I’m excited to share the first edition of SSDP’s Alumni Association newsletter with you. The Association’s Leadership Board decided to provide this newsletter after alumni reported they wanted to hear from SSDP more, know what the national organization, individual chapters, and fellow alumni are doing. In each issue, we will highlight at least one chapter and an alumnus, as well as provide you with updates on new chapters and events.
SSDP lacks not for news to share. In fact, it’s hard to decide what to highlight. Each month, chapters participate in dozens of events across the country, and a slew of new chapters joins SSDP’s ranks. It’s almost impossible to keep up – and understandable why you crave to hear more.
In this issue, we celebrate SSDP’s 17th birthday, with coverage of SSDP’s three birthday parties in October. We highlight the California State University Long Beach SSDP chapter, which has lead the Chapter Activity Tracker all semester, racking up more than 1,000 points to date. Nick Zettell ‘09, the Midwest Alumni Association President, interviews Steven Rzeppa ‘11, an SSDP alumnus from the University of Michigan who was elected to his hometown’s City Council while still an undergraduate and is now running for the Michigan State House.
To round out the issue, we have a summary of the top news stories in drug policy reform in recent months from Sam Tracy ‘09, who should know the topic well from hosting This Week in Drugs each week. We’ve also provided a list of new chapters and links to the blog posts announcing each (with a few exceptions because they were unavailable), and a list of recent SSDP events, which we readily admit is far from comprehensive. You can help us make it better in the future by letting us know about past and upcoming events.
This is a work in progress; please let us know if you have suggestions for content, changes, or want to help – we need writers, editors, photographers, and designers to make this happen. We also need help publicizing, so please share this newsletter with your fellow alumni – and encourage them to join the Association.
We’re providing this special first issue to everyone, but starting next year, membership in the Association will be required to access it. Joining the Association takes only a few minutes (and a few dollars). To join, you simply need to have been active in an SSDP chapter, have a monthly donation of at least $1 to SSDP, and fill out this short sign-up form. Make sure you’ve joined by January, so you’ll have access to our next issue, which will contain coverage from the Drug Policy Alliance Reform Conference.
We look forward to sharing SSDP’s activities with you and helping foster a more connected SSDP alumni community.
Kathryn Parker ‘06
President, Pacific Alumni Association
Alumna, North Carolina State University
CHAPTER HIGHLIGHT: California State University Long Beach
By Mitchell Colbert ‘10, SSDP Alumnus, San Jose State University
In this inaugural issue of the SSDP alumni newsletter, we decided to profile the California State University Long Beach SSDP chapter. CSULB SSDP is a new chapter, just formed this year, yet despite that, the chapter has managed to stay in the top spot for chapter activity points all semester and until recently has maintained double the points of the chapter in second place. Though they are new kids on the block, CSULB SSDP has quickly proven they are a force to be reckoned with and are some real SSDP rockstars.
The chapter meets semi-monthly, and their meetings usually have a theme and have drawn a diverse group of guest speakers. In October, they had Nick Morrow, from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), come speak to them about the damage prohibition has done to our society and what LEAP proposes we can do about it. The LEAP event drew a substantial crowd and received press coverage from the Daily 49er, the student newspaper, with a front page story. On November 3rd, they hosted another amazing speaker, Armando Gudiño, the Southern California Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, who spoke to them about the war on drugs, Mexico’s cartels, and mass incarceration. And on November 10th, the chapter held an educational lobby training session with former Long Beach City Council Member Tonia Reyes Urgana.
In addition to these dynamic speaking events, CSULB SSDP is fundraising for their big end-of-semester event, a panel featuring speakers from groups like LEAP, DPA, and potentially some other fields as well. This interdisciplinary panel will be open to the whole campus, and the chapter hopes it will be a great way to end the semester before finals. Down the road, CSULB SSDP hopes to get involved with the 2016 effort to legalize cannabis in California. Additionally, CSULB SSDP has joined UC Davis SSDP’s campaign to pass campus-wide 911 Good Samaritan policies at their schools, and hopefully on other California campuses as well. With any luck, these campus-wide policies will spread to become a state-wide Good Samaritan law like in New Mexico.
