Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is the only international network of students dedicated to ending the war on drugs. At its heart, SSDP is a grassroots organization, led by a student-run Board of Directors. We create change by bringing young people together and creating safe spaces for students of all political and ideological stripes to have honest conversations about drugs and drug policy. Founded in 1998, SSDP comprises thousands of members at hundreds of campuses in countries around the globe.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society.
SSDP mobilizes and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth.
- Shared power and authority
- Youth-controlled agenda
- Collaboration and partnership
- Constituent-specific strategies
- Diversity and inclusion
SSDP neither condones nor condemns drug use, rather we respect the right of individuals to make decisions about their own health and well-being. We encourage honest conversation about the realities of the drug war. We promote youth civic engagement as a critical tool in reforming drug policy. SSDP respects the diverse experiences and identities of our constituents. We develop leaders who advocate for policy changes based on justice, liberty, compassion and reason.
SSDP’s Structure as a Grassroots Organization
SSDP is comprised of student chapters all across the world. Any student anywhere can start a chapter. While SSDP has a variety of national campaigns and actions that everyone can participate in, chapters are also encouraged to work on those issues that have the most traction in their own communities. Annually SSDPers convene for a national conference. There, students acquire essential activist knowledge and skills. Also, chapters elect students to serve on SSDP’s Board of Directors. The Board in turn selects and oversees SSDP’s executive director, who is responsible for tending to both the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as its long-term direction. An important duty of the executive director is to hire and manage staff. Currently, besides an executive director, SSDP has a deputy director, and two outreach directors. Ultimately, the SSDP staff exists to serve and represent SSDP’s chapters and activists. Click here to meet the SSDP staff and Board.
Legally, SSDP consists of two separate, distinct entities – Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation and Students for Sensible Drug Policy Inc. The former, as a 501(c)3 organization, engages in education and outreach. Donations to SSDP Foundation are tax-deductible. SSDP Inc, as a 501(c)4 organization, engages in advocacy, or attempts to effect change to law and policy. Accordingly, donations to SSDP Inc are not tax-deductible. Click here to read SSDP Foundation’s bylaws.
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In the fall of 1996, members of the Student Drug Reform Movement (SDRM) begin to chat over the internet using a Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet) discussion page. In 1997, the Rochester Cannabis Coalition (RCC) at the Rochester Institute of Technology applied to become the first official student organization dedicated to fighting the War on Drugs; RIT denied RCC’s application and ultimately expelled the lead organizer, Shea Gunther ’98, who would go on to become an SSDP founder. In winter 1998, SDRM members at University of Massachusetts-Amherst hosted a conference for about 50 students, many of whom would go on to join Shea in founding SSDP.
- That conference led to the First National Gathering in Washington, DC the following year, where attendees decided to collectively to form SSDP into a national organization and elect a board of directors comprised of one representative from each of the five schools that had chapters operating under the SSDP name (Hampshire College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, George Washington University, American University, and Rochester Institute of Technology). SSDP undertook a series of actions and events which contributed to partial repeal of the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (HEAAEP), our first political victory:
- January 2000 – First National Action. At and around the College Convention 2000 in New Hampshire, SSDP students protested the HEAAEP.
- Spring 2000 – First Loan Replacement Program. Hampshire College instituted the first HEAAEP loan replacement program and its president was the first to come out against the HEAAEP.
- March 3, 2001 – Legislation to Repeal. A coalition of U.S. House Democrats introduced legislation that would repeal a moratorium on federal financial aid to college students with drug convictions, citing denial of aid for 8,162 students that school year.
- March 15, 2001 – “Students VS. the Drug War.” An article featuring SSDP appeared in Rolling Stone. HEAAEP victim Marisa Garcia ’00 was profiled and the article marked SSDP’s big break into public awareness.
- Spring 2001 – Colleges Urge Change. Five Oregon colleges passed resolutions urging changes to the HEAAEP. Thirteen leading education associations representing admissions officers, community and state colleges, financial aid administrators and student groups sent a strongly worded letter outlining flaws in the HEAAEP to the head of the DEA.
- February 2002 – Souder Confronted About HEAAEP. Members of SSDP attended an event to get long-awaited answers from Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) about the HEAAEP legislation he authored.
- April 9, 2002 – Yale Begins Reimbursement. Yale became the fourth college to reimburse students who have lost aid due to the HEAAEP.
- 2006 – Partial Repeal of the HEA. Congress, responding to pressure from SSDP and other advocates, scaled back the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty, taking away its “reachback effect” so that it would only affect students convicted for offenses that occur while they are enrolled in college and receiving aid.
SSDP’s efforts to repeal the HEAAEP provided a model that has led to development of the student network for the past sixteen years. The actions, educational events, and collaborations undertaken to modify the HEA have led to, among other things, the four or more annual Regional SSDP Conferences which began in 2001 and continue to provide students with their best opportunities to become informed advocates. The 2001 Amherst Coffee Ban was among the first student-led and campus-based actions to confront the role of drug prohibition campus-wide; inventive and thought-provoking campus actions continue to grab students’ attention to illustrate the harms of prohibition. Students publicly pose questions to candidates and elected officials to get them “On the Record” about drug policy reform, much like the public conversation with Souder in 2002. The DRCNet listserv lives today as SSDPTalk, a listerv for students, alumni, staff, members, and other stakeholders. And to this day, SSDP seeks to build bridges with organizations not primarily focused on the War on Drugs to end its collateral consequences such as overincarceration, racism, and educational and economic injustice.
Since its inception, SSDP has expanded from a single chapter in upstate New York created by a handful of students with a powerful vision to a network of about 200 chapters nationwide working to implement that vision on their campuses, in their communities and states, and at the federal level.
Marijuana Today — a podcast hosted by SSDP founders — recorded a special episode at SSDP2014, the Students for Sensible Drug Policy International Conference, with Stacia Cosner ’05, Shaleen Title ’02, Shea Gunther ’98, Shawn Heller ’98, Dan Goldman ’99, and Kris Krane ’98 joining host Kris Lotlikar ’98. The panel discusses how they each became involved in SSDP as they relay the history of the student organization that has been successfully working to end the drug war for over 16 years.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
1011 O Street NW #1
Washington, DC 20001
Phone: (202) 393-5280