SSDP again gains national recognition

3-RS-article-page-1.jpgGW's chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy has captured national attention for the third time in the recent college edition of Rolling Stone.

The GW group formed three years ago to take on the national organization's campaign for "providing education on the harms caused by the War on Drugs," according to the SSDP's mission statement. The GW group is one of 160 chapters around the country working to change drug policies members say are unfair to young Americans.

"It was an honor to be featured in Rolling Stone," said GW graduate Shawn Heller, co-founder of GW's SSDP. He said the articles have drawn national attention to the group's cause.

The article in Rolling Stone's Oct. 11 issue featured D.C. student activists, naming Heller and GW SSDP co-founder senior Brian Gralnick.

The GW organization also appeared in Rolling Stone articles last March and September 2000 about student activists and the drug war.

Heller and Gralnick founded the GW chapter of SSDP in 1998, the year Congress passed restrictions preventing college students with drug convictions from getting federal financial aid, including loans. Rolling Stone reported last March that no other group that has been similarly targeted in the financial aid process.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid form asks students whether they have been convicted of selling or possessing drugs since they turned 18. Crimes committed as a minor do not count under the provision.

A large part of the GW chapter's agenda this year, apart changing the education act, is to pass a Student Association resolution to review eviction policies at GW.

Sponsored by former SA senator Matthew Silverstein and former Student Association President David Burt, the resolution's purpose is to "create a more fair judicial system in dealing with evictions from student housing."

The GW SSDP's resolution wants to "examine each eviction case, only allowing eviction to occur if it was in the best interest of the individual student, residents of the community and The George Washington University." The resolution states zero-tolerance policies are ineffective, adding that the American Bar Association agrees.

Since 1998, SSDP has grown into a national organization with more than 260 new SSDP chapters expected to be founded this fall, Heller said. They have successfully pushed many student governments, the United States Student Association and the Association of Big Ten Schools to call for a repeal of the higher education provision.

Heller, now SSDP's national director, has met with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) to get support in his push to pass two repeal bills last year.

Neither bill passed, but Gralnick said he regards the debates a victory for SSDP. The bills echoed many of SSDP's main arguments, Gralnick said. He said drug laws single out low-income families and minority students, which is evident in unequal sentencing and disproportionate numbers of drug convictions for blacks.

Students who answer "yes" to having a drug conviction after turning 18 are denied financial aid for one year if they have been convicted once and two years if they have been convicted twice. Students with three or more drug convictions are permanently barred from receiving federal financial aid for education.

According to a Fox News report, the policy was only enforced with students who admitted to drug convictions on their FAFSA forms - until recently. Last year, nearly 10 million students submitted the applications. About 9,000 who answered "yes" to the drug conviction question were denied financial aid for at least part of the year. But, the Education Department took no action against more than a quarter of a million students who left the question blank. The Bush administration's policy is to deny such applications, according to Fox News.

The SSDP will hold its national conference at GW this year. Hellner said he expects 200 to 225 people to attend. They have confirmed speakers Russell Means, a Native American running for governor in New Mexico, to and Ethan Nadelmen, a drug reform advocate.

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