Join the Youth and Student Movement to end the War on Drugs.
By Levent Akbulut
The late comedian Bill Hicks once said of our drug laws that ‘it’s not a war on drugs; it’s a war on personal freedom’. You could also argue that it has been as much a war on young people, minorities, vulnerable people and the human race itself.
The war on drugs has been fought with the noble intention of protecting young people – however as readers of ISMOKE Magazine are most likely aware, the drug war has achieved the exact opposite and has been a tool used to perpetrate the oppression of young people and other vulnerable groups. The first Students for Sensible Drug Policy network was founded in the United States back in 1998 in response to the Higher Education Act which prevented students with drug convictions from receiving financial aid to go to university or college – students with convictions for any other crime were not exempt from funding. Since then the movement has grown into a powerful force with nearly 200 local groups all over the world.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK was founded in April 2008 by a small group of student cannabis activists at the University of Leeds. SSDP UK was set up in response to a lack of focus on tackling the harms caused by our drug laws by the National Union of Students. Just as mainstream politicking has been infected by a sense of complacency and fear by careerist politicians too afraid to touch these issues, until recently, barring a few lone heroes, the world of student organising had been much the same.
There are now SSDP representatives in about 25 universities, colleges and local communities all working to build a stronger national movement. When at first we were met with hostility and often ignored by the mainstream movement, we’re now actively working with some of the leadership of the National Union of Students to change the way we handle drugs in society.
Our ultimate goal is a healthier and more tolerant society where drugs are regulated; one where adults can make their own choices about what they put into their own body, where people with drug problems get help rather than receiving abuse and punishment, and of course one where patients have a right to choose their own medicines.
We feel strongly that the distinction between so-called legal and illegal drugs is a false dichotomy that must be challenged, and that is why we work hard where we can to chip away at the social presumptions and the vicious drug laws that contribute to the oppression of everyday people. Where people have suffered as a result of our drug policies, we have been there to speak out. Our groups have campaigned for better drugs education at universities and colleges, for harm reduction initiatives such as pill testing kits to be distributed by student unions and for other groups representing students and young people to join us in taking a stand against the war on drug users. A few months back, our activists at Leeds Metropolitan University led a campaign (and won) to get their student union to oppose the criminalisation of people who use drugs. We have stood in solidarity with young Mexicans who are being murdered every day due to inter-gang violence and a senseless actual drug war that no-one other than the grim reaper seems to be winning. When Professor David Nutt was sacked from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, we organised a protest outside Downing Street and a sustained social media campaign on Facebook (reaching over 30,000 supporters) to call for his reinstatement. SSDP now works closely with David to promote awareness of how drug harms compare to each other. We have been mentioned in local and national media from the Guardian to the Daily Telegraph and continue to make connections with the great and the good working for better drug laws.
We were even there at London 4/20 event in Hyde Park talking to young people about their rights.
There has been no one secret to our success; other than a determined growing membership, our democracy, the desire to be professional and the support of the wider drug policy reform movement. Special thanks are due to the drug’s charity Release who has provided us with extensive support to make our work possible.
Where does that take us now? As of March, when we hosted the first European Youth and Student Drug Policy reform conference, we voted to expand our membership to those who are not students. We are going to work harder to bring in membership from communities who have not been involved in drug policy advocacy before, such as people who have suffered from the strong hand of the law due to drug war, and we will be campaigning against cuts to drug user services. With other youth and student organisations across Europe we are working hard to build a transnational network, so if you are an ISMOKE Magazine reader elsewhere in Europe, you will soon be able to join us!
At the moment, our groups in every nation of the United Kingdom (and some friends in the Republic of Ireland) are getting ready to recruit 1000s of new members to SSDP. They will arrange educational events, organise campaigns, talk to their local media and put on fantastic socials – our parties are always the best. There is no better time to join the youth and student movement to end the war on drugs. Whatever you have to offer, whether in education or not, young or old and whatever your background – there is a place for you in our movement. So come join us!
Levent Akbulut is a founder and the National Coordinator of Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK.
For more information on getting involved in SSDP UK, check out http://ssdp.org.uk or read their blog at http://ssdp-uk.blogspot.com. Become a fan on Facebook http://facebook.com/ssdpuk and add them on Twitter http://twitter.com/ssdpuk.