Meet Lalitha Thirunagari and Oliver Zerrudo, the newest chapter leaders of the SSDP chapter at University of California Berkeley! The founding of the SSDP chapter at University of California Berkeley has an interesting story. Before this school year, Lalitha and Oliver had both been organizing around drug policy issues, in different ways, and with different groups of people. The two leaders met to chat just this past week, and now they’ve got double the plans for the school with double the manpower, making this chapter one of the strongest newly established chapters yet.
Lalitha is a fourth year cognitive science major who is interested in pursuing a career in medical marijuana research or neuromarketing. “I’ve been researching drug policy issues for a long time, and this is the first time that I’ve found an organization that takes a stand on these issues,” says Lalitha. In high school, Lalitha wrote a paper on the legalization of adult-use marijuana in the U.S., researching its social, economic, and political benefits. “To be honest, there are no arguments against legalization, when you think about the tax revenue that can be generated or the jobs that can be created, or the fact that the War on Drugs right now is harming poor communities of color and is the root of political conflicts with other countries as well.” She continues, “We need to create a community and culture of peace. When people think drugs, they automatically assume a negative connotation to it, but being open-minded to policy is what we need to focus on. Not promoting drug use, but not lying to people and telling them the wrong things about drugs.”
Oliver is a fifth year Ethnic Studies and Political Science student at Cal, where he is currently finishing up his thesis in Ethnic Studies. He got involved with SSDP after meeting Rodrigo “Froggy” Vasquez, a current student member who has been involved with SSDP since 2005, when he attended the Drug Policy Alliance Conference in Long Beach. Their shared passions for prison abolition and jail reform in the Bay Area led them to meet through the Underground Scholars, a community of formerly incarcerated students. Last year, the Underground Scholars received money from the Associated Students of University of California to begin a mentorship and after school program with youth in local Oakland and San Francisco. “I think, for me, joining SSDP seemed like the right thing to do in terms of my academic and professional ambitions. I’ve always been an advocate for people of color communities, and the drug war is something migrant communities from Latin America and Asia have to deal with on an international context. When people talk about drug policy, it’s often through a myopic, Western lens. The drug war has been causing problems with my family over in Asia and Latin America, and it’s our responsibility to educate people from urban communities about this work.”
Welcome to the SSDP family of chapter leaders, Lalitha and Oliver! Let’s end this Drug War.