Progressive student groups oppose drug legislation

Members of a national progressive student organization with a GW chapter want to repeal a federal law that prohibits students with a criminal drug history of being eligible for financial aid.

According to a section of the Higher Education Act, legislation creating federal grant and loan programs for colleges and universities, students who have a drug conviction are unable to receive federal financial aid.

The national SSDP organization has filed a lawsuit against the government in an effort to repeal this section of the Higher Education Act.

Formed last fall, SSDP is one of the progressive student organizations on campus that fights for drug-related reform. Another is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“Drugs are a hot-ticket issue,” said sophomore Jenny Cooke, co-leader of SSDP. “The stigma associated with drug policy reform is the main challenge.”

Cooke said sometimes students who have a criminal drug history are prejudged.

“Maybe these (drug users) were at a difficult and trying time in their lives and now they are trying to expand their education and they cannot (because of the Act),” said Cooke, who is also an intern for the national chapter of SSDP.

“We are a progressive movement for the reformation of drug policy,” she said. “Our primary objective is to reduce harm (brought about by drug policy) and to educate.”

GW SSDP protested in December against Drug Enforcement Agency raids in California at the DEA building in Washington, D.C. This year, GW SSDP will be expanding its involvement to include participation in the group’s international conference and congressional lobby day taking place from Nov. 17 to 19 at the Georgetown Law School. Cooke said the event is expected to draw people from across the globe to discuss drug policy change.

GW SSDP is also looking to host such events as hookah smoking nights and an outdoor screening of “Busted,” a film that aims to inform viewers of their rights when dealing with drug policy and violations, Cooke said.

In order to make such events successful, GW SSDP will have to overcome one of its major hurdles – getting students to participate in drug law reform, Cooke said. SSDP said about 20 students are involved in the organization.

Members of NORML have a similar problem in recruiting members, and leaders of the organization said it is because of preconceived notions many students have about the organization.

“It is tough getting people to come to meetings,” Hersh said. “Getting dedicated members is really difficult.”

The organization, which was also formed last year, has nearly 260 people on its listserv. However, only about 10 to 20 percent of those registered on the e-mail list attend meetings, said junior Greg Hersh, president of GW NORML.

Similar to SSDP, NORML works to reform drug policy in the United States. However, unlike SSDP, NORML focuses only on marijuana drug law reform.

“Our goals are to change policy at GW and raise awareness on a philosophical level,” said Hersh, adding that “We just want to have fun.”

The goal of the organization is to encourage relaxation of cannabis laws in the U.S. Hersh said he would also like to change GW policy to lessen the sanctions for marijuana offenders.

Hersh said that NORML plans to work with SSDP this year and supports its efforts, especially with the Higher Education Act.

“School should be based on scholastics,” Hersh said, “not on what students do in their free time.”

Michael Gieseke, associate director of SJS, said the minimum sanction for a drug violation is eviction from the residence halls, participation in an educational program and a 50 dollar fine.

He also said that students wishing to change University drug sanction policy, they should discuss doing so with the Student Association first.

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