The University of South Florida is now home to SSDP newest official chapter! I spoke with chapter founder and President Evan Eisenberg about their journey so far and what’s in store for the chapter moving forward;
How did you hear about SSDP and why did you decide to get involved?
During the Spring 2012 semester at the University of South Florida, I took a class called “Mobilizing for Change” with the brilliant professor, author, and activist Dr. Robert Benford. Unlike professors of most other social activism classes, Dr. Benford encourages learning through active participation in social movements and social movement organizations. We discussed focusing on cannabis and hemp reform, but the more research we did, the more obvious it became that our country and state’s policies regarding all drugs are harmful and ineffective. A number of students from the class decided to start an organization dedicated to reforming drug policy based on science and reason. We wanted to advocate for policies focused on education and harm reduction while helping to end social injustices caused by the War on Drugs. I had heard of SSDP before and was aware the organization was involved in drug policy reform. I decided to research the organization’s goals and found them to overlap with ours. We quickly went through the necessary process to start a university-recognized SSDP chapter and are excited to be part of an organization with such an important mission.
What has the reception been like on campus?
The reception at the University of South Florida has been overwhelmingly positive. Our members have spoken with students, professors, and administrators, who have reacted positively to both our short-term goals and overall mission, expressing interest in our cause while offering help and advice. USF Tampa is a very well-run campus that encourages intelligent discourse. The numerous faculty members and administrators we have spoken with understand we are not a radical organization; they realize we are pragmatic, wishing to end the harm our current drug policies have on students and our community. USF is moving in the right direction towards implementing more progressive drug policies even though the university has to work within the legal framework of Florida’s oppressive drug laws. In the face of potential prejudiced and unfair budget cuts by our state’s legislature, USF Tampa stands strong as a progressive force for good within the greater Tampa community.
What are some of the things you are most excited about for the spring 2012 and fall 2012 semesters?
Implementing a medical amnesty policy at USF is our first campaign that we are very excited about. We have just started this campaign, but we have already gained a number of important allies who should make the implementation of a medical amnesty policy an achievable short-term goal. Administrators met recently to discuss moving forward with a medical amnesty policy and are willing to meet with me, welcoming student input on how to draft an effective policy. The drafting of the policy is still in its very early stages so we do not want to get ahead of ourselves, but hopefully we can help draft and pass a medical amnesty policy in the near future while raising awareness of the policy and our organization’s involvement with it. We also want to raise our chapter’s visibility on campus while educating students about harm reduction and creating dialogue on alternative ways to address our nation’s drug problem. We are in the process of planning our first open meeting to recruit new members and we hope to bring in a speaker from LEAP, an organization we greatly respect for the hard work and courage of their members. We are looking forward to collaborating with other chapters in Florida and working with SSDP to advocate for sensible drug policy reform.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting an SSDP chapter?
The message that the War on Drugs is a war on us as students really resonates with me. The most rewarding part of starting an SSDP chapter has been meeting like-minded students dedicated to social activism while joining a powerful organization fighting the destructive policies of prohibition. The horrifying social injustices created by the War on Drugs must be addressed or our government has failed its citizens by wasting tens of billions of dollars in tax money on drug enforcement without improving the well-being of U.S. citizens. I have found it extremely rewarding to fight for the important and patriotic cause of ending prohibition. I believe that people on our campus, in our state, country, and around the world are capable of changing laws and practices they know are not only impractical, but immoral and extremely harmful to our society. As public opinion has turned against the War on Drugs in recent years, I look forward to working with the patriotic activists of SSDP.