College students have always represented a vital force in the fight against injustice, and the battle to end the War on Drugs is no exception.
“Students have been essential to every social-justice movement in history, and they must play that role in reforming marijuana laws,” states Jon Perri, the highly passionate outreach director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. “Drug-policy reform has never had the momentum it currently has, and SSDP has played an important role in making that happen.”
Perri recognizes that as we move toward increasing freedom for medical-marijuana patients nationwide – and perhaps even the legalization of recreational use in California – today’s young activists have a unique opportunity to lead us into a new and better world. That’s why HIGH TIMES, with help from the national staff of SSDP, is proud to present our annual list of the top 20 colleges and universities for students who are committed to marijuana activism.
“Thanks to the efforts of SSDP chapters, nearly 20 Good Samaritan policies have been passed on college campuses around the country,” Perri tells HIGH TIMES, referring to the policies that protect students from punishment if they call for help when one of their friends has alcohol or drug poisoning. According to Perri, students have also “worked on some of the most important medical-marijuana and marijuana-decriminalization efforts over the past five years. And SSDP’s California chapters will be a key component in the effort to pass November’s marijuana-legalization ballot initiative.”
If reading about these young world-changers inspires you, get involved in your own community by joining the SSDP (ssdp.org) or NORML (norml.org) chapter nearest you – or by starting one of your own!
1) Ithaca College, Ithaca, NY
On the campus level, the Ithaca College SSDP worked to get a “medical amnesty” policy for alcohol and other drugs signed by their college president. SSDPers at Ithaca have been doing everything they can to advance statewide medical-marijuana legislation in New York. Evan Nison, president of the chapter, is one of the founders of New York Patients First, a coalition of patient advocates who have been able to raise support for safe, legal access to medical cannabis.
2) University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
After receiving the 2010 Outstanding Chapter Award, the University of Utah SSDP continue to be a shining example for activism both in and outside the realm of drug-policy reform, including hosting their own weekly campus radio show, Drug War Radio, in which they discuss national and local news in drug policy as well as the campaigns they’re working on.
3) Kent State University, Kent, OH
In the past year, the Kent State SSDP have worked with university administrators to pass a Good Samaritan policy and hosted several successful campus events, including a monthly public-education session called “Let’s Talk About Drugs.” The chapter also publishes a blog (letstalkaboutdrugs.blogspot.com), hosted a statewide strategy summit, and tirelessly continues to provide support for Ohio’s medical-marijuana legislation through both campus and community outreach efforts.
4) Northern Virginia Community College, Annandale, VA
Founding and building a successful SSDP chapter can be quite difficult at commuter schools and those with non-traditional campuses, but the NVCC SSDP make it look like a piece of cake. Students from NVCC have directly lobbied their state representatives on marijuana-law reform legislation, building support for the movement in the state. Founder and former president Jason Matthys was given SSDP’s Most Outstanding Activist Award at our national conference this March in San Francisco for his dedication and hard work.
5) University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
The University of Iowa SSDP had an outstandingly successful first year, hosting speakers from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Iowa Patients for Medical Marijuana and local attorneys for a wildly successful “Know Your Rights” event. University of Iowa SSDP members have also testified at the Iowa Board of Pharmacy hearings on medical marijuana as well as lobbied university administrators, who subsequently announced a Good Samaritan policy starting next year.
6) Front Range Community College, Boulder, CO
Hailing from Boulder, CO, the FRCC SSDP has ranked among the organization's most active chapters. In April, chapter members marched to the school president’s office to deliver a copy of SAFER’s Emerald Initiative, which asks college presidents to support a discussion about the legalization of marijuana as a possible way to reduce alcohol abuse among students.
7) University of Maryland, College Park, MD
Founded in the spring of 2002, the University of Maryland is SSDP’s longest-running chapter and has ranked #1 in this list in both 2007 and 2009. Refusing to rest on their laurels, chapter members have lately become involved in the Student Government Association and University Senate, adding their much-needed perspective to discussions across campus. UMD SSDP also hosted an astonishing 34 events during the 2009-10 academic year. Rounding out another successful year, the chapter also received the Best Student Group award from the student government.
8) University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR
The University of Arkansas chapter of SSDP began the year by reigniting the campus campaign to equalize marijuana penalties with alcohol penalties, eventually securing an agreement from the school administration to enact the passed policy. For their efforts, UA SSDP received an award from SAFER for outstanding student activism. In addition, the chapter is working closely with other Arkansas activists to develop medical-marijuana campaigns in cities throughout the state.
