SSDP members advocate to replace the war on drugs with policies rooted in evidence, compassion,
and human rights because the war on drugs is a war one us. Here’s how we do it.
Campus Change Campaign: Be the sensible voice on your campus
We all know that the War on Drugs is really a war on people, especially students. Whether it is being suspended for a small amount of cannabis, being harassed by campus police, or not feeling empowered to call for help during a drug-related emergency, many SSDP members first witnessed the harms caused by the drug war on their college campuses. As students on college campuses, SSDPers have a unique opportunity to take the lead in formulating and enacting alternative drug policies.
SSDP was founded on the principle that no one should be denied fair access to an education because of drug use, and policy reform at the campus level remains a key part of our work as a network. While there are plenty of organizations out there working to end the War on Drugs at municipal, state, federal, and international levels, none have been as successful as SSDP at changing drug policies on college campuses. SSDP is the place students can go to when they feel they have no other supporters on campus, and serves an essential function as a safe space to openly talk about policies around drug without stigma. We provide both an opposing voice to the status quo that many campus administrations prop up and a platform for fostering new ideas around how to make college campuses safer for people who use drugs.
This toolkit will go over some of the most common problems our members see with campus drug policies and offer some ideas for how to start engaging campus stakeholders on these issues. It will also provide some resources for getting campaigns up and running. As always, an SSDPers best resource is going to be their Outreach Coordinator, so please be sure to coordinate with them as well as your chapter develops a plan to change campus drug policies.
Colleges and universities are beholden to protecting students health and safety and are able to most effectively do so through proven, evidence-based harm reduction and public health strategies. Colleges — places where evidence and inquiry should be valued most highly — should adopt policies which do not punish students with threats of eviction, suspension, or other harsh measures which undermine students’ ability to access education. Such measures might include:
- 911 Good Samaritan Policies
Judicial Process on Campus
Local Law Enforcement Involvement in Enforcing Campus Policies
Off-Campus Jurisdiction for Drug Policies
Access to Medical Marijuana on Campus
Parental Notification Policies
Safe Ride Programs
Access to Treatment & Prevention Services
SSDP has developed a Campus Policy Gradebook that grades schools on a comprehensive rubric. SSDP members are encouraged to submit updates to their school’s grades every year to demonstrate the progress (or lack of progress) their campus is making on implementing safer policies on drugs.
CALL 911 GOOD SAMARITAN POLICIES: Calling for help shouldn’t be a crime
A campus Good Samaritan Policy (GSP) is a life-saving measure designed to prevent students from hesitating to call for medical assistance in the event of a medical emergency related to alcohol or other drugs by ensuring that, in an emergency situation, neither the caller nor the person experiencing overdose is exposed to academic or legal sanctions.
Consumption of alcohol and other drugs is widespread, particularly on many college and university campuses. Dangerous drug prohibitions and legal age of consumption contribute to both binge drinking and consumption of drugs of unknown purity and potency, sometimes leading to overdose. Even though alcohol poisoning can lead to a fatal outcome, many students refrain from contacting emergency services due to a threat of judicial consequences resulting from enforcement of the minimum drinking age or other policy violations. Effective policies protect students whether they are using alcohol or other drugs.
Colleges and universities without a GSP in place increase the likelihood that life-threatening emergencies on campus become fatal because, fearing harsh disciplinary responses to substance use violations, many students are hesitant to alert authorities during medical emergencies.
Good Samaritan Policies are critical harm reduction tools which should be fully implemented at the campus, local, and state level.
A comprehensive GSP Includes:
- A clearly worded, easily accessible, effectively enforced policy which is well known among the student body, campus administration, and campus public safety officers. GSPs are only effective if they guarantee amnesty in writing (usually in the student code of conduct) and the policy is widely publicized. If a school has the unwritten practice of excusing students from punitive consequences during emergency situations, but students don’t know about it, then it is like having no such policy at all.
- Amnesty from disciplinary actions for the person experiencing the medical emergency, the person(s) who notify authorities, and any other bystanders, as a maximum effort to promote fast action responses. Policies that do not cover all students are ineffective, it is important that protection be given to everyone.
- Amnesty from disciplinary action for all violation of all substance policies, not just alcohol policy violations. A GSP that only grants amnesty for alcohol-related emergencies is incomplete as it does not address medical emergencies related to other substances.
- Applies educational sanctions vs. disciplinary sanctions. Students are less reluctant to call for medical assistance as they aren’t fearing expulsion or suspension. In addition, educational sanctions may provide students with the information they need to avoid medical emergencies in the future and to share this information with their peers as a peer educator.
