On the third floor of Ballantine Hall, a small group of undergrad and graduate students met to discuss drug policy as a part of the first meeting of the newly formed IU chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
“The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population but houses 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,” one statistic read in the club’s presentation.
SSDP is an international organization working with young people to fight for policies grounded in science, reason, compassion and justice through the political process. The policies they advocate for push back against drug policies they believe directly harm students and youth. The IU chapter of SSDP was founded by Eliza Goehl and Zach Votaw this fall.
“I just hope we can educate people about the war on drugs, about the fact that rehabilitation is very minimal and that our prison system is not working, it's not eliminating drug use,” Goehl said.
The meeting began with five students sitting in a circle of desks while Goehl presented the basic goals and values of the club.
On a national scale, Goehl said that SSDP strives toward being able to treat drug abuse as a mental health issue rather than a criminal one.
Goehl said their first policy goal was focused on IU's Good Samaritan Policy as a part of the Indiana Lifeline Law. Currently, the policy protects students from alcohol related crimes if they call 911 to report a medical emergency.
“We think that campus should have a Good Samaritan Policy that includes the student in danger and includes drug use in addition to underage drinking,” Goehl said.
Group members discussed ideas for club events. Goehl said she was hoping to do screenings of the History Channel series, “America’s War on Drugs.” Other suggested working with similar clubs on campus and in the community such as the Indiana Recovery Alliance to facilitate volunteer opportunities.
In addition to local chapters, the national SSDP hosts a convention every year to bring students from around the world together in panels and discussions. Goehl said she hopes to take the club to the 2018 national convention in Baltimore, Maryland.
It wasn’t until the end of the meeting that students began to get to know one another. Those in attendance had a diversity of interests in sensible drug policy.
Tyler Munn, a sophomore studying epidemiology, said he was interested in drug policy from a public health perspective.
“Right now, so many policies make it so that health is not the first issue,” Munn said. “The focus of policy should be harm reduction.”
Daniel Sterling, a second-year graduate student in the masters of public health program, referenced the social and financial aspects of drug policy.
“There’s a lot of policies that keep individuals marginalized and increase state and federal spending unnecessarily,” Sterling said.
As a new club, Goehl said they are looking to fill leadership positions and begin forming committees. Goehl said she’s interested in forming policy, event planning, finance and outreach committees.
SSDP at IU meets the first and third Tuesday of the month in Ballantine 322. Their next meeting will be Oct. 3.