What advice do these SSDP rockstars have for other chapters? On recruitment – Maryanne Alderson, the president of CSULB SSDP, says they have had great success getting new members during club week and in law classes. On funding – bake sales are an oldie but goodie, always a great way to make a few bucks and nobody minds taking home the leftovers. Maryanne and the rest of CSULB are excited to have joined SSDP’s ranks and look forward to seeing what the future has in store for them.
ALUMNI PROFILE: Steve Rzeppa ‘11
By Nick Zettell ‘09, Alumnus, University of Michigan, and President, Midwest Alumni Association
Steven Rzeppa ‘11, an SSDP alumnus, graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Public Policy in 2014. While an undergraduate, his hometown of Trenton, Michigan elected him to City Council. He is passionate about public and community service and has been recognized for his various involvements and activities in the community. Steven currently works for SEIU Healthcare Michigan, the largest healthcare labor union in Michigan and active proponent of the Fight For $15, as a Political and Communications Specialist. He has worked on various political campaigns across southeast Michigan and is currently running for State Representative in Michigan’s 23rd State House district, which includes Trenton and Grosse Ile.
- Years of involvement: 2011-2013
- Current Location/region: Detroit, MI
- Graduation Year: 2014
- Position(s) held in SSDP: Legislative Affairs Director
How did you first get involved in politics? Who encouraged you and influenced you to do so?
I had always been interested in politics since I was very young, and I definitely credit a lot of that to my parents. Not because they were super involved in politics or anything like that, but both were/are public sector employees so I had a lot of exposure early on to more local levels of government just from their conversations, watching the news, etc. I got to see from a young age that it was an avenue to help people and make the world a better place, not to sound too cliché, but it definitely nudged me in that direction.
I wasn’t really involved in politics that substantively until the 2012 election where I started volunteering on a State House campaign in my home district. Our current State Rep was….rather extreme, and the candidate running against him (Tom) was the former mayor of my home town. I had never met him before, but my mom knew him as she works for the city. He was out canvassing and came to my door where I overheard the conversation he was having with my mom so I started chatting with him about some of the issues in the state and started volunteering from there. The rest is history.
How did you first get involved in SSDP?
I believe my first interaction with SSDP was at Festifall, the event U of M puts on every year at the start of the semester to showcase different student organizations across campus. I ended up coming to an ensuing meeting shortly after and loved it. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming and the issues we discussed really inspired me.
What was running for office like your first go around?
Running for office the first time around was certainly interesting. . . . At the time, four of the six members of our council were elected before I was born. We had quite a bit of continuity on our council, for better or for worse. But, two of the three members that were up for re-election that year decided they were going to retire and not run again.
We ended up having a primary and a general election because we had ten people file to run for those three seats, the most in our city’s history from what I have heard, and I finished in second place, ahead of someone who had previously been on council for eight years and about 100 some odd votes behind someone who had been there before I was born. I thought I would have faced far more opposition on a personal level merely for the fact that I was 20 years old for the bulk of my campaign, but people were incredibly receptive to my message and encouraged by someone from a new generation having a desire to get involved. My campaign was a highly grassroots effort and between myself and my volunteers we knocked around 6,000 doors across the city over the course of the campaign.
Who is your biggest political influence?
Ah that is certainly a tough one. In terms of my political views themselves, I would have to credit a lot of that to Howard Zinn. As nerdy as it makes me sound, A People’s History of the United States is without question by favorite book of all time and I would highly recommend it to anyone that even has the faintest interest in either history or politics.
