A year in, students for drug reform swell

From its hazy beginning as a loose group of six drug policy reform activists, Emerson’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is budding into an influential advocacy group on campus.

Andrew Hutcheson, the organization’s president, said yesterday that the 60-member group is working with the Student Government Association President-elect Jeffrey Rizzi to change the college’s drug policy, which he said is too harsh.

“We’re not advocating that people do drugs,” the junior visual and media arts major said. “But it’s not a government issue. If anything, it’s a medical issue; but it’s really just a lifestyle.”

According to the 2010-11 Emerson College Student Handbook, students found with marijuana face a $75 fine to disciplinary probation, barring offenders from participating in extracurricular activities. Repeat offenders may be immediately suspended from the college.

Sitting at the Emerson Cafe yesterday, across from Boston Common where dozens of pot-smokers allegedly gather to celebrate 4/20, an unofficial marijuana holiday among users, Hutcheson said the drug policy unfairly punishes users of what he considers a relatively benevolent substance.

“We’re steeped in propaganda that says marijuana kills brain cells and leads to harder drug use,” the junior visual and media arts major said, “It’s just not true.”

Hutcheson said SSDP is partnering with Suffolk University to hold a “Hemposium” on April 28. The event, hosted at Suffolk, will have a hempologist speaking along with samples of hemp products and is open to Emerson students.

SSDP is also participating in the Marijuana Meander, which will occur on May 7. The Meander, called such because of the City of Boston taxes marches, is part of the Global Marijuana March which occurs in more than 600 cities worldwide, according to Hutcheson.

Rob de la Teja, a junior print journalism major and treasurer of SSDP, said the group took part in the protest last year and gained supporters as they marched from the JFK building to the Massachusetts Statehouse.

“There were no hecklers, he said. “It was just support.”

Hutcheson said he disagrees with the cultural acceptance of underage drinking, which he said is a great physical detriment, while college’s scorn weed smoking.

“In college, you’re practically told to drink, with RAs telling students how to drink safely,” he said. “But it’s scientifically proven that alcohol is more dangerous [than marijuana].”

Though Hutcheson said the group is making progress on its goals, they still want to do more.

“We’re appealing for SGA recognition again next year,” he said. “The funds we would get would help us do more and bring more people in.”

One event Hutcheson said he would love to host would be a public debate between a government official and an expert on marijuana. “Right now we just can’t do that. We need a bigger space than what we can get,” he said.

Next year the group will co-host the Northeastern SSDP Conference with Boston University and Tufts and also plans to make a documentary on the effects of the D.A.R.E. ad campaign and its effects on students.

Hutcheson encourages everyone to get involved with the cause. “Even if you don’t do drugs, you should be involved,” he said. “We’re a progressive school and the [drug] policy needs to reflect that.”