9) West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV
The West Virginia University SSDP chapter has brought an enlightened voice to the debate over drug and alcohol use on campus at a school notorious for its party reputation. SSDP’s first (and only) chapter in West Virginia has simultaneously been getting the ball rolling on several drug-policy reform initiatives and campaigns in Morgantown, WV, ranging from a Good Samaritan policy passed by their student government to surveying over 1,500 students for their opinion on the proposed campus smoking ban.
10) University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT
Eight members of this chapter graciously gave up their spring break to volunteer in San Francisco the week prior to our national conference, which would not have been possible without their help. The chapter hosted a state summit on drug policy to bring together members of this and other coalitions to discuss strategies for advocating a more sensible approach to dealing with drugs, addiction and crime. Jason Ortiz, one of the leaders of UConn SSDP, was elected in March to serve a two-year term on SSDP’s board of directors.
11) University of Texas, El Paso, TX
Since first testifying before the El Paso City Council in 2009, the members of UTEP SSDP have built a strong relationship with their municipal government in hopes that the City Council will propose another resolution calling for an end to marijuana prohibition, as they did in January of this year. The chapter was also integral in organizing UTEP’s first War on Drugs Conference, and later traveled to major policy conferences in Albuquerque and San Francisco in order to bring the experience of those living along the Mexican border to an international audience.
Though newly formed, the Northern Illinois University SSDP chapter has taken the local community by storm: The NIU SSDP went from zero to 400 members in only a matter of days after their first public event garnered them several successful media hits, including a blog on the HIGH TIMES website. Politically, chapter members are working hard to lobby their local representatives in support of the medical-marijuana bill currently the state legislature.
13) Black Hills State University, Spearfish, SD
One of SSDP’s first South Dakota chapters, the activists at BHSU have been focused on working with the South Dakota Coalition for Compassion to gain support for the state’s upcoming medical-marijuana ballot initiative. They also recently held a screening of Flex Your Rights’ new film, 10 Rules for Dealing With Police, which had two active-duty local police officers and an attorney on hand to answer audience questions.
14) Brown University, Providence, RI
At our international conference in San Francisco this March, 17 Brown SSDP members were in attendance – more than any other chapter – and received our Change Beyond Campus Award for their contribution to passing Rhode Island’s medical-marijuana law. Brown’s SSDP chapter also provided volunteer support for the Sixth Annual Patients Out of Time/RIPAC Medical Cannabis Therapeutics Conference this spring.
15) Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
In their first year as an established chapter, VCU SSDP co-organized and hosted the first-ever Mid-Atlantic Regional SSDP Strategy Summit. Devon Tackels, founder and president of the chapter, has been working with VCU’s Student Health and Wellness Center to create “Party Smarty,” a seminar for students that provides straight facts about drug use and promotes smart decision making. Members also participated in a coordinated international candlelight vigil in January to commemorate the young people and students killed in the ongoing Drug War in Mexico.
16) University of Miami, Miami, FL
Within the first few weeks of its inception as an officially registered student organization, the University of Miami SSDP chapter presented a public debate on medical marijuana at the Clinton Global Initiative University. UM SSDP president Eric Stevens used the opportunity to create an outstanding and well-attended public forum.
17) San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA
On Cinco de Mayo, the SFU SSDP chapter drew attention to the Drug War in Mexico by setting up flags to represent all of the people killed by prohibition-fueled violence in that country, while gathering signatures for a petition calling for an end to drug prohibition in the United States. The chapter will host SSDP’s Second Annual West Coast Regional Conference this fall.
18) SUNY New Paltz, New Paltz, NY
This chapter’s annual “Rock Against Racism” concerts drew over 700 attendees to the campus for a free performance by KRS-One and a slate of anti–Drug War speakers that included Kenny Glasgow Sharpton. In addition, chapter members have been sending hundreds of postcards from constituents to the New York Senate to show support for a statewide medical-marijuana law.
19) Reed College, Portland, OR
Recently, the Portland DA’s office threatened Reed College with a loss of federal funding if the school’s administration didn’t crack down on drug use at the annual campus fair, and also threatened to send in undercover police officers to make arrests. In response, the Reed SSDP chapter worked to organize a “Know Your Rights” campaign before the event and made sure that information on harm reduction and asserting one’s constitutional rights were available to all attendees. There were no arrests.
20) Mills College, Oakland, CA
Mills College is a liberal-arts women’s college located in Oakland, CA. The members of the newly formed SSDP chapter on campus have been drawing attention to the impact that the War on Drugs has on their community, and on women in particular. To kick off the semester, they hosted a screening of Perversion of Justice, a short film about Hamedah Hasan, a mother of three sentenced to life in prison under mandatory-minimum sentencing laws for an alleged conspiracy to sell drugs.