I spoke with chapter leader Tom Magjuka about his experience so far and his plans for the chapter moving forward;
How did you hear about SSDP?
I honestly can’t remember how I found out about SSDP. I used to be a libertarian, and one of our beliefs was that drugs should be legal for various reasons, mainly moral reasons. I think I found SSDP through a Google search on drug policy, or maybe it was from a libertarian friend who passed me the link. I have no idea but I’m glad I found it!!!
Why did you want to get involved/what made you decide to start a chapter?
I used to go to college at Rutgers-Camden. While in Camden, I got to see how drug addiction destroyed lives and how hard it was to help these addicts due to funding. I also had the amazing opportunity to live in Leiden, Netherlands for six months; I got to see firsthand how sensible drug policies can work in practice. Coming back from my study abroad, I saw people getting arrested daily for mere possession, and there was relatively little being done to help addicted individuals who desperately need help. I wanted to get involved so I started a chapter at Virginia Tech.
What has the reception been like on campus? From students, teachers, administration, etc.
This is our first semester, so we have been slowly building our presence on campus, but we have already found support from both the College Republicans and Young Democrats on certain issues. We found a faculty adviser right away who was 100% behind us and the cause (drug policy is actually his field of study). So far, I would say the campus has welcomed us warmly.
What are some of the things you have planned or want to plan for the spring 2012 semester?
Some of our main goals for Spring 2012 are to increase membership, establish long term sustainability, and advocate for a Good Samaritan Policy at Virginia Tech. In addition to leading the SSDP chapter, I also serve as a House Representative for Virginia Tech Student Government and I sponsored a resolution recommending a Good Samaritan Policy. Through some lobbying, I was able to find a sponsor in the SGA Senate as well. At this point, we are just waiting to vote on it, but I am confident it will pass. We will also be collaborating with other SSDP chapters across Virginia to see what we can do at the State level. Next semester, we’ll be having a Letter Day where our members will write to state legislators in an effort to generate support for a statewide Good Samaritan Policy.
What is the most challenging part of your experience starting/running the chapter so far?
The most challenging aspect is recruiting members and keeping them around; the Virginia Tech campus is enormous and that makes it difficult to promote and to get our organization and message in front of people.
What is the most rewarding part?
The most rewarding part is educating students on our current drug policy and just how ineffective it is. Many students have no idea about the problems we face in this country due to our horribly misguided drug policy. They are shocked to learn that we in the United States imprison more people than any other country in the world, more than even China or Russia. The more people learn about the problems, the easier it will be to get support for fixing the problems.
What are you most excited about for your chapter/school/state/region/ssdp/drug policy right now?
I’m really excited to get some of my members to the 13th International SSDP Conference in Denver! Additionally, after talking to several SSDPers from other Virginia chapters, I’m super excited about working towards a statewide Good Samaritan Policy.
What is your vision for Virginia Tech SSDP? Where do you see your chapter in a year? in 4 or 5 years?
Last year Virginia Tech had a chapter, but it fell apart before I got here. My vision for next year is to prevent that. I want the chapter to be able to sustain itself. Not only will we be here at Virginia Tech for years to come, but I envision us being one of the top tier student organizations at this school. I want every student here to know who we are, what we believe in, and what we’re fighting for. In 4 or 5 years I see our chapter being one of the most active in the Mid-Atlantic region. We have a huge number of students that attend Tech, so I think it’s a very real possibility.