DRCNet Interview: Darrell Rogers, Acting Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy 12/12/03

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Since its emergence in 1998, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) has been one of the fastest growing and most high-profile drug reform organizations in the country. Under the leadership of former national director Shawn Heller, the group partnered with DRCNet in zeroing in on the Higher Education Act's (HEA) anti-drug provision, which delays or denies federal financial aid for students with drug convictions, and managed to help forge a strong and growing coalition of educational, civil rights, student, and other groups to get the provision overturned.

Now that Heller has resigned to apply to law schools, one-time SSDP outreach coordinator Darrell Rogers has taken over as acting national director and is an applicant for the permanent appointment. In addition to SSDP's chapter base, Rogers now has full-time legislative and media directors and a new outreach coordinator working with him. DRCNet spoke with Rogers this week about the state of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and its plans for the coming year.

Drug War Chronicle: SSDP is holding its national conference early next month in New Hampshire, of all places. Could this have anything to do with the Democratic presidential campaign primaries?

Darrell Rogers
Darrell Rogers: Absolutely. We will be holding our conference in New Hampshire and we will be organizing about 200 dedicated SSDP activists to bring the issue of the HEA anti-drug provision and drug policy reform in general to the candidates at a time when they are most publicly accessible and firmly in the national media spotlight. We will be coordinating SSDP teams to go out and meet with candidates, to be at all public events, to have our questions ready. We will get our activists behind the microphones as often as possible. Our primary objective is to focus on the candidates and get them to come out in support of repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision.

The conference only lasts three days, but SSDP will have a presence there through the end of January, through the primary, and we will be working with other groups. Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana has already been busy up there. We will work with them, but also with the usual drug reform suspects. And we are ready to work with others; we're going up there with open arms. Our goal is to show the candidates and the nation that drug reform in general and the Higher Education Act in particular are issues that everyone should care about. We want people to see that there are concerned, bright, courageous students dedicated to this. That is the image we want everyone to see while we're up there. And we will have by far the largest number of activists in any drug policy organization working in New Hampshire.

Chronicle: Are you looking at other issues as well?

Rogers: Repealing the HEA anti-drug provision is first and foremost for us because it will be going through reauthorization in early 2004. It will be the keystone of our campaign, but once we get one or more candidates to take a stand for repeal, we can begin to branch out to some of our other concerns, such as medical marijuana, needle exchange programs, and US policy in Colombia. All of these are important issues, but HEA is number one.

Chronicle: Do you think you can win repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision in Congress next year?

Rogers: We have a stand-alone bill for HEA anti-drug provision repeal that will be introduced by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and now we are looking for a Republican cosponsor. There are some Republicans who have said they would sign on after we got another initial GOP cosponsor, but none so far are ready to stick their necks out and be the first. The Kennedy bill is sure to get Barney Frank's repeal bill in the House moving again, and we will take that momentum into the reauthorization hearings. There is a chance we could succeed next year, but even if we don't, those two bills will help build momentum for language that will repeal the provision.

Chronicle: What is the state of SSDP?

Rogers: The group has grown from one chapter in 1998 [Rochester Institute of Technology] to more than 200 chapters across the country now. We're still growing. And at the beginning of the fall semester this year, we got 124 requests for information on how to start a chapter. Not all of those will translate into new chapters, of course, but it suggests that interest in the organization is very, very high. In terms of the quality of the membership, I can only say that our people are becoming more savvy, more active, and more dedicated. We are seeing greater output and better work from our existing chapters, whether it is the Skate for Justice at SUNY New Paltz, organizing movie screenings at Ohio State, or doing the more mundane but essential work of getting schools behind the effort to undo the HEA anti-drug provision.

We have not entirely covered the country. There are a handful of low-population states where we have no organized presence. We generally follow the country's population contours. The majority of our chapters are in the Northeast, where more people are, but we also have a presence in other major urban hubs across the country, and chapters at large state universities, such as the University of Iowa, Ohio State, and the University of Texas.

Chronicle: NORML also has a strong campus presence. Are you in competition with them?

Rogers: Not at all. We work cooperatively with other reform groups. We ally ourselves with other reform groups for legislative actions, media events, and conferences. Remember that our last conference was a joint event with the Marijuana Policy Project. SSDP activists are happy to stay in tune with other drug reform groups. As for campus NORML groups, we believe that the supply of potential drug reform activists is endless and we don't need to fight over members. NORML has more resources and more information on marijuana than SSDP does, so SSDP students who are interested in that issue will go to NORML chapters. For other issues, NORML students may come to us. In fact, sometimes both organizations have chapters on the same campus, often with the same people involved. We encourage that. It means more funding from the universities; you can get funding for two events, two speakers, two presentations instead of just one. In a situation where both groups have campus chapters, students can double their effectiveness, and they can wear whichever hat is most appropriate.

Chronicle: Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) is the author of the HEA anti-drug provision. Last year, SSDP activists went to Souder's district in an effort to knock him off in the Republican primary. Unfortunately, that didn't work. But he has offered new language that would restrict the anti-drug provision to those students who are receiving financial aid when they commit their offenses. Will you be going back to put the pressure on Souder again?

Rogers: We would love to hassle Souder again, but right now our focus in here on the Hill in Washington and in the states and congressional districts where we have a chance of generating some support. Souder's new provision is only a band-aid. The HEA anti-drug provision is so ill-conceived and poorly written that the only way to fix it is to repeal it. And that's what we're working on.

As of press time, it was Darrell Rogers' birthday. You can write Rogers at darrell@ssdp.org to wish him a happy one.

-- END --
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Issue #315, 12/12/03 Editorial: Steve Kubby IS a Refugee | Canada Denies Refugee Status to US Medical Marijuana Exile | Fallout Continues in Goose Creek, South Carolina, High School Drug Raid | DRCNet Interview: Darrell Rogers, Acting Executive Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy | DRCNet Book Review: "A Drug War Carol," by Susan Wells and Scott Bieser (Big Head Press, $5.95) | Newsbrief: Bush Campaign Letter Attacks Drug Reform Funders | Newsbrief: Thai Government to Investigate Itself over Drug War Killings | Newsbrief: Bolivian Government Shifts Away from "Zero Coca" | Newsbrief: New Canadian Prime Minister to Revive Marijuana Decriminalization Bill | Newsbrief: Jamaican Solicitor General Warns Ganja Decrim Could Violate International Treaties, Invite US Retaliation | Newsbrief: Australian Prime Minister Says Injection Room Violates Treaties, UN Says No It Doesn't | Newsbrief: Medical Marijuana Approved by German Court | Newsbrief: West Virginia Supreme Court Grants Private Employers Greater Pre-Employment Drug Test Rights | Newsbrief: NYC Cigarette Tax Hike Leads to Black Market Violence | Newsbrief: Cop Kills Cop in Methamphetamine Raid Gone Awry | DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime | Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions | The Reformer's Calendar
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