Access to Harm Reduction: Creating safer campuses and communities
Marijuana Policy Reform
PSYCHEDELIC POLICY REFORM
End Student Drug Testing: Defending access to education and student privacy
According to the School Health Policies and Practices Survey conducted by the CDC, 8.6% of middle schools and 26.6% of high school districts in the US conduct drug testing on students. In June 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the authority of public schools to test students for illegal drugs. Voting 5 to 4 in Pottawatomie County v. Earls, the court ruled to allow random drug tests for all middle and high school students participating in competitive extracurricular activities. The ruling greatly expanded the scope of school drug testing, which previously had been allowed only for student athletes.
Student drug testing leads to punitive sanctions such as suspension or expulsion, and rarely results in provision of positive interventions such as strengthening of social bonds or access to evidence-based treatment, if needed.
SSDP opposes student drug testing because it is ineffective, counterproductive, expensive, and invasive. Though intended to reduce student drug use, the science tells us that drug testing simply does not work. Not only does drug testing not reduce the rates of drug use, in some cases, it seems to lead to students using drugs with higher risk profiles but shorter detection windows.
Schools have a responsibility to create a safe learning environment for students, not one where participation in extracurricular activities could lead to punishments or sanctions with lifelong consequences. The most effective tools to prevent, delay, or reduce drug use are social connection, extracurricular engagement, and educational stability and potential. Drug testing in schools is not just ineffective but insidious: students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to use drugs and less likely to successfully complete their education, those who are using drugs will be disinclined to participate in extracurricular activity, and those who are undeterred from drug use will use drugs which are less likely to appear on tests but are more likely to result in permanent brain injury or sudden death.
Concerns about invasiveness and rights violations are self-evident. Forcing a student to urinate into a cup while a school official listens outside the stall undermines civics lessons on the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, schools should not be in the business of subjecting young people to such a humiliating processes. As with most prohibition-oriented law enforcement, this breach of dignity can lead to a breakdown in trust between students and administrators.
Higher Education Act Reform
Amend The Rave Act: Drug policy should not endanger public safety
In 2002, then-senator Joe Biden introduced The Reducing America’s Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, or the RAVE Act. It passed into law the following year after being renamed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. This legislation expanded existing federal “crack house” statutes to commercial venues and nightlife locations, meaning business owners can be prosecuted under federal law if they “maintain a drug-involved premises”, i.e. nightlife venues can be held responsible for the sale or use of drugs in their space and can be charged with a felony if they hide knowledge of activities involving illicit substances. As a result, many venues do not provide basic harm reduction services such as free water, air-conditioned rooms, drug checking, or drug education. Event organizers fear that including these services at venues could be seen as encouraging drug use, exposing them to felony charges under the RAVE Act.
The Amend the RAVE Act campaign is a coalition of advocates and organizations seeking to add language to the legislation clarifying that event organizers can implement safety measures that reduce the risk of drug-related emergencies without fear of federal prosecution. Regardless of federal law, young people are going to use drugs at EDM shows and other nightlife events. That’s why it is critical for event organizers to work with organizations such as Dancesafe to provide a safe environment for people using drugs. The RAVE Act ignores this reality and discourages safe decisions at the expense of people’s lives. It’s imperative we reform this law to ensure young people are able to have a safe, sensible nightlife experience.
SSDP believes that harm reduction saves lives and that Amending the RAVE Act will make nightlife safer for young people. While the RAVE act has succeeded in reducing the number of underground raves, it has failed to make young people attending EDM concerts and other nightlife events safer. This is because it discourages event organizers from adopting a harm reduction approach to drug use at their events. Many drug-related deaths at EDM events are not caused by an overdose, but from heatstroke, dehydration, or “tainted” substances. This means that many of these deaths are preventable. Some examples of services that could be implemented to help prevent drug-related deaths include:
- Free water stations that encourage attendees to hydrate themselves
- Air conditioned spaces that are quiet and away from the main festivities that attendees can use to rest and cool down
- Peer to peer drug education run by experienced educators
- Presence of medical professionals at music venues
- Drug checking services that can help identify adulterated substances
Nonprofit organizations such as Dancesafe provide such qualified services at festivals and other events, but due to the fear of federal prosecution under the RAVE act, many event organizers are reluctant to work with them.
