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 StoptheDrugwar.org, 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
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