Written by Joe Melton, Vice President of Virginia Tech SSDP
On April 20th, a couple months of planning came to fruition for SSDP chapters across Virginia as the ReVAMP campaign was finally kicked into gear. ReVAMP stands for Repealing Virginia Marijuana Prohibition and is primarily an effort to make the voices of Virginian youth heard on the issue of cannabis prohibition. Unlike the states that have legalized marijuana so far, Virginia does not have ballot initiatives, meaning any policy change will have to happen through the legislature. Our state is also considered by many in drug policy circles to be one of the last states to legalize cannabis, which makes it all that much more important to make sure opposition to such policies is known. So in order to effect change we have to take the fight directly to our representatives.
In order to do this, we have set up an action center on the SSDP website that will automatically send a message to the representative of a registered Virginia voter. Through this action center (http://ssdp.org/action/revamp) we hope to get students from across the state to flood their representatives with emails demanding an end to prohibition. This platform makes it easy to share a consistent message with all Virginia residents, from Richmond to the Blue Ridge Mountains. We hope that having a large volume of these letters sent to representatives will be what convinces them to look at supporting future legislation.
The idea for this campaign came back in February from the Virginia Tech chapter leader, Kyle Gentle. We knew that we wanted a big campaign to focus on so that we could propose it to other chapters and affect real change. The next step was to figure out how we were going to do it. We started with the idea for a petition to legalize cannabis in Virginia but we knew that has been tried before, so we decided to switch our attention to contacting representatives directly in a way that wasn’t just names on a piece of paper. Activists for decades have known the power of having concerned citizens contact their representatives directly as they are always concerned with constituent’s opinions. Our next step was to formulate a message which would resonate with a fairly conservative audience. Facts and figures on costs, law enforcement effectiveness and opinion polls are key points to winning over our legislators, especially those on the right side of the aisle. Finally, it was time to solidify the release details. We knew almost from the beginning that we wanted to use 4/20 as the symbolic release date for the campaign. All that was left to do was to reserve a table on campus, set up our display, and get started letting our voices be heard.
On release day, we got dozens of people interested in sending their message to members of the General Assembly just at Virginia Tech alone. The chapter at the University of Virginia almost doubled that number at their simultaneous release event. But the release is only the beginning as this campaign will be able to expand its reach to more chapters. We will continue to be dedicated to the campaign into the coming in order to keep a constant stream of letters flowing to representatives. ReVAMP will be our main focus for the next year or so and we are really confident it will pick up considerable steam as it progresses. The fight may not be easy in a state where marijuana arrests have risen by almost 76% between 2003 and 2013, but it is a necessary step in making this state, in which we live and love, a better place.