Students for Sensible Drug Policy rates the top colleges for marijuana activism.
As the largest student organization in the US working to involve young people in the political process, Students for Sensible Drug Policy focuses on changing the debate about the War on Drugs on campus, at the state level and even in Washington, DC, where our national office lobbies federal officials – including a call to stop denying student loans to those with a single marijuana conviction while, incredibly, people convicted of violent crimes face no such sanctions.
“When it comes to the War on Marijuana, students and young people are two of the most impacted and targeted demographics,” notes SSDP associate director Stacia Cosner. “Our students not only educate their peers about their constitutional rights, they also gain a platform to actually change marijuana policy.”
In compiling our annual list of the Top 20 Colleges for Marijuana Activism, we had a chance to review the accomplishments of all of our amazing chapters across the country – and, increasingly, around the world. With so many dynamic young people making real progress on this issue, we know the future of SSDP is in very good hands. In fact, our organization played a key role in last November’s historic push for marijuana legalization in California via Proposition 19 (which lost by a mere eight percent), and our members are ready for more!
“SSDP’s membership showed incredible enthusiasm and professionalism throughout the campaign for Proposition 19 last year,” says associate director Jon Perri, who confirms that chapters in California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and throughout the Midwest and Northeast will be working on a variety of marijuana-law reform efforts leading up to the 2012 elections. “We’re gaining hands-on experience in campaign management, grassroots organizing and drug-policy activism, and it’s amazing to see how hard our students work on influencing policy change all over the country.”
1) Northern Illinois University
The NIU SSDP chapter almost disappeared this year, at least officially, when school administrators claimed the organization was “political” and therefore ineligible to receive funding or even official recognition. Chapter leader Jeremy Orbach contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Eduction (FIRE), the ACLU and SSDP’s board of directors to discuss strategies for changing this policy at his school in order to protect free speech for all groups on campus. In the end, the chapter not only became an officially recognized group, but it helped change an unconstitutional school policy in the process! In recognition, the NIU SSDP was given the “Grace Under Fire” Award at our 2011 SSDP Awards Dinner.
2) Northeastern University
Northeastern’s SSDPers work closely with other Massachusetts chapters to make a difference in state and local politics, including working for medical marijuana and even full legalization. NU SSDP has also experienced rapid membership growth, partly due to its popular “Wire Wednesdays” series, in which the chapter screens episodes of HBO’s The Wire as a way to spark discussion of the impact that drug prohibition has on disadvantaged communities.
3) Northern Virginia Community College
NOVA SSDP made thousands of calls to California voters during the campaign to pass Prop. 19 last fall and also helped to organize a St. Patrick’s Day Alcohol Harm Awareness Day on campus as well as the DC Marijuana March. Chapter members take advantage of their close proximity to Washington, DC, to volunteer frequently in the SSDP national office and assist with outreach at events like the Rally to Restore Sanity.
4) University of Oregon – Eugene
Led by activist Sam Chapman, the University of Oregon SSDP chapter worked tirelessly to pass Oregon’s Measure 74 last year – a bill that would have helped ensure safe access to medical marijuana by establishing state-compliant dispensaries. On Cinco de Mayo, the chapter also memorialized the thousands murdered in the Drug War violence in Mexico by having members simultaneously “drop dead” in the middle of campus.
5) Columbia University
From phone banking in support of Prop. 19 last November to working on local harm-reduction programs like syringe exchanges and overdose prevention, it’s been an incredibly busy year for the members of the Columbia University SSDP. They even coordinated a media response to Operation Ivy League, a high-profile drug bust that resulted in five undergraduate arrests, reminding the public that law-enforcement resources could be better spent elsewhere. And they’ve taken the lead in bringing together SSDP chapters in the greater New York City metro area to join forces on various campaigns and events.
6) Utah State University
Utah isn’t exactly known for progressive drug policies, and that’s why it’s so satisfying that the Utah State University SSDP chapter was just recognized as the “best new student organization” on campus. And no wonder, given that its members have already helped plan an SSDP camping retreat and hosted an informative “Know Your Rights” event. They’re currently working with other Utah chapters to make marijuana possession the lowest law-enforcement priority in Salt Lake City.
7) Virginia Commonwealth University
During the winter break, SSDP at VCU trained over a dozen students to lobby their representatives in Richmond on supporting HB 1443, a bill that would have decriminalized marijuana. And on “Wellness Wednesdays,” listeners can tune in to the campus radio station to hear the “Just Say Know” drug-education project, which is coordinated by SSDPers at VCU in collaboration with campus public-health administrators. In recognition of all of these achievements and more, we presented SSDP at VCU with one of our “Outstanding Chapter” Awards at our national conference in March.
8) University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan SSDP has been one of the organization’s strongest chapters for years. Currently, it has focused its efforts on getting the school to acknowledge the rights of medical-marijuana patients in Michigan. It also recently hosted former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for a discussion of drug-policy issues with students, and many chapter members are speakers and participants at the annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash.