On a somewhat smaller, more personal level though, my biggest influence in terms of how public servants are supposed to be would be John Dingell. When I was an undergrad I interned in his Congressional office and saw firsthand why he was so adored in the district for so long. People, often rightfully so, have a very cynical view of politicians, but with Congressman Dingell I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen anyone who so genuinely cared about the people he represented and served. Whether you agreed with his policies or beliefs or not, he would always take the time to listen and make sure people had the opportunity to have their voice heard. In a time where money has been such a corruptible influence in politics this means a lot. I’ll never forget him telling me that “If you take care of people like you’re supposed to between elections, you won’t have to worry about them taking care of you during elections”.
What were some advantages to being a student while serving on city council? What were some challenges?
I think that one of the biggest advantages I had as a student was that I was able to offer a much different perspective than the rest of council. I was the youngest person on our council by about 30 years, and I think that really resonated with voters who were excited at the prospect of real change in our government. As a student of public policy as well, I had the opportunity to study a lot of the issues that face us with far more up to date information and methods than most people.
One of the biggest disadvantages I expected to face was obviously that, because of my youth, I would not have been taken as seriously. Thankfully though, that was not the case at all. I spent a lot of time listening more so than acting on issues early on, and I think it showed to my colleagues that not only was I pretty informed and passionate, but I recognized that I didn’t know everything. In government, that’s important.
What would you like to accomplish before the end of your last term?
The biggest project we have ongoing that I would say I am most passionate about is one involving a vacant hospital in our community that’s right on the waterfront. We’re lucky to have our downtown area located along the Detroit River and it leaves us quite a bit of potential for development and creativity. This hospital, located right in this corridor, closed in the late 90s and has basically spent more years in my lifetime as a vacant building than an operating hospital. The plot of land it sits on is incredibly valuable and has the capability to help transform our downtown. Before I leave I want to see this turned into a viable development that can really be a cornerstone of our downtown.
What was your “Aha!” moment regarding drug policy?
I’m not really sure if there was really one individual moment but one of the key things I can think of that really got the ball rolling for me was when I was writing a paper for a philosophy class about “what is a drug?” It made me think far more critically about the issue than I had before and I started exploring the issue much further. One of the things about drug policy that really always was most fascinating to me was the intersectionality with so many other issues like overall criminal justice policy and the socioeconomic impacts of the War on Drugs. All of this while the War on Drugs has still raged on while unquestionably being one of the biggest public policy failures our country has ever seen.
What is your fondest memory or memories of SSDP?
I think my fondest memory would be my first experience at Hash Bash. Seeing so many activists come together on one day and speak about issues that they care so passionately about is always a rewarding experience.
What advice do you have for recent graduates and other alumni?
If you wake up every morning and do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. If you have found something that you find fulfilling and rewarding, everything else becomes secondary. Follow your passion and you’ll never second guess a thing.
DRUG POLICY REFORM NEWS ROUNDUP
By Sam Tracy ‘09, SSDP Alumnus, University of Connecticut, President, Northeast Alumni Association, and Former Board Chair
The past few months have seen a tidal wave of legislation, court cases, and other developments in drug policy reform all over the globe. There’s been so much that it’s impossible to cover it all in one blurb (a good problem to have!), but here are some of the top highlights:
Most recently, the US Senate voted to allow veterans to use medical marijuana in states where it’s legal. This follows years of obstruction in which doctors at the Veterans Administration have been prohibited from recommending marijuana to their patients, even those afflicted with PTSD and other conditions marijuana has been shown to help. While this still requires approval by the House and the President, it marks a major step forward in federal medical marijuana policy.
The other major US story is either a tragedy or a victory for reform, depending on whom you ask: earlier this month, Ohioans voted 64-36 to reject Issue 3, which would have legalized both medical and adult use marijuana, but also gave a small group of investors the exclusive right to cultivate cannabis in the state. SSDP, DPA, and MPP all remained neutral on the issue due to the widely maligned oligopoly, while NORML and LEAP reluctantly endorsed it. ResponsibleOhio, which ran the campaign, says it plans to try again in 2016, though there are other local groups with the same goal.
