This past week, our newest Law School chapter at Northeatern University School of Law joined our LSSDP network. Julie Roberts, current SSDP Executive Board member, founded the chapter and is leading NUSL SSDP with Co-President Jess Cochrane. I was able to catch up with Julie earlier this week, and here is what she had to say about her involvement with SSDP, and the NUSL chapter.
Julie Roberts Jess Cochrane
SSDP: How did you hear about SSDP?
Julie: I first heard of SSDP when I started working for Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico in 2006. Even though I already graduated from college, I got to work with University of New Mexico’s SSDP chapter and always admired the organization and students that were involved.
SSDP: Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
JuIie: left DPA in 2010 to attend Northeastern University School of Law (NUSL). Because of my background in drug policy advocacy, I immediately got involved with the active SSDP chapter at the undergraduate level and have served on the chapter’s executive board since first starting law school. Just a few months ago, I met a first year law student, Jess Cochrane, who is extremely passionate and knowledgeable about drug policy. Together, we decided it was time for NUSL to have its own SSDP chapter and we worked together to apply for official recognition of the organization by the school.
SSDP: What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
Julie: This is the first time there has ever been an SSDP chapter at the law school so students seem really excited about the new group. We’ve received great support from Leo Beletsky, our faculty advisor, who recently moved to Boston to teach a specific Drug Policy and the Law course at the law school. We haven’t talked to NUSL administration yet about SSDP but the Student Bar Association voted almost unanimously to approve the group.
SSDP: What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for the spring semester?
Julie: Because there is already such an active undergraduate chapter at Northeastern, we plan to work closely with the chapter on joint events in the Spring semester. Our main focus right now is a ballot initiative to equalize the penalties between underage drinking and personal marijuana possession. NUSSDP’s ballot initiative seeks to lower penalties for minor cannabis possession infractions (2 strikes before immediate suspension) so they are the same as those for alcohol policy violations (3 strikes before immediate suspension). Even though law students can’t sign the petition, the law chapter is still helping to collect signatures and raise awareness about the proposal.
The Northeastern University SSDP chapter is also planning the Second Annual Psychedelic Panel for April 10th. The panel will feature Rick Doblin (on Psychedelics and social change), Dr. John Halpern (who researches use of Psilocybin, LSD, and Bromo-LSD to treat cluster headaches) and Marilyn Howell, Author of Honor Thy Daughter (who will speak about her daughter’s use of psychedelics during the last days before she died). Even though this is an “undergrad” event, the law chapter will still help to promote the event and encourage law students to attend.
SSDP: What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
Julie: Law students at NUSL are very involved and engaged in a number of existing student organizations. Our biggest challenge will be recruiting student who are already (over)committed to other groups. So when we do hold events at the law school, we are planning to seek co-sponsors from these existing groups to try to increase attendance and awareness on drug policy topics.
SSDP: What is the most rewarding part?
Julie: The most rewarding aspect is getting to continue to work with such a successful and active undergraduate chapter while specifically expanding awareness to even more students at the law school.
SSDP: What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
Julie: At school, I’m most excited for the marijuana equalization ballot initiative. We only have until March 12 to get 750 signatures. Then if approved, our question will be placed on the ballot during the Spring Election for the entire undergraduate student body to consider.
At the state level, I’ve been working with advocates on the state’s 911 Good Samaritan bill and we’re hopeful that the legislation will pass this year. There is also a medical marijuana bill that has been introduced in the state legislature, which if not approved, will go to a ballot initiative for voters.
SSDP: What is your vision for SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
Julie: I see SSDP as an organization with tremendous potential to advocate for public policy change on our campus, cities and states. I see the law school chapter continuing to collaborate with the undergraduate SSDP group to plan and implement a range of events that are of interest both to law students and liberal arts students from different backgrounds. By working together, hopefully we can reach even more students and increase the diversity of students involved with SSDP.