Photo: Nick Zettell ’09 with Ferris State University chapter. Credit: Mariah Gaither ’16.
This post is part of a series written by SSDP Alumni for #SSDPAlumni Week. Join today!
The world would be a better place without Students for Sensible Drug Policy. I truly believe that, with the caveat being that SSDP exists only as a reaction to the raging War on Drugs. In the ideal world, there never was a War on Drugs, policies were not executed with racist intent, so in such a world there is no need for advocacy organizations. Unfortunately, we do not live anywhere near this alternative timeline of the ideal world. SSDP is entering its 21st year as an organization and has been incrementally changing the landscape of drug policy. While much ground has been covered with little fanfare, the obstacles are as multiplicitous as ever. While it is my sincere hope that I see the end of this organization in my lifetime, I also understand the imperative of growing the SSDP network as large as possible until that time comes.
More than five years out of college, I have remained involved with the organization as an alumnus, and recently, as a satellite employee focusing on Michigan’s cannabis legalization campaign. With others, such as A. Kathryn Parker, Irina Alexander and more, I had an active role in establishing the Alumni Association, have written blog posts in the past, and have served as an alumni mentor in the mentorship program. But most important to my stature as an alumnus has been my casual engagement with the SSDP network and the strong friendships forged with fellow alum. In many ways, my post-graduate involvement with SSDP has been more valuable than my four years of heavy engagement with my undergraduate chapter. The workforce and public policy arena both operate very differently than dialogue intensive scholastics, and the world outside of academia is ultimately lacking in idealism comparatively. But maintaining a connection to student activists and radical youth provides the insight, inspiration, and vision missing from the stodgy suit & tie world beyond the ivory tower.
I am continually in awe of the younger generations. The ‘kids these days’ are proving to be one of the most forward thinking and empathetic generations in recent history. They understand the mechanics of injustice and their curiosities extend far beyond even the most comprehensive futurist modes of thought. You may have no clue if your alma mater’s chapter is active, or you may not feel drug prohibition is the most pressing issue facing our country. Regardless of past involvement in SSDP, the continued support and involvement of alumni are crucial for a better future. In order to achieve a reality where the War on Drugs is in our past, we must do more than foster an evolving dialogue. We must continually engage it, shape it, and challenge it.
Membership to the Alumni Association requires a minimal recurring contribution of $1 a month and zero actual engagement. But SSDP was never a requirement in the first place. I doubt you were ever physically forced to attend a meeting, and it’s certain you did not become an activist to pay the bills. Undoubtedly many of us have moved on to find ourselves in lifestyles, professions, pursuits or studies that may not seem immediately applicable to the mission of SSDP. Your initial call-to-action may have passed its expiration date, but you are needed now as much as ever. There is room enough in this network for people of all ages, trades, affiliations, and persuasions, but there is a need for commitment to the cause. Every one of us embodies a unique volume of institutional memory that must be perpetuated and build upon to advance our movement.
Take, for instance, our past successes in cannabis legalization. As states across the country adopt a variety of different regulatory schemes concerning medical and adult-use cannabis, we are witnessing students being reared in a post-prohibition world. There are twenty-two year old Californians who have never known a world where medical cannabis was not accessible. Incoming freshmen in Michigan will be entering adulthood with cannabis possession no longer criminalized. This presents the new challenge of conveying to new generations of students how we got to where we are today and to keep a focus on the malintent of cannabis prohibition and the imperative to remain mindful of prohibition’s direct and indirect impact.
Take, for instance, other student organizations we see developing around the country. Ann Arbor’s business school saw the genesis of Green Wolverine, a business-oriented student group aiming to foster opportunities in the cannabis space. In my personal experience, these students are motivated and exceptionally capable, but also woefully lacking in understanding the political charge of their own endeavors. A petition drive to place cannabis on the 2018 ballot received no petitioning assistance from the group and was met with outright refusal to endorse the proposal because they insist on maintaining an apolitical approach to cannabis.
Meanwhile, there is nary an SSDPer who can view cannabis as anything other than an inherently political issue. For many, it’s growing acceptance and legitimization in the private sector make cannabis issues less intriguing. Fighting the War on Drugs has never been an easy policy endeavor no has there ever been any reason for the true drug warriors to take a soft approach. I see cannabis becoming less popular of an issue among active chapters as well as the global organization, and while that troubles me a little, as I wonder if our departure from the topic is premature, representatives from 19 chapters here in Michigan helped make sure Proposal 1 passed with a virtual landslide of 56%. Nature abhors a vacuum and one of the more damaging things we can do is allow this space to be commandeered by the green-eyed entrepreneurs, many of whom either never supported cannabis legalization or worse, still do not acknowledge the harms inflicted by this senseless war. For those of us who lived prohibition and bare the facial scars of battle, it is our duty to shape the retelling of history for fear of repeating it.
All of our work must be done with an intentional focus on those directly impacted by the War on Drugs. All of our opportunities should be extended to those directly impacted and our privileges should be shared. It is an empathetic bent that first steered many of us to form or join a chapter. The Alumni Association, thus far, has been an extension of the undergraduate culture. For members, it provides an inlet to one of the most motivated group of thought leaders, and for the organization, it serves as a body of mentors and tribal elders who can help endow the younger generations with reliable knowledge and knowhow.
Even if you got involved as a senior and just before graduation, a sizeable amount of time has past since your first SSDP meeting. I encourage you to revisit your motivations and I hope they remain long after your studies end. The importance of your voice is evergreen. I hope you’ll join me as a proud member of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Alumni Association. Together, let us keep this network strong, vibrant, thriving, and inclusive. We are the future. We are the end of the Drug War.