|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: 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
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.