9) University of Connecticut
Sam Tracy, the former president of UConn SSDP, was elected president of the university’s student governing body this spring – just one of more than a dozen SSDPers elected to student-government positions. Together with other allies, they were able to pass a resolution expressing support for a marijuana-decriminalization bill that is currently moving forward in the Connecticut statehouse. On the state level, SSDPers have trained and organized their fellow students to lobby on issues such as medical marijuana, decriminalization, and even opposing a bill that would have arbitrarily inflated the penalties for drug possession within a certain distance from public schools.
10) Roosevelt University
The SSDP chapter at Roosevelt University, led by cousins Abigail and Valerie Moore, worked with other campus groups to organize a forum called “The Controversies of Drugs,” in which they discussed how the Drug War impacts Chicago – especially on issues like the disproportionate incarceration rate of minorities and the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (the law that denies federal financial aid to students with drug convictions). This fall, Roosevelt SSDP will also host our annual Midwest Regional Conference.
11) University of Maine – Farmington
Our only chapter in Maine, UMF SSDP sent chapter leaders to testify before the Committee on Public Safety and Criminal Justice in support of the state’s proposed marijuana-legalization bill. UMF SSDPers also traveled to Washington, DC, twice this year, to participate in the Conservative Political Action Conference as well as SSDP’s 2011 Training Conference and Lobby Day.
12) San Jose State University
SSDP’s chapter at San Jose State University was deeply involved in the campaign to pass Prop. 19 in California by collecting signatures, registering voters and educating citizens. The chapter also hosted a debate last fall that featured a former San Jose police chief who now supports legalization, and it recently helped organize a candlelight vigil to mark the 40th anniversary of the War on Drugs.
13) West Chester University
In their first year as an established chapter, West Chester University SSDP members have already advocated in favor of a statewide medical-marijuana law as well as a lifesaving “medical amnesty” law. They’ve also spread their message by promoting AMPLIFY concerts featuring Roots of Creation and other acts committed to our cause. We recognized their hard work at our conference this March by giving WCU SSDP the “Rising Star Chapter” Award.
14) Los Angeles City College
Led by community organizer Rodrigo “Froggy” Vazquez, the members of the newly formed SSDP chapter at Los Angeles City College made big waves during the Prop. 19 campaign, including outreach to local communities about the harms of marijuana prohibition. And they continue to impress our staff by building coalitions with other campus and community groups. We expect big things from them in 2012.
15) Florida State University
Located in Tallahassee, the state capital, FSU SSDPers have gotten heavily involved in the statewide campaign for medical marijuana and other drug-policy reform issues. They’ve also worked with other Florida SSDP chapters on local decriminalization initiatives, most notably in Miami. And they offered a shining example of how to transfer leadership when many of the chapter’s leaders recently graduated. As a result, a new crop of activists has emerged on campus, and they’re hard at work expanding their already strong chapter network.
16) Lewis & Clark College
Chapter leader Christopher Van Putten had the Lewis & Clark SSDP chapter up and running within a week of deciding that he wanted to do something to change cannabis policy in Oregon and beyond. The chapter became official in March 2011 and is already hard at work collecting signatures for the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2011.
17) Emerson College
Despite not being an officially recognized student group for over a year and a half, Emerson SSDPers have been hosting events, participating in the Boston Pride Parade and Boston Freedom Rally, and holding regular chapter meetings on campus. Next year, they plan to continue working with student-government leaders and the school’s administration to reduce penalties for on-campus marijuana-possession violations.
18) University of Northern Colorado
SSDP chapter leader Chris Pezza has already formed not one but two active chapters in Colorado. In the coming year, the University of Northern Colorado SSDP will be focused on protecting medical-marijuana patients’ rights, as well as advocating for psychedelic-drug research and reducing the prison population. Its members are also working to pass Colorado’s 2012 legalization effort by collecting signatures and registering voters.
19) Rutgers University – New Brunswick
Although they ultimately couldn’t get it on the ballot last fall, Rutgers University SSDPers led the “Sensible New Brunswick” campaign, which had the goal of passing a referendum to make adult personal possession of marijuana the lowest police priority in the city of New Brunswick, NJ. RU SSDP also hosted several special guest speakers, including former NYPD officer Tim Datig from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and HIGH TIMES’ own associate publisher, Rick Cusick. And eight RU SSDPers made the trip down to Washington, DC, in March to lobby their federal representatives during SSDP’s 2011 Training Conference and Lobby Day.
20) Kent State University
Last fall, KSU hosted SSDP’s Midwest Regional Conference, the largest midwestern gathering of SSDP members to date. Former chapter leader Angel Gagliardi is now the state coordinator for SSDP Ohio, a volunteer position that is essential to increasing communication among our Ohio chapters. Meanwhile, former chapter president Chris Wallis now serves as SSDP’s AMPLIFY Project coordinator, where he connects chapters around the country with the opportunity to spread the word about drug-policy reform at live music events … all of which goes to prove that SSDP members stay involved for life!