No matter how you slice it, 2009 was a monumental turning point for Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) and for the drug policy reform movement as a whole.
They are stories that will be taught in high school civics classes in years to come. But there are hundreds of stories you may not have heard about in 2009: unsung heroes on campuses worldwide, playing a pivotal role in ending the destructive War on Drugs.
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1) Students Triumph Over Bad Drug Law in Congress: On September 17th, the congressman who wrote a 1998 law that denies financial aid to students with drug convictions proclaimed: "I knew I was probably going to lose today." And he did. Two days earlier, it appeared that Rep. Souder's amendment would pass, which would have left his anti-education law fully intact. But after SSDP chapters across the country inspired tens of thousands of people to call Congress in less than 48 hours, the tables quickly turned, and Rep. Souder was forced to back down and compromise. Once the bill passes in 2010, hundreds of thousands of students with drug possession convictions will be able to go back to school!
2) SSDP Chapters Lead the Demise of Marijuana Prohibition in Rhode Island: In September, the Providence Journal published an article entitled, "Brown, URI students played key role in R.I. marijuana debate," which told the story of how SSDP chapters led the way for Rhode Island to become the third state to establish legal medical marijuana dispensaries. SSDP chapters in RI have been so successful at building relationships with key policy-makers that the state's senate is now taking a serious look at fully legalizing marijuana!
3) Students Display Courage in the Face of Violence in El Paso, TX: In January, SSDP member Nubia Legarda testified at a city council debate on legalizing drugs to stop the violence in Mexico. Nubia's family lives in the bordering city of Ciudad Juarez, a place that has been torn apart by the bloody wars between rival cartels. After Nubia's moving testimony received media coverage and thousands of views on YouTube, her SSDP chapter quickly became a driving force leading the debate over drug policy in El Paso.
4) Students Protest Police Shooting of Fellow Student: In March, campuses in Michigan erupted after Derek Copp, an unarmed Grand Valley State University student, was shot and nearly killed by police over a gram of marijuana. SSDP chapters across the state ensured that the media framed this as an inevitable consequence of a violent War on Drugs rather than as an avoidable mistake made by police. They also helped to raise hundreds of dollars to assist Derek with his medical bills.
5) U.S. Students Stand with Mexico on Cinco De Mayo: In May, dozens of SSDP chapters stood in solidarity with the people of Mexico to protest the bloodshed caused by drug prohibition. A TV news spot covering the University of Maryland's action (which is one of the best pieces of news coverage I've ever seen generated by an SSDP chapter) was viewed by countless residents of the Washington, DC area.
6) Drug Policies Reformed at Campuses Nationwide: All year long, SSDP chapters worked on "campus change campaigns," and more than a dozen chapters successfully altered their campus's polices. These changes include removing police patrols from dorms, reforming unfair judicial systems, and enacting life-saving Good Samaritan Policies.
7) SSDP Chats with the Drug Czar: In an unprecedented show of diplomacy, President Obama's "Drug Czar" invited leaders of the drug policy reform movement (including myself) to a conference call in which we discussed our vision for the future of drug policy. While it remains to be seen whether the White House will take cues from the conversation that was had in October, this represents a significant step in the right direction.
8) The Grassroots Student Movement Rapidly Expands: For the first time in SSDP's history, SSDP's supporters donated enough money to employ three full-time outreach directors – and just in the nick of time! In the past year, our chapter network has grown to include more than 200 chapters, half of which are new chapters receiving official campus recognition this year. We currently receive more than three new chapter startup inquiries every day.
9) An International Drug Policy Reform Movement is Born: In 2009, SSDP's U.S. and Canadian networks welcomed the establishment of international affiliates in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, and we've worked to build budding networks in areas of South America, Asia, and Europe. Former SSDP Executive Director Kris Krane participated in high-level U.N. meetings on drug policy in Vienna, and received a standing ovation for his mediation of a conflict with opposition groups.
10) Chase Cheats SSDP Out Of Charity Competition, Thousands Drop Chase in Response: In 2009, SSDP's website was viewed nearly half a million times, while more than 400,000 people joined our networks on Facebook, and our YouTube videos reached more than 400,000 views. So it was no surprise that SSDP dominated an online charity competition in which Chase Bank asked Facebook users to vote for nonprofits to receive grants of $25,000 to $1 million. However, when Chase deceptively cheated SSDP out of the winnings, SSDP slammed Chase in the pages of the New York Times, and more than two-thousand SSDP supporters pledged to drop their accounts with Chase.
Finally: Let's celebrate the progress we've made in 2009. But let's also not forget that we need to keep working twice as hard in 2010. Worldwide, millions of people sit behind bars for what they've put into their own bodies; entire communities are torn apart by the violence and corruption caused by the black market; and drug cartels grow more rich and powerful than ever before.
Here's at least one story that I hope to report at the end of 2010:
1) Hundreds of Small Donations Fund a Growing Grassroots Movement: Despite the recession forcing many of SSDP's major donors to cut back on their funding in 2010, hundreds of SSDP alumni and supporters pitched in online this year, comprising nearly $52,000 of our budget, and tripling the amount of small donations received in 2009. Because of your generosity, SSDP's staff has continued to expand in proportion to the growing movement for reform.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy