Students For Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a grassroots organization of students that has been pushing for drug policy reform since 1998, when it was founded by students from Rochester Institute of Technology and George Washington University. It originally formed as a response to a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which barred student loans and grants to people with drug convictions. The group consists of chapters formed at schools and universities throughout the world.
In Florida there are 11 SSDP chapters, there is a chapter at Florida International University, the University of Miami, the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida, Eckerd College, Florida Gulf Coast University, New College of Florida, the University of North Florida, and at the University of West Florida.
I spoke with Kelly Rodriguez, she is a former president of SSDP, and is currently the SSDP chapter head at Florida International University. I asked her to tell me a little bit about SSDP and what the FIU chapter is doing to change marijuana policy in the Sunshine State.
Kelly Rodriguez: “Students For Sensible Drug Policy is an international organization that promotes education about all drugs traditional, psychotic, psychoactive, and the newest and upcoming drugs throughout the world such as designer drugs and new pharmaceuticals.
The FIU Chapter has helped gather members, signatures in order to place Amendment 2 on the ballot, and now we are gathering volunteers for the United For Care Campaign and offering students to receive absentee ballots if they would like to versus going to their voting location on November 4.
The FIU Chapter tries to inform students about all drugs but also inform them about the drug laws that affect them by sharing the number of incarcerated youths for example. We also share international drug laws and new advancements such as changes in laws or drug reports from Western Europe for example. We all are always trying to learn as much as possible about drug policy but also human rights, civil rights, criminal laws, and perspectives when we give out new information to our SSDP family. Along with anything new from our fellow chapters around the world.”
How did you become involved in SSDP? How did the FIU chapter form?
K.R.: “I became involved in SSDP because, I had a friend from high school who started a chapter in high school and he later opened his own chapter in the University of Miami. He later told me he had met a student who wanted to open a chapter at FIU I said that I would like to help 3 years later SSDP was born with the help of Professor Sean Noah Walsh.”
How is drug prohibition, particularly marijuana and hemp prohibition, effecting the State of Florida and the rest of the United States?
K.R.: “Our current federal drug laws continue to incarcerate Americans over a plant that has been proven to help people with life long illnesses. The laws are beyond painful for both the consumer of Cannabis and the person who sells it. Now, more young Hispanics and women are getting arrested and sent to prison because of Cannabis. Hemp, is a tremendous resource, but because of federal laws, we cannot even plant it in the greater majority of the US. However, more states are writing bills in order to start planting it. Both Cannabis and Hemp would help states budgets, for example Colorado’s growth.”
What do you think of the medical marijuana bills in the Florida state legislature? What do you think of Amendment 2, the Right to Medical Marijuana Initiative, which is coming up for a vote in November? Do you think any of them have a chance of passing?
K.R.: “Florida now has two bills addressing the use of Cannabis and the issues tied to Cannabis are medicinal use, the administration of Cannabis by a care giver, a doctor’s prescription, diagnosis, it’s taxation and regulation, the birth of medical dispensaries, Cannabis businesses, how would children be treated with medicinal Cannabis, and citizens wondering about recreational use.
I believe that if our citizens, and Cannabis activist work hard enough and continue to fight harder than they ever have for their children, their lives, and other Americans. Then, we will see Florida become the 22 state to legalize the use of Medicinal Cannabis, and maybe someday Florida will be the first Southern state to legalize Cannabis. I feel that the bills were written clearly and I support both of them I have met Medical Cannabis patients, I have met people who’s lives have been changed because, of the failed war on drugs, and I have read letters from parents with children who are in pain and need Medicinal Cannabis. One letter from a father whose son lives with Dravet’s Syndrome reminded me of why I was doing this. That father’s love for his son, and his unyielding hope, inspired me to keep fighting. His son can not play like other children, he sees his son is in pain every day, and there is nothing that he can do. His son can not even say “I love you Daddy” and it was beyond heart breaking to learn about how much these parents want their kids to have happier lives. I want to give that kid a chance, and I want his Dad, to hear those words.
I feel that Amendment 2 will pass, I have also heard supportive words from friends in the Political community but I also understand that citizens need to be informed with the right information. In the upcoming months we will face the opposition, lies, and in the worst case financial competition from anybody who doesn’t agree with the use of Medicinal Cannabis. In the last three years Americans have learned more about Cannabis, the failed war on drugs, and the role of politics in their lives.
Once, Amendment 2 passes the state of Florida will have to decide how they will tax and regulate Cannabis, where they will construct Medical dispensaries, the distribution of licenses and cards, how children will be given their treatment, how will Cannabis Businesses be allowed to operate, and the introduction of recreational Cannabis to the state of Florida. How will our Florida Drug laws change because, of Amendment 2? That would be a giant metamorphosis. What would Amendment 2 passing mean for the Political arena in the entire state of Florida? I feel that Florida will be turning even more Blue and more and more people will want to be come more involved in Politics because, they feel their vote can count and maybe even address other issues like the labeling of GMO’s or environmental issues. The world is changing and we are a part of that. The war on drugs may never be over but we can all do something to help even if it’s just talking about the war on drugs, voting, or joining a political organization like SSDP.”
For more information on Students For Sensible Drug Policy, visit their website: www.ssdp.org