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UMD: Senators poised to wage pot fight

College Park, MD
United States
The Diamondback (MD)

Maryland: Drug Reform Efforts Picking Up in the Terrapin State

The Terrapin State is this year seeing increasing efforts to reform drug policy. As discussed in another article this issue, the Maryland Compassionate Use Act (HB 1040) would expand on a state medical marijuana law passed in 2003. Late last month -- perhaps preluding some larger effort -- the respected Justice Policy Institute issued a report, Maryland's Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Laws: Their Impact on Incarceration, State Resources and Communities of Color.

Also last month, the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Delegates heard HB 283, a bill sponsored this year and last by Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Bethesda) that would require the state's education agency to provide state scholarships to students who qualify under the state's own standards but are ineligible for federal aid because of federal laws (like the Higher Education Act's drug provision). Currently such students may lose state as well as federal aid, but the decisions are delegated to individual school financial aid offices. HB 283 again did not make it through committee this year, though other avenues such as a Senate bill could be possible.

Things are looking better for a University of Maryland effort to reduce the penalties for students caught possessing marijuana in campus dorms. Currently, pot possession in the dorms is considered a Class A infraction of university rules, along with arson, assault, and similar violent crimes, and results in automatic expulsion from campus residence halls.

But after a year-long campaign by UMD SSDP and NORML chapters that saw a successful student voter initiative calling for the equalization of penalties for pot possession and underage possession of alcohol (a Class B infraction) and a subsequent Residence Hall Association Senate resolution calling on the Department of Residence Life to reclassify first-time pot possession to Class B, activists are now eagerly awaiting a decision by department director Deb Grandner on whether to accept the resolution's recommendation.

"I'm really optimistic about this," said UMD SSDP chapter head Anastasia Cosner. "I'll be meeting with Grander on Friday, and I'm going to tell her this has been approved by the students and by the residence halls, so she should probably just go ahead and approve it now."

Grandner is under some pressure to accede to the demand, said SSDP national executive director Kris Krane. "The student newspaper has done three stories on this in the past couple of weeks," he noted, "the Residence Halls Senate has called for the change, the president of the student government supports it, and now even a member of the House of Delegates has weighed in with a letter to Grandner."

"Failure to enact the recommendations of the RHA Senate by your office could have more serious implications than would result from a change in residential policy," warned Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate who sponsored HB 283. "Students who are forced to leave the residence halls during the semester often are not able to complete coursework, and may leave school altogether. Students who consequently abandon their goals for completing a college education are more likely to engage in less productive behaviors including abusing drugs in the future."

There is no firm deadline for Grandner to act, but activists say they are prepared to go to the next level if she demurs or delays. Hopefully they won't have to and a battle on the University of Maryland campus will be won sooner rather than later.

University of Maryland Students Get Support from State Rep for Campus Drug Reform Effort (plus some DRCNet strategy thoughts)

Our friends at the University of Maryland's (UMD) SSDP chapter have been working on a campus drug policy reform measure, seeking to have marijuana's classification in the school's disciplinary code downgraded to a less serious level than its current status. A campus-wide referendum was passed, and now a resolution by the RHA Student Senate. Maryland Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, the same Delegate with whom we are working on trying to fix the state financial aid/drug conviction problem, has provided a letter of support for the measure, sent to the school's Director of Residence Life. Click here to read it in PDF form. This seems like a good time to talk a little bit about a part of DRCNet's "big-picture" strategy and strategic thinking. Last year we published a report, under the auspices of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, on the issue of state financial aid bureaucracies denying college assistance to students who have lost their eligibility for financial aid because of drug convictions -- not because the states have their own laws saying to do so (extremely few states do), but only because the federal government is denying them aid, and the states have chosen to make use of the federal financial aid processing system (FAFSA), to be able to do less work themselves or out of habit or mistaken assumptions about their obligations or for other reasons. It is this report that led to the Maryland financial aid bill that has been discussed in other posts here. For a lot of our members, restoring college aid to students with drug convictions is an issue that is good but in the grand scheme of things small -- we're, our goal is to end the war on drugs, the financial aid work is worthy but what about sentencing, police raids, forfeiture, ending prohibition itself? The smaller chunk of college aid provided by the states, or for that matter by any one state, is a smaller issue than that, and with fewer people being affected now that the federal law affects fewer people, the numbers make it even smaller. Still a good thing if we can do it, but end the whole drug war and these smaller problems will be fixed in the process too. All true. That said, however, politics is a process, and the steps we take today can enable further steps later. For example, if we had not issued that report, the issue would never have come to Del. Gutierrez's attention, and we would never have met her. If we had not supported her efforts in the state house last year and again this year, Stacia Cosner at UMD and Kris Krane at SSDP National would never have met or gotten to work with her either. And with that relationship never having been established, Gutierrez's letter to the official at UMD would never have been written, one less piece of support provided for an effort to make marijuana policy at a major state school less harsh. Will the letter make the difference? That sort of question is usually impossible to definitely answer, but possibly. What new reforms may be made possible if this one happens, and what effect might a victory for the chapter have on its ability to mobilize students to support our issue? There is probably no issue out there for which it is easier to build bridges like that than the financial aid/drug convictions issue; it's almost embarrassing how easy it is to bring allies in with that issue. It's also time to branch out, to be sure. Over the next two years or so it is our goal to do coalition-building -- with organizations, legislators and other supportive individuals -- on a range of drug war issues. The welfare and public housing drug provisions are one logical next step (see our Chronicle review of the topic here), because many of the 300+ organizations we are in contact with who have support the financial aid efforts will also be willing to help us with those. But it won't stop there. Eventually we will have a network of thousands of organizations around the country, all of them helping to chip away at the drug war in whichever aspects of it they are individually willing and able. This model has already succeeded in getting one federal law (financial aid) scaled back significantly, and that happened when Congress was still controlled by the Republicans! What will having thousands of them accomplish? If you like this vision -- and if you like the fact that we do so much to promote and support the work of our allies in the cause like SSDP -- for that matter if you like our newsletter and this blog -- I hope you'll support those efforts with a generous donation, which can be done online here. - Dave
United States

Drug Dealing on Frat Row - Profits & Losses

Progressive Drug Educator Sheldon Norberg will deliver a specially commissioned presentation focusing on Harm Reduction in the Greek community at UCLA. See for more info.
Wed, 11/08/2006 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm
Los Angeles, CA
United States

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