I am incredibly excited to announce our newest chapter in the state of Arizona; Prescott College. As is the case with our other chapters in Arizona, they are interested in contributing to the efforts to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2016. Many readers may be surprised to know that in the state of Arizona it is an automatic felony charge for any individual who is found to be in possession of any amount of marijuana if they are not a registered patient in Arizona’s medical marijuana program. This is particularly problematic for students in Arizona who may choose to use marijuana for non-medical purposes or for those who are using marijuana for medical purposes but can not participate in Arizona’s medical marijuana programs because they are residents of another state while attending school there. This automatic felony charge for marijuana possession essentially makes students and young people targets of law enforcement and prosecutors since students are often coerced into taking plea deals because they are afraid of losing financial aid and/or scholarships if they are convicted of a felony charge. This plea almost always includes an expensive process of mandatory drug screenings and probation which has the effect of causing many students to drop out of school anyway so that they can earn enough money to pay fines and fees associated with probation and drug screenings.
But the Prescott College SSDP chapter’s efforts will not be confined to this one issue. The Chapter Leader, Aidan Woishnis, wants to leverage the attention that marijuana legalization is getting this year in Arizona (due to the proposed marijuana legalization ballot initiatives in that state) into raising awareness about industrial hemp. I asked him to share with me why legalization of marijuana and hemp are important issues to him and his chapter and he responded with the following: “The Prescott College SSDP chapter was founded because I believe our generation needs to take responsibility for our future and what better way to do it than through a great organization such as SSDP. Not only will we need to continue fighting off the War on Drugs, but other issues such as Fossil Fuel shortage and Climate Change need to be tackled head on. This is why the Prescott College SSDP chapter is focused on legalizing not only marijuana, industrial hemp as well. Our goal for this term is to gain enough support from Arizona residents to legalize Cannabis (Marijuana/Hemp) in November of this year. To all other SSDP delegates, I thank you very much for your strive to produce a healthier and safer world.”
As a former resident of Arizona and a student there, I can tell you first-hand how distressing Arizona’s current marijuana laws can be for students there and how profoundly negatively it can affect one’s life. My journey with being arrested for a small amount of marijuana led me on a long and arduous journey that culminated in my joining SSDP and founding the first chapter there back in 2010. I am incredibly gratified to know that the work I hoped to achieve in that state is still being worked on by students. I look forward to seeing them accomplish what I always dreamed of by bringing a more sensible approach to marijuana and hemp policies in The Grand Canyon State and beyond.