The University of Alabama chapter, led by sophomore Matt Larkin, is SSDP’s newest addition and first official chapter in Alabama! I interviewed Matt about his experience so far and his vision for the chapter moving forward.
How did you hear about SSDP?
I have always been interested in our nation’s incessant “war on drugs” and the more I learned, the more I came to understand that our current policy has been a catastrophic failure for years. This summer I was curious about how I could help make a difference and began to look into some drug policy reform organizations and I heard about SSDP on an internet forum.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
I was immediately drawn to SSDP when I saw that it is a student-based network. When I noticed that the University of Alabama did not have an SSDP chapter, or any drug policy reform groups for that matter, I was excited to start a chapter and find other students who also believe changes need to be made and the destructive “war on drugs” needs to stop.
What has the reception been like on campus so far? From students, teachers, and administration?
Thus far I have not been met with any resistance from the faculty or administration. Most students on campus support the idea of having a chapter here at the University of Alabama but many are reluctant to join. Being in such a conservative part of the country, it is very difficult to overcome the social stigma associated with drug use, even though SSDP advocates for drug policy reform, not drug use. It will be difficult to shake the stereotypes, but I believe there are enough intelligent and motivated people at University of Alabama who understand that our current policies are completely failing our country.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for the spring semester?
We hope to gain some recognition for SSDP at Get on Board Day, our student organization fair, in January, and attract some new members. We also would like to begin tabling in our student union to inform students on campus how they can help end the “war on drugs” and work towards a more sensible and effective drug policy in the United States. Later on, we want to host film screenings, bring in enlightening speakers, and organize forums with other politically-minded student groups on campus.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
Our most difficult obstacle so far has been gaining popularity for the chapter and getting students to join. We hope that Get on Board Day in the spring will be a great way to meet with students and attract new members to SSDP.
What is the most rewarding part?
It has been encouraging to see that there are others here who understand that our current “war on drugs” is failing our generation and our society but believe that together we can work towards a safer, more practical way of addressing the drug problems in this country.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
We believe our most important goal is to inform people and hopefully correct some false ideas that they may have about drug prohibition and drug use. If we can change the culture of the discussion and the attitudes of those who support the drug war, I think that’s the first step toward making important policy changes, both at the university and state level.
What is your vision for Alabama SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
My hope is that the University of Alabama chapter of SSDP carries on long after I graduate and only grows stronger. I hope that we can eventually make changes in certain University of Alabama policies, like equalization of marijuana and alcohol penalties on campus, and take steps toward creating a safer alcohol and drug environment. It’s important that we continue to push for sensibility on our campus and toward an improved strategy for solving the drug problems of our nation as a whole.
The University of Alabama, located in the heart of the deep south, is now a beacon of sensibility and hope for drug policy reform. We’re excited to bring the much-needed movement to Alabama and to see what our Crimson SSDPers will accomplish! To get involved in this chapter, email Matt at MJCLarkin7@gmail.com or check out their Facebook group.