America’s neighbors have also made some big strides in the world of marijuana. Up north, Canadians voted in a large majority for the Liberal Party, with Justin Trudeau as the new Prime Minister. Trudeau and his party are strong supporters of taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, and he has already given his justice minister a mandate to legalize cannabis.
Down south, Mexico’s Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows a private club to cultivate cannabis for personal use on human rights grounds. Although the ruling only applies to the four people involved, it sets a positive precedent and may help spur legislative action to loosen restrictions on marijuana cultivation (although Mexican President Nieto responded by saying he still opposes legalization, so there’s a lot of work left to be done).
Thankfully, recent progress has not been limited to marijuana: Ireland is now moving to create safe injection sites throughout the country, beginning with one in Dublin next year. A first for the country, this is great news for people who use drugs in Ireland, as it will give them a safe place to use drugs under medical supervision, while allowing government officials to connect them with social services and reduce harm.
And at the truly international level, there has even been some positive news out of the United Nations. In October, Richard Branson leaked a report signaling UN support for the decriminalization of all drugs. After the leak, the UN pulled back, saying that it was for internal discussion only and not meant as a position of the entire organization. While unclear if this is true or simply backpedaling under pressure, that the UN was taking such a proposal seriously is still cause for celebration. With UNGASS coming up, it will be important for SSDPers and other advocates to keep pushing for policies that reflect the UN’s rhetoric of treating drug abuse as a health issue.
That’s all we can fit here, but if you want to stay up to date on the latest drug war news, you can subscribe to This Week in Drugs, a podcast created by me and two fellow SSDPers, Rachelle Yeung ‘11 and Tyler Williams ‘11.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY SSDP!
SSDP Celebrates 17 Years of Activism with Birthday Parties Across the Country
By Melissa Colebank ‘09, SSDP Alumna, College of Charleston
Students for Sensible Drug Policy alumni, current students, and supporters joined together to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the first SSDP meeting at Rochester Institute of Technology during the weekend of October 2nd. Fitting to its celebrity status, SSDP had three birthday parties – in Boston, Denver, and Washington, D.C.
The Boston area Alumni Association members held an intimate dinner party at a local restaurant on the evening of Friday, October 2, bringing several alumni in touch with current Tufts University chapter members for the first time. The alumni, who ranged in graduation years, were able to share their successes (and failures) with the students while introducing them to the family-like atmosphere that comes with being a part of SSDP. The intimate event helped chapter members build relationships with alumni and gain insight moving forward into the fall term.
Also on Friday, October 2, the Mountain Region Alumni Association members held a fundraising event at the prestigious Vincente Sederberg offices sponsored by several major cannabis companies in the area, including: Rachel K. Gillette Attorney, iComply LLC, Green Dot Labs, MassRoots, Good Meds Network, EvoLab, GroundSwell, Terrapin Care Station, Bloomfield Industries Inc, Cannabrand, and Canna Advisors. With more than 85 people in attendance – including current students from the Colorado School of Mines, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Colorado Denver, and Colorado State University – it was a packed event. Students were provided the opportunity to mingle with current cannabis industry professionals and alumni, both in the cannabis industry and not. No birthday party is complete without a birthday cake, and the cake provided at the Denver birthday party did not disappoint, with fresh berries and mini-cupcakes on the side. The event was a smashing success, raising almost $5,000 for SSDP’s general fund.
Finally, as all of the best birthday weekends end, on Sunday, October 4th, Kat Murti hosted a Bottomless Brunch for Liberty in her home in Washington, D.C., a fundraiser for people who hate the drug war but love brunch. The event celebrated how far SSDP and the drug policy reform movement as a whole have come from their humble origins. From winning numerous victories for freedom to rapidly expanding our base of supporters, SSDP has a lot to celebrate. Kat served a full spread of everyone’s brunch favorites and raised around $700 from the 40 attendees. The funds raised at the birthday brunch were donated to SSDP’s Diversity Awareness Reflection and Education committee (SSDP DARE) to continue its work bringing volume to traditionally under-represented voices to the drug policy reform movement.
