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, national, 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
- Prison Divestment
- Dorm Eviction
- Judicial Process on Campus
- Local Law Enforcement Involvement in Enforcing Campus Policies
- Marijuana/Alcohol Equalization
- 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.
Campaign Toolkit & Resources
Access to Harm Reduction: Creating safer campuses and communities
Many campuses and communities approach drug use with a “just say no” attitude, believing that shutting down conversations around alcohol and other drugs will be sufficient to reduce harm. Instead, the lack of information and punitive policies has exacerbated the harm related to drug use. Young people may overdose, become injured, or have very negative experiences when using substances because of a lack of drug education. Others don’t call for help when their friend has overdosed, because they are unfamiliar with their school’s Good Samaritan Policy and are worried about getting in trouble. Still others could easily save a life if they were trained in how to administer naloxone. All of these things are examples of harm reduction policies and programs that can create safer campuses and communities.
Marijuana Policy Reform
Marijuana prohibition has failed – individuals across the political spectrum can agree on this.
- A non-violent marijuana conviction can derail lives and families
- In some jurisdictions, a marijuana conviction can impede access to goods like housing assistance and federal student loans.
- Prohibition has not only failed to reduce marijuana use, but has resulted in a massive unregulated market and stronger products.
Prohibition harms lives and communities.
SSDP neither condones nor condemns drug use, rather we respect the right of individuals to make decisions about their own health and well-being. We encourage honest conversation about the realities of the drug war. SSDP recognizes that policies supporting the prohibition of cannabis were created with intentions of criminalizing cannabis users and targeting communities of color for incarceration. Today, prohibitionist policies disproportionately affect generations of communities of color and serve as a reminder of the racialized political history of the U.S. SSDP recognizes it is imperative to replace destructive prohibitionist policies with common-sense regulatory policies.
Drug policy in the United States has been used as a tool to target and oppress specific groups. The first anti-marijuana laws were enacted in the early 20th century and, in the United States, were originally directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. On August 2, 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was ratified by President Roosevelt, effectively commencing federal marijuana prohibition.
By 1937, several other countries had banned cannabis use, possession, or trade despite its widespread acceptance as a medicine; many more would follow. International cannabis trade was restricted for the first time under the International Opium Convention of 1925 and, with the ratification of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations set the first punitive measures against nations that allowed use of cannabis for anything other than scientific or medical purposes.
Marijuana prohibition escalated in the US in 1971 under the Nixon administration in response to the social upheaval of the 1960s when marijuana and other drugs became associated with a variety of social justice issues, particularly the anti-war and civil rights movements. Under the Nixon administration, marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I substance, a label used to indicate substances that have a high potential for addiction and no medicinal value. Famously, Nixon declared drug use “public enemy number one”.
President Reagan followed accordingly, declaring the “War on Drugs” in 1982. Under the Reagan administration, drug use increasingly became associated with poor people of color, and mass incarceration and law enforcement began to skyrocket, while the “Just Say No” era of drug education bloomed. Further, just as marijuana accounts for the vast majority of illicit substance trade and consumption, marijuana prohibition accounts for the largest — some say foundational — enforcement of the War on Drugs.
Efforts to attach the use of cannabis to racist stereotypes are well-documented and, since their origins, have been used to criminalize, marginalize, or otherwise violate the human rights of those who use, produce, or trade cannabis. In the US, these efforts have been deemed “The New Jim Crow” because they have been so effective at continuing the economic and social marginalization of Black communities and other communities of color. Around the world, nations have participated in the dehumanization of their own citizens by allowing or conducting eradication campaigns, criminalizing users and producers of cannabis, and stripping indigenous communities of their medicine or religious sacrament.
And for what? Cannabis prohibition has utterly failed in its stated goals. Eighty years after federal prohibition began in the US, it has proven to be a failure and is being dismantled around the world.
PSYCHEDELIC POLICY REFORM
The prohibition of psychedelics has failed our society. Not only has prohibition failed to eliminate or reduce the rate of use, it also prevents scientific studies on these substances, increases the potential harm for young people who are using these substances, and stigmatizes people who use drugs.
SSDP believes that people who use drugs should have access to honest education, treatment, and should be approached with compassion. Model Policy
This article on Alternet, Why (and How) We Should Legalize Psychedelics, provides a framework for psychedelic legalization very broadly. Some principles of legalization include:
- Minimum age: 18.
- Education: At least one coaching session from a trainer about the potential problems and opportunities of use, and what precautions are needed for different psychedelics so as to minimize the chance of bad trips and other serious harms. Training could be based on a standard instruction manual. The trainer, whoever it is, would sign an application for a license for the trainee.
- Licensing: Following training, licenses may be issued by specified federal, state or local agencies for the purchase of psychedelics. To qualify, applicants would have to pass an appropriate written exam proving they had learned the prerequisite knowledge about safe psychedelic use.
- Non-sharing: Buyers may not legally share with anyone under age, or outside of consenting licensed family or friends, nor may they resell what they buy to anyone.
