As our executive director Betty Aldworth said in the wake of the 2016 elections, “Our fight has never been more important.” SSDP students participated in fantastic victories in almost every state in which marijuana policy was up for a vote. At the same time, with every cabinet appointment made by the newly elected president, it seems less and less likely that any positive drug policy changes will emerge out of the executive branch of the federal government.
While it may seem difficult to even find a bright side to look at in these seemingly dark times, I for one have never seen so many students become passionate and mobilized around one issue literally overnight: the political crisis that seems to be looming over the country in the wake of a Donald Trump presidency. Campuses everywhere have organized huge demonstrations against Trump and his chosen political associates. The University of Miami, my alma mater and where most of my on-campus work took place this year as SSDP’s Florida Campus Coordinator, saw a massive student protest that attracted a news helicopter and members of the press on the ground just days after the election results, which included a march around campus with students waving signs claiming to be against racism and mass deportation, refusing to accept the president elect as “their president.”
The problems and questions raised by a Trump presidency are nothing new. President Obama has deported more people than any president before him by a huge margin and the Black Lives Matter movement has been around for over three years. In addition, the injustices many students now seem to care about have been taking place on their own campuses for years. An SSDP member at UM, a Cuban-born American, had to sell his car to keep going to school just because he was fined for being caught with a small amount of cannabis. Why is it that he had to pay hundreds of dollars more in fines than I did, when I was caught with a similar amount of cannabis just a few years prior during my freshman year at UM? Trump may be the embodiment of the failure of this country to adequately address any of the problematic issues that he is now bringing to the forefront of his political discourse, but I sincerely hope to see SSDP channel all the newfound rage and anger on these college campuses due to his election into meaningful campus drug policy changes.
Many of the scary questions raised by a Trump presidency can be answered by ending the war on drugs. More people are in jail today for simple possession of cannabis, the vast majority of them black, than for all other violent crimes combined. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, more than 250,000 immigrants had been deported in the six years leading up to 2014 for drug offenses, a number which undoubtedly has grown considerably since then. While drug use can be harmful, it is unjust when those who create and enforce drug policies in America pass laws that cause more harm than the drugs themselves, to drug users and non drug users alike, but especially to marginalized groups.
Moving forward, I think SSDP chapters will have a greater opportunity to thrive under a Trump presidency than they would have if Hillary Clinton had been elected. The newly politically motivated students we are seeing on college campuses in this country would simply not have changed their behavior under a “business-as-usual” president, despite the fact that the things they are now protesting against have always existed in this country and would have still existed irrespective of the election results. I see great potential in starting conversations with these students and explaining that the campuses they attend are also perpetrators of racism and inequality, which can be remedied by joining SSDP in the fight to change campus drug policies. While I support and understand protests as a way to express outrage and raise awareness about an issue, I strongly believe that if we focus our attention on reforming campus policies that malign minorities and immigrants, we will experience far more positive changes than we will by sign-waving and screaming about a president that has yet to take office thousands of miles away.