I’m thrilled to introduce our newest SSDP chapter in the Mid-Atlantic region: Rutgers University! Chapter leader Eitan Scher started making plans over the summer to get a chapter going, and one month in has already established a solid core group that is meeting regularly. I spoke with Eitan about his progress so far and his vision for the future of the chapter:
How did you hear about SSDP?
I heard about SSDP from my older brother, Avi. He was the person who originally brought SSDP to Rutgers and first inspired my interest in drug policy reform.
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
I’ve always had a passion for human rights and progressive causes; I believe the War on Drugs perpetuates a system of violence, racism, and abuse that devastates the United States and the world. I happen to be a Psychology major and a hopeful candidate for an accelerated Masters of Public Health program here at Rutgers. The opioid epidemic is a massive public health emergency that must be addressed with a system that not only supports those already addicted but ensures that they don’t get addicted in the first place. As someone who has been prescribed a cocktail of different opiates by doctors over the years, their potential for harm is devastating and must be addressed.
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
The reception has been great! I’m actually a transfer student, so this is my first semester at Rutgers. We already have a nice group of students who are super invested in SSDP and are taking initiative the process of bringing it back to Rutgers. Its funny; a bunch of people I’ve spoken to think we’re some sort of student-run DARE program when I first start explaining what SSDP is. But as the conversation progresses, most seem very interested and supportive of our work and goals.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for next semester?
Our main goals right now are to become a recognized student club and continue to build up our presence on campus. Once we have that we would love to work on a campaign to enact a Good Samaritan policy as part of the university code of conduct, ensuring medical amnesty for people in drug-related medical emergencies.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
The most challenging part is trying to find a time we can all meet! As a transfer, I do have a lot on my plate, but thankfully we have a lot of really dedicated students at our chapter.
What is the most rewarding part?
It’s easily how passionate we all are about drug policy reform; our members are so invested in our mission and all of us bring different skills to the table. Being able to meet with like-minded individuals who are all coming to SSDP from a different mindset with different reasonings behind their interest is amazing.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ss
New Jersey has gubernatorial elections coming up and the frontrunner, Democrat Phil Murphy, has on record supported cannabis legalization. New Jersey has had a medical marijuana program for years that has been limited by our current governor Chris Christie, but the majority of New Jersey residents support full legalization. There are actually two separate bills being pushed for recreational marijuana, one led by a Democrat and another by a Republican; at this point, the only real obstacle is the man on top and he is on his way out.
What is your vision for Rutgers SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
I want to see Rutgers SSDP to be a leader in the initiative to legalize marijuana in New Jersey. We are in a prime position to be a leader in the cannabis industry. I hope that we are a driving force in educating and preparing the next generation of drug policy reformers. Lastly, I hope that Rutgers SSDP is established enough that it can continue to grow and develop once the core group of founders graduate. Whatever we hope to accomplish will only be a small aspect of fighting the War on Drugs and I genuinely hope that Rutgers becomes an environment that supports the fulfillment SSDP’s goals.