Student group promotes responsible drinking

Senior Staff Writer
Monday, January 30, 2012

The feeling is all too common — an overwhelming sense of dizziness, compounded by an inability to place one foot in front of the other without stumbling. While this experience is typically induced by heavy drinking, students could mimic the effects of high blood alcohol content using special “beer goggles” at an event Friday sponsored by Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, Health Services and the Greek Council.

On a given day, the 15 to 20 members of Brown’s chapter of SSDP may be found on the Main Green passing out flyers about the negative effects of government anti-drug efforts, at the Rhode Island State House protesting decisions they believe unfairly discriminate against drug users or in the basement of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center educating students on the dangers of alcohol abuse.

The group changes its leadership and focuses on new areas of drug policy each semester. Friday’s event marked a turning point for the group, which until now has almost exclusively focused on issues surrounding illegal drugs. Now it is moving to address a legal substance common on most college campuses — alcohol.

A joint effort

Emergency Medical Services received 10 calls about dangerously inebriated first-year students during their orientation last semester, the highest number of calls since 2007, according to a Sept. 9 article in The Herald. SSDP’s workshop last week was in response to these figures, said Oliver Torres ’13, who was co-president of the group last fall.

Entitled “Think Responsibly” — a play on the phrase “drink responsibly” — the event featured four activities. Participants could play a modified version of “flip cup,” traditionally a drinking game, where instead of drinking, players were required to answer questions about alcohol abuse. Other activities included learning how to approximate the volume of a shot of liquor in a Solo cup and calculating blood alcohol content based on weight, gender, number of drinks and time spent drinking. After completing all of the activities, participants received food and a t-shirt.

Shannon Whittaker ’14 praised the event’s creativity and effectiveness. “Branching out beyond (educating about) drugs is a good decision, especially considering the seriousness of drinking too much,” she said.

Jordan Evans ’14 said that even though he does not drink, he appreciated the experience of wearing the beer goggles.

Brown’s SSDP chapter also asserts that it does not promote drug use but seeks to reduce harm for individuals who choose to do so. “We are firm believers that if you are going to consume any substance, you need to be safe about it,” Torres said.

Dollars and sense

Founded nearly a decade ago, Brown’s chapter of SSDP is one of many similar grassroots organizations around the world.

SSDP is a Category III student group, meaning it receives a baseline amount of $200 from the University. It is also granted an annual budget determined by the Undergraduate Finance Board and can apply for supplementary funding separately. Current officers declined to disclose this year’s annual budget, and a representative from UFB would not comment without the group’s permission.

SSDP received $2,672 in supplementary funding last semester to send members to a conference, according to UFB’s Sept. 15 minutes.

The funding is used to promote the group’s two-pronged mission — reducing harms associated with drug use and the promotion of reasonable drug legislation.

As an international organization, SSDP does not list any official endorsement of specific drug policies.

Brown’s chapter of SSDP has several different goals. The group has initiated efforts toward the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.

“Everyone’s opinions differ, and we’re just looking for something sensible,” said Natalie Van Houten ’14, who served as SSDP treasurer last semester.

To account for their differences, members typically propose projects they are interested in, and members with similar interests will volunteer to help, Van Houten said.

On a roll

Recently, the chapter organized silent protests on the Main Green, held themed “action weeks” and provided kits to students during Spring Weekend to check the purity of ecstasy pills. They also protested the decision by Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 to halt plans for medical marijuana compassion centers last semester by handing out flyers and encouraging members of the community to call the State House. Several members of the group believe that their activism in the fall played a part in Chafee’s formal recommendation in November to reduce marijuana to a Schedule II substance, which would allow the federal government to recognize its medical value.

Many former members of the group continue to advocate for SSDP’s goals. Jesse Stout ’06 authored legislation to legalize medical marijuana in Rhode Island and currently serves on the SSDP National Board of Directors.

Despite these efforts, the group has been criticized as “just a bunch of activists” and “lazy stoners,” Torres said. The group is not taken as seriously as activists supporting other causes, Van Houten said. “I think that people don’t really understand the magnitude of the problem that the drug war really is.”

“This isn’t about just the right to consume,” Torres said, adding that the power drug lords acquire under the current substance prohibition laws and the disenfranchisement of minorities under drug policies are some of the main issues in SSDP’s protests.

Drug problems

Students join the group for a variety of reasons. “We have a lot of very passionate and very loud members who come from all different backgrounds,” said Jarred Jones ’15, current treasurer of the group. He said he found his passion in drug policy activism through his father, who has a neurological disorder. The pain from the disorder was eased by the use of medical marijuana, but because his home state of Kentucky has not legalized medical marijuana, his father cannot use it legally.

“It’s a medicine that I think a lot of people ignore and have bad feelings about,” Jones said.

Current president Kaz Wesley ‘14.5 joined the group during his first year at Brown because he felt “current drug policies are harmful to society in a lot of ways,” and drug policy was something important he “could actually make a difference in,” he said.

Laws currently allow “state-sanctioned discrimination,” when the law should be designed to protect people, Wesley said. “Drugs really need to be handled as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.”

SSDP seeks to spread awareness about drug policy issues and targets the problems that broad prohibitive measur
es induce, Torres said.

“When someone can look at prohibition and realize there’s much more to it than they originally thought,” he said, “I feel like that in itself has the possibility to become the greatest victory.”