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September 10, 2008 -- Collegiate Times (VA Tech, Edu)

Changing Perspective: Students For Sensible Drug Policy

By Topher Forhecz

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

President of the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Kris Reinertson, chuckles to himself when awkwardly asked about the common misconceptions of the club he founded three years ago.

There are no dreadlocks or Rasta colors; he is neat and shaven with a clean white smile and a disarming demeanor.

Wearing a white polo with blue stripes at Squires, he speaks concisely while sparingly enjoying a spinach and broccoli stuffed pizza.

Despite the associations made with his group about drugs, Reitnerson's main focus is in the codes of Virginia Tech.

"It's all about the policy," he said.

Meeting the first Wednesday of every month, the organization's aim is to change the drug- and alcohol-related policies at Tech to do more than seemingly punish the offender. It aims to repeal some of the qualities of zero tolerance, such as immediate expulsion.

"We're treating drug users like criminals instead of having a standpoint that it's a public health issue, not a criminal issue," said Sandra Bloom, a senior English major who has been a member of the organization since last year and helps with public relations.

With the new school year here, the club has been busy planning events to get its message out to the rest of the student body.

One of the SSDP's first upcoming events is hosting guest speaker Howard Woolridge at Squires on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

A former policeman, Woolridge is a member of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP)organization and travels around the lecture circuit speaking out against the war on drugs.

"It's about issues far greater than just our campus policy," Bloom said. "Looking into things like racial discrimination, with the way the drug war is carried and how it's more or less impossible to enforce this. In a way, this campus policy is a microcosm to what's going on in the entire country."

Another large upcoming event for the club is the biