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News (Media Awareness Project) - US RI: Edu: Student Group Promotes Responsible Drinking
Title:US RI: Edu: Student Group Promotes Responsible Drinking
Published On:2012-01-30
Source:Brown Daily Herald, The (Brown, RI Edu)
Fetched On:2012-01-31 06:02:05

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 measures 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."
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