Global Drug Policy: Nothing about us without us
The War on Drugs is one of the most alarming and destructive global humanitarian crises of our time. All around the world prohibitionist drug policies cause an enormous amount of harm to individuals and communities, while also failing to slow rates of problematic substance use. The United Nations drug conventions established an international drug control system which allows mass incarceration, ethnic discrimination, and state violence to be used as weapons against people who use drugs. Narco-violence, corruption, regional instability, and environmental degradation are just some of the most serious side effects of this approach, especially among countries in the global south that are targeted by international control efforts due to the presence of drug supply chains or trafficking networks.
Ending the War on Drugs requires a global movement for reform led by the people most harmed by punitive drug policies and based in the principles of harm reduction. Global Drug Policy is an intersectional topic covering many issues including refugee migration, climate change, global terrorism, HIV/AIDS, and access to education. Among all the campaigns that SSDP is involved with, this may be the most complex and difficult to act around, due to both the slow nature of policy change at the UN and also the logistical difficulties of organizing people across borders. However, now more than ever we are seeing opportunities to take action at the UN and beyond to implement a new approach to drugs.
In recent years, the global consensus in support of the drug war has begun to unravel as more and more UN member states begin to experiment with alternative drug policies based in public health, human rights, and scientific evidence. The vast majority of contemporary research indicates these policies have been incredibly successful at helping communities impacted by addiction. Furthermore, diverting low-level offenders from the criminal justice system and ending the stigmatization of people who use drugs has led to lower rates of violent crime in countries that have moved away from the approach outlined in the three UN drug conventions. As member states continue to realize the negative impacts of prohibition, there is a growing sense that the UN drug conventions will need to be amended to better align the global drug control system with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights conventions.
All around the world, young people are among the most affected populations of people affected by failed drug control policies. Yet at the UN, these policies are often justified in the name of protecting young people while simultaneously excluding their voices from the discussion. It’s difficult for young people to get access to UN meetings even just for observation, and even more difficult to give young people a voice that isn’t tampered by UNODC influence.
For all of these reasons, it is imperative that the SSDP network takes action around global drug policy reform. It’s a huge task, but it’s an important one, and the War on Drugs will not end unless we adopt a global perspective to our advocacy.
SSDP is a global organization with chapters in every habitable continent on the planet. We recognize that the War on Drugs is an international issue, and as such, we aim to support and empower all young people who want to change drug laws in their local communities, their country, and the world. The goals of our international program are to:
- Amplify the youth voice at the United Nations and within the agencies that comprise the global drug control system
- Educate our network about global issues and empower our chapters to bring a global perspective to their work
- Develop a global youth movement for reform by connecting young people across the world
While the UNODC Youth Forum has served as a very limited outlet for youth voices, SSDP has noted that the voices of young people are often absent from drug policy discussions. One of our major goals at the international level is to empower young people to speak for themselves in order to prevent destructive policies from being implemented in their name. We insist that all conversations around drugs should be as inclusive of youth as possible. Our members stand up for the rights of people who use drugs and argue that not only is the goal of a ”drug free world” unachievable, but that the idea is ultimately at odds with the human rights obligations all UN member states must abide by.
SSDP believes that global drug policy needs to be inclusive of the people most affected by the War on Drugs, especially young people. Our work has demonstrated that access to evidence-based education and harm reduction services without fear of punishment can create a culture of safety around drug use. We believe that harm reduction measures should be embraced by the UN, and even enshrined in the international drug control conventions, as a matter of urgency.
During the 2016 UNGASS, SSDP worked with our global youth allies at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), SSDP UK, Youth Rise, and Youth Organisations for Drug Action (YODA) to develop an Alternative Youth Consultation. This document outlines six key recommendations to member states on how to effectively reform global drug policy to ensure that young people are protected:
- Acknowledge and invest in harm reduction services such as drug checking kits, supervised injection facilities, educational material about minimizing risks associated with using drugs, and nightlife harm reduction; strongly encourage states to provide these services and to decriminalize the provision of these life-saving services
- Conduct an evaluation of international drug policies with regard to children and young people, seeking compliance with the stipulations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the World Health Organization, and other United Nations agencies and relevant treaties
- Call for evidence-based, age-appropriate education that aims to provide objective information on drug use that prioritizes the reduction of harm rather than relying on fear and intimidation
- Call for the decriminalization of drug use and associated penalties for the possession of drugs
- Allow and invest in research related to medical benefits of psychoactive substances such as cannabis, psilocybin, ayahuasca, ibogaine, and MDMA
- Further encourage the UN to work to ensure active and meaningful participation of youth and youth-related organizations in the development, implementation and evaluation of drug policies and programs, in line with the UNGASS theme “A Better Tomorrow for the World’s Youth.”
Confidential Informant Protections
Lowering the Drinking Age