Pro-Pot Students Discover Support

Pro-Pot Students Discover Support
Posted by CN Staff on May 02, 2006 at 06:46:04 PT
By Kelly Whittaker 
Source: Diamondback
Maryland -- Pro-pot student activists discovered this weekend they have much more support than anticipated in their quest to loosen penalties on marijuana-related offenses, after meeting dozens of other supporters at a conference in New York.Leaders of the campus’ National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and Students for Sensible Drug Policy convened at the Northeast Regional SSDP conference in New Paltz, N.Y., to meet with other students and have information sessions with drug reform leaders to discuss activism tactics on loosening pot policies on campuses.
SSDP president Damien Nichols brought 13 members of his chapter and NORML Terps to take part in the information sessions and social bonding the event offers.“The conferences have the best and the brightest that drug policy reform has to offer,” said Victor Pinho, current leader of NORML Terps.Of the nine schools that attended the conference, including Brown, Columbia and NYU, this university brought the most representation, incoming SSDP president Stacia Cosner said. The attendees got a chance to attend different “breakout sessions” at which drug reform leaders spoke and members from chapters at different universities had the chance to form support networks.“We came to the realization that there were many people around to help who feel as strongly as we do about the issue,” incoming NORML president Matt Zernhelt said.The groups’ attendance at the event comes on the heels of a recent referendum on the Student Government Association elections ballot asking students if they were in favor of looser marijuana policies on the campus. The referendum passed with 65 percent of voters voting in favor.Nichols and Pinho, who are both graduating this spring, said attending the conferences early in their college careers cemented their places in drug policy reform. The two also attended the NORML national conference in San Francisco two weeks ago.“We took the momentum of passing the referendum to New Paltz and San Francisco and talked to some of the greatest minds in drug policy pulling,” Pinho said.The leaders said ever since the referendum to equalize marijuana punishments with those of alcohol was passed during the campus SGA elections in April, there has been increased support from members of both the campus and the drug reform communities. Pinho said activists and lawyers in the area have offered their help with the issue, and some teaching assistants have even asked them to lecture in their sections.“We learned that there are a lot more people supporting us than you’d think,” Cosner said. “There’s a lot of influential people involved.”With the passing of the referendum, it is now up to the leaders to pen a reasonable proposal to present to the administration. However, they said they realize it will take a lot of work because the administration is extremely hesitant to consider changing the current policies.Currently, students found with marijuana on the campus immediately lose their housing and financial aid and could face suspension or mandatory drug testing. Those found with alcohol, however, are first given a warning and community service but must be issued a second offense before their housing is threatened.“The ball’s in our court, it’s our turn to present to the university what we believe is an acceptable and fair drug policy,” Pinho said. “We know we got kind of quiet after the referendum passed, but don’t be discouraged, campus.”Cosner said for the past month the two groups have been working together every day to put together a proposal. Nichols said the leaders will work with members of the administration and the drug reform community to pen a proposal that works.“The movement’s big but we need to grow,” Pinho said. “We’re calling out to students and faculty all across campus.”Linda Clement, the university’s vice president for student affairs, was not available to comment for this story; however, she said last month the administration should strongly consider student opinion on the issue but stressed the potential dangers drugs pose to the campus community.Zernhelt emphasized he is not discouraged by the administration’s hesitance to look into new policies but looks forward to working with university officials to establish a reasonable marijuana policy on the campus.“Kids would have respect for the administration and police instead of hating them for demonizing the average student for engaging in common behavior,” Zernhelt said. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth doing.”Nichols also said the groups want to sit down with the administration to put together an educational approach to drug abuse prevention, instead of just punishing offenders. Pinho said both groups would like to facilitate workshops that would offer help to students with drug-abuse problems.Currently, Cosner is leading a student advocacy group to hear from victims of the drug policy at the university, and hopes to expand that group once NORML and SSDP move into their new office in the Stamp Student Union’s Student Involvement Suite this month. The advocacy group helps students work through the legal baggage that goes along with the campus drug punishments.Note: Students attend forum about looser pot punishments.Source: Diamondback, The (U of MD Edu)Author: Kelly Whittaker Published: May 02, 2006Copyright: 2006 Maryland Media, Inc.Contact: opinion dbk.umd.eduWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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