Our newest chapter at the University of Maryland School of Law has just been approved and it is my honor to welcome them to the family! As one of our graduate school chapters, UMD Law joins the ranks of Georgetown University Law, George Washington University Law, University of DC School of Law, University of Virginia School of Law, University of California Hastings and Lewis and Clark Law School.
I spoke with chapter starter Jennifer Ivey about her experience so far and her vision for the chapter moving forward;
How did you hear about SSDP?
I heard about SSDP through a clinician at Carey Maryland Law named Leigh Maddox. She is an amazing professor, a former Maryland State Trooper, a member of the Board of Directors for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (“LEAP”), and a zealous advocate for change in our drug policies. I was enrolled in the clinical program over the summer, and Professor Maddox allowed several students to work on the drug policy initiatives in the Baltimore area. She also invited us to events in DC which included drug policy advocates from several groups, including SSDP.
Why did you decide to start a chapter?
Baltimore, the city where Carey Maryland Law is located, is a poster child for how the War on Drugs is failing our country. An elaboration might be in order, but the harmful effects of the Drug War in Baltimore are astronomical – the drug problem, the crime and the corruption in this city are notorious, and communities are struggling.
In order to become an officially recognized student organization, Jennifer needed approval from UMD Law’s Student Bar Association.
What was your experience like with the SBA? Were they open and receptive to SSDP? What were there concerns and how did you address their concerns?
The experience with the SBA was not as bad as I had feared, however, that may be a result of substantial preparation. The law school has a lot of student organizations, and the SBA is generally reluctant to approve new organizations if its proposed activities overlap with an existing organization… I had heard numerous stories of aspiring student orgs being turned down. I was allowed approximately 5 minutes to pitch SSDP to the SBA, and after I began speaking, I could already see heads shaking in agreement.
After the pitch, several representatives asked questions – mostly asking how SSDP would be different from the Student Health Law Organization (“SHLO”) and the Drug Policy Clinic offered at the law school. They also asked about the primary purpose for our campus. I answered their questions in a straight-forward way. It was (and is) my understanding that SHLO does not take policy positions generally, and, the Drug Policy Clinic, while there would be some overlap, was focused primarily on health policy and harm reduction in Baltimore. SSDP would be more than that, education would be a significant goal but the focus would be on model legislation and community advocacy. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to speak with individual SBA representatives regarding their previous knowledge of SSDP, but overall it seemed like the response was positive.
Describe your vision for UMD Law SSDP’s future; are there specific policies or areas you want to focus on? What do you hope to accomplish and what are you most excited about moving forward?
My vision for UMD Law’s SSDP chapter is to work on draft model legislation for Maryland, and to develop an outreach plan. Part of the vision for the group is to attract members that are interested in different areas of law (law & economics, environmental, criminal justice, community justice, health law) and organize members into area-specific action committees. The goal of those committees would vary depending on the area, but could include writing letters to professional associations to encourage them to take a policy position, attending community meetings or testifying for hearings in front of the state legislature. I think it is important for students to pursue the area they feel passionate about, but it is also important to realize there is a larger movement. Some of these ideas may be a bit ambitious, because law students are very busy. We may already have an opportunity to work on legislation, which is exciting. I am anxious to see the turnout for our first meeting and gauge the interest in these goals.