Meet Leslie Otañez, a California State University Long Beach SSDP member. During her undergraduate years, she studied criminal justice and psychology, and now is working on her Master’s degree in criminology. She is currently working on the AUMA initiative as an intern with the Drug Policy Alliance. Read on to learn more about how SSDP prepared her for this opportunity, why the AUMA initiative is important to her, and how you can get involved in making real change on campus or on the federal level.
What’s your role with Drug Policy Alliance?
I do research on different topics, like immigration, cartels, everything that relates to marijuana and AUMA specifically. I attend meetings with council members and various people in the industry – basically any stakeholders, and I help DPA do work on behalf of these various stakeholders. I also help with event planning and attend lobbying meetings.
What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to the drug policy reform movement?
Definitely advancing the AUMA initiative and the implementation of AUMA once it passes. I like working with other people to research and develop strategies on how to target and approach specific communities and the issues that affect them. I’m currently working on a report on the drug war and immigration, which will be released by the end of July!
Why do you care about AUMA?
I think students should care about AUMA because it’s the first step in trying to undo all the harms that the War on Drugs has done. AUMA is unique in that it will allow people with prior convictions into the industry and not exclude them. It will give more protections to immigrant communities, which can help families stay together. There’s an interesting intersection between criminal law and immigration law that basically doubly penalizes immigrant communities of color.
Drug Policy Alliance has been involved in the implementation of cannabis law in all the other states, and we’ve learned a lot from these other initiatives so we can avoid making the same mistakes. For example, in Colorado, people with prior convictions are barred from participating in the industry. AUMA also has more aspects of criminal justice reform, which can help promote racial equity and access.
What are you most excited about for the future of drug policy reform?
I’ll be working up until the campaign and helping with implementation afterward. I’m looking forward to seeing what else we’ll be working on after the initiative is passed. I think it’ll open more doors to work on issues that affect Latinos, particularly immigration. There’s so much attention on that now, and it’s a crucial time to start looking into what we can do.
How did SSDP prepare you for this role?
SSDP has been so helpful because I can be liaisons between both. I can collaborate with SSDP and DPA and contribute to both organizations. SSDP has the manpower, and DPA has the educational materials, speakers and other resources. They complement one another so well that I gain so much from both. Without SSDP I wouldn’t be with DPA.
Advice for students who want to get involved?
If you’re motivated, passionate, and curious to learn, connect with people. Try to understand their story and share your own – it’s super valuable because you’re not alone. I think people forget that we’re all so interconnected and our stories are all related to one another that if we actually took the time to listen and not just try to judge people, everyone has something they can offer. We don’t always have to get people to agree with our side. Progress is slow and changing minds is a long process.