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December 8, 2005 - New Paltz Oracle (NY Edu)

Students Seek Sensible Drug Policy

By Lori Ryan

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Most people on the SUNY New Paltz campus are familiar with the large, neon green potleaf glowing in a third floor window of the Student Union Building. Most are somewhat acquainted with NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

The organization people are less aware of is SSDP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. On the SUNY New Paltz campus, SSDP is combined with NORML to create a larger and more powerful alliance for reform.

"I had never heard of SSDP before coming to SUNY New Paltz," said student Nicole Rynston. "I saw flyers for NORML and found out about SSDP at the first meeting."

Some people might question the necessity for two drug policy reform organizations on a college campus. The two groups must somehow be different enough to justify the existence of both.

NORML focuses on the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, both for medicinal purposes and personal use. SSDP is an organization committed to harm reduction and providing education to people about the societal damage of the war on drugs. This group neither encourages nor condemns drug use, but recognizes the need for all drug policy reform. It seeks to promote student involvement in the political process that shapes the policies they must adhere to.

Student Senate Chair Justin Holmes said you don't have to be up in arms about marijuana to be in step with SSDP's goal of calling into question the absurd policy of prohibition.

"SSDP tends to bring together people from a wide variety of political views," Holmes said. "Even though it's more radical in some ways, it's still more palatable to conservatives and Libertarians."

This organization works for all students, not just those who use drugs. SSDP advocates said they believe that more money should be spent on education, and less on the growing prison system.

A recent provision of the Higher Education Act has made it increasingly difficult for people with drug offenses to receive financial aid to go to college. This is one of many issues that SSDP is working to reform. SSDP also promotes true drug education for students, allowing them to make informed decisions on drug use without fear of discrimination.

"I think SSDP covers such a broad range of topics," Rynston said. "Even people who don't do drugs can be in favor of reform."

A main goal of SSDP is to educate students of their rights in law enforcement situations. One of the events sponsored by SSDP on campus is called Know Your Rights, which is a program to address how to react and respond during interactions with the police. This event, which will be held early next semester, will focus on racial profiling and feature a video called "Busted." Student senator and SSDP President Jenny Loeb said that she has been collaborating with Executive Vice President Safiya Warner and Provident Under Providence to make it a more diverse and educational event this year.

SSDP is made up of a varied group of students from all around the country. This group works to form a tight-knit networking system to recruit and retain members. Many of these activists will be visiting New Paltz this spring, for the annual Regional SSDP conference. Loeb said this year she hopes to host the conference in conjunction with another SSDP sponsored event, Rock Against Racism, but no date has been set for either.

With the war on drugs impacting our society in so many different ways, SSDP provides an opportunity for students to gather and discuss rational alternative solutions to our nation's drug problems. Loeb said that the goal of SSDP at New Paltz is to engage students in challenging the hypocritical system that imprisons more people in the name of youth than any other country in the world.

"The Drug War affects every single one of us and is the most damaging to youth and people of color," Loeb said. "We want to open up a dialogue about our failed drug policies and discuss safer and more just alternatives."

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