National SSDP and individual chapters stay busy. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything that’s going on, or have a comprehensive list of chapter events, but below is our attempt. This is far from a comprehensive list (since SSDP relies on chapters informing them of activities, which they don’t always do), but it should give you an idea of what SSDP is up to across the nation – and around the world. Help us make this list as comprehensive as possible in the future and let us know of past and upcoming events in your area.
|September 2||NUI Galway SSDP Tabling at Freshers Week||Ireland||International|
|September 12||Arizona State University SSDP tabled at Youth Drug Education event||Prescott, AZ||Southwest|
|September 13||Arizona State University SSDP hosted Back-to-School event for students along with ASU Campus Police and Campus Health Services to have a dialogue about student safety and drug education for students||Tempe, AZ||Southwest|
|September 17-20||Western Kentucky SSDP tabled at The Big To-Do Music Festival||Oakland, KY||Midwest|
|September 19||SSDP tabled at the United We Stand Festival||Los Angeles, CA||Pacific|
|September 20||9/20 Psilocybin Day of Action||Multiple Locations|
|October 3||2015 HIV/AIDS Advocacy Conference||Winston-Salem, NC||Southeast|
|October 14||SSDP Drug Presentation to the Irish Government||Ireland||International|
|October 15||Pot in Politics hosted by University College Cork SSDP||Ireland||International|
|October 17-18||Virginia 2015 Cannabis Conference||Richmond, VA||Mid-Atlantic|
|October 20||Discussion with LEAP hosted by Psychedelic Seminars||College Park, MD||Mid-Atlantic|
|October 27||Veterans March for Cannabis Reform at the Arizona State Capitol||Phoenix, AZ||Southwest|
|October 30||UConn SSDP’s Halloween Hemp Bakesale||Storrs, CT||Northeast|
|November 3||Opioid Overdose Prevention Training: A Harm Reduction Event with AIDS Action Committee||Boston, MA||Northeast|
|November 4||What’s the Deal with Weed in DC? A discussion on the District’s marijuana laws with SSDP alumnus Mike Liszewski||Washington, DC||Mid-Atlantic|
|November 4||Let’s Talk About Medical Marijuana event hosted by Arkansas State University SSDP||Jonesboro, AR||Southeast|
|November 4||Representative Daniel: Medical Amnesty and Ending the War on Drugs hosted by University of Tennessee SSDP||Knoxville, TN||Southeast|
|November 4||Medical Marijuana for Kansas: Discussion and Call to Action||Lawrence, KS||Heartland|
|November 4||University of Denver Law school hosting a lunch talk about marijuana in schools||Denver, CO||Mountain|
|November 7||Day of the Kansas Dead protest in support of medical marijuana||Topeka, KS||Heartland|
|November 7||Harm Reduction Action Center Neighborhood Clean-up||Denver, CO||Mountain|
|November 10||CSU Long Beach hosted a lobbying training event||Long Beach, CA||Pacific|
|November 12||University of Denver Law School networking event||Denver, CO||Mountain|
|November 13||Northwestern University SSDP Benefit Concert and Speak-Out Rally||Evanston, IL||Midwest|
|November 18 – 21||International Drug Policy Reform Conference||Washington, DC|
|November 20 – 21||SSDP’s Model UNGASS at International Drug Policy Reform Conference||Washington, DC|
|April 15-17, 2016||SSDP Conference||Washington, DC|
SSDP continues to grow at a rapid rate, with more than 30 new chapters this semester alone. Below is a list of the new chapters through October. For most, the link will take you to a blog post announcing the chapter; if not, it will take you to the chapter information page, where you can contact the chapter leader or visit their Facebook page if you want to learn more about what they’re up to.
For more information about SSDP’s Alumni Association, visit ssdp.org/alumni.