- Violation of these rules will be a violation of law and carry legal penalties.
- Who may sell psychedelics? Perhaps pharmacies; just as they used to sell contraceptives. Buyers would have to show their licenses.
What are psychedelics?
Entheogens, or psychedelics, are part of a wider class of psychoactive drugs commonly known as hallucinogens, a class that also includes dissociatives and deliriants. Entheogens means “god-within” or “spirit-facilitating,” and has been considered a more appropriate term to describe these substances by many scholars, who feel that the term has negative connotations (Tupper 2002:500).” Many of these plants and substances have been used in traditional rituals across various cultures and religions throughout time. Entheogens include MDMA, LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, peyote and more.
This toolkit is intended to serve as a preliminary guide for policy reform for the wide range of substances that are considered entheogens. Given the wide range of effects that each of these substances can have, the regulatory models for each of these substances will look very different.
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
Since 2000, students with drug convictions have lost access to federal financial aid as a result of a provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA). Added by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as a committee amendment in 1998, the Aid Elimination Penalty slipped into the 257-page HEA reauthorization bill without debate or a recorded vote. To date, over 200,000 students have been ineligible for federal loans, grants, and work-study because of the HEA Aid Elimination Penalty.
Before SSDP, people who were convicted of a drug offense prior to their enrollment in college had their eligibility taken away. In early 2006, SSDP and other allies forced Congress to scale back the law, so that only people who are convicted while attending college and receiving financial aid will have their eligibility taken away. Now, people who got convicted before they decided to go to college will be able to move on with their lives and earn an education.
During the Higher Education Act Reauthorization process of 2008, Congress further scaled back the penalty, making it easier for students with drug convictions to regain eligibility for financial aid. Previously, students had to complete a government-approved treatment program, which are often more expensive than tuition at state universities or community colleges. Now, students have to pass two unannounced drug tests administered by a government-approved treatment program, without having to complete the program itself.
Unfortunately, college students who get convicted will still lose their aid, and many of them will have to drop out.
In July 2009, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced the Removing Impediments to Students’ Education (RISE) Act into the 111th Congress. The bill, which has substantial support, would simply repeal the aid elimination penalty.
In March 2010, President Obama signed into law the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act, which included language that would repeal the Aid Elimination Penalty for students convicted of drug possession offenses. Now, only students convicted of drug distribution offenses will lose their aid eligibility.
The Aid Elimination Penalty does nothing to solve drug problems; it actually makes them worse
The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s own research arm, recently indicated that it could find no evidence that the penalty “actually helped to deter drug use.” In addition, putting up roadblocks on the path to education does nothing to solve our nation’s drug and crime problems. Forcing students convicted of drug charges to drop out of school makes them more likely to continue abusing drugs and less likely to become productive taxpaying citizens (thus reducing the nation’s economic productivity and leading to more reliance on costly social programs down the line). Finally, the penalty only affects hardworking and determined students who are doing well in school, since students must maintain satisfactory academic progress to receive aid in the first place.
The Aid Elimination Penalty has a disproportionate impact on people of color
Because of racial profiling, zero-tolerance policies in schools, and the discriminatory enforcement of drug laws, the penalty keeps people of color out of college at a disproportionate rate. While African Americans comprise 12.3% of the population, and proportionately account for 13% of drug users, they make up 37% of those arrested, 53% of those convicted, and 67% of those sent to jail for drug offenses. Adding in Latinos, people of color account for 22% of all drug users but 80% of people in prison for drug offenses. By putting an increased burden on communities of color, the penalty perpetuates racial inequalities.
The Aid Elimination Penalty has a disproportionate impact on poor communities
The penalty hurts only students from low- and middle-income families – the same people the HEA was intended to assist. Students from wealthy families can afford to pay for tuition without public aid and can frequently afford lawyers to avoid drug convictions in the first place. Students who cannot afford tuition are frequently also unable to afford the private drug rehabilitation programs required by the penalty to get their aid back.
It violates the American principle of local control and decision-making
The penalty usurps judges’ and college administrators’ authority to administer punishments for violations of the law and campus policies. Judges can already revoke aid from people convicted of drug offenses and college administrators can already expel students when they deem it appropriate. This one-size-fits-all approach mandated by legislators in Washington, DC takes away that authority.
Although the penalty was scaled back, it still needs to be overturned completely
Congress has modified the penalty by taking away its “reachback” effect, stopping its application to students with convictions in the past. But the penalty continues to strip aid from those who get convicted while in school. The partial reform only helps a small portion of affected students, and fails to address the fundamental problems with the penalty. Kicking students out of school increases the chances they will abuse drugs or commit other crimes and decreases the chances they will become productive taxpaying citizens. It still only affects students who are doing well in school. It still disproportionately affects people of color and students from low- and middle-income families. The drug question’s appearance on the financial aid application still deters countless eligible students from applying. None of the 250 organizations opposed to the penalty feel that the reform is adequate.
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.”