialogue with students. Yes, there is some drug testing, but educators here don't see it as having much positive effect. And there are questions about its purpose. Is it compassion or punishment? What we want is more science-based education about drugs. There are some who say, "Let's watch what the Americans are doing and try that, too," as in the Vancouver suburb of Abbotsford, where they want to try drug-sniffing dogs. They are getting a lot of resistance. If we Canadians can stand up and say we don't want things like that, perhaps we can find a better way.
But that is part of the problem. I sent out letters to 35 school superintendents around British Columbia, and every one replied that they were using DARE and the American approach because they have nothing else in place. Now I can go to the public and parents and ask why we don't have anything here in Canada, and tell them we have to create our own. That's very important right now. But we can also learn from some of the positive things the Americans have done, like Marsha Rosenbaum's Safety First program. That is really profound information that we can actually use. I taught senior high students-teaching abstinence only will not work. We need good, honest, science-based information for our kids, and the superintendents agree, but are at a loss for what to do.
Chronicle: How international is EFSDP's membership?
Renaud: Besides the US and Canada, we also have affiliates in Australia and New Zealand, and a very progressive chapter in Japan. We are touching a lot of people right now, and as we become more credible as an international organization we will touch even more. We need to get into Europe. But the interest in Asia is new and is very exciting. Given drug policies there, there is a lot of paranoia, but we hope to expand more there. Again, American drug policies have had profoundly negative influences for educators in Asia, because they are just prohibition, and that's been more harmful than the drugs themselves. You had a more open discussion about opium in the 1920s than at any time since. That is a consequence of prohibition.
We also want to reach out and expand our American membership. We have some really credible people on our board, and I will be doing things like traveling to a Marijuana Policy Project conference in Nevada to meet people. I think American educators are ready for us; we just need to start connecting. We are still in the process of establishing ourselves as a strong nonprofit organization, which should be done by the fall, and then maybe we can start getting more American educators to step forward.
Chronicle: You spoke at the Fill the Hill demonstration for marijuana legalization in Ottawa earlier this month (See http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/341/fillthehill.shtml), right? How was that?
Renaud: It was probably the most dynamic speech I've ever given. I told the crowd it was time to end the hypocrisy, to quit misleading our students, that they deserve better than that. I told them that as an educator, I respect my students and want them to have the best quality information on which to base decisions. When I walked over to the washroom afterward, young women were coming up to me and shaking my hand and saying "Ohmigod! Thank you so much!" I never felt so motivated. Before I spoke, I was thinking about toning it down, but when there are thousands of people listening, you just want to tell the truth.
Then came colleagues from the fields of health and law enforcement and the legal system saying the same thing. I couldn't think of a better team. Jack Cole from LEAP was there and shook my hand. We had supper with Eugene Oscapella from the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, and you're sitting around and you suddenly realize you are not alone. Quite the contrary. You're surrounded by incredibly strong advocates.
There were teachers at Fill the Hill. I think of those young people who came up to me after I spoke, how they responded to me, and I realize that teachers are so frightened of speaking out, but they have to. They have to be more powerful. When the teachers would come up to our table, they would be looking over their shoulders because they were frightened to even be seen looking at my materials. It seems like it's the retired ones who are more willing to speak out. I had one guy come up to me, a 60-year-old retired teacher, and he said, "Thank God. When are they going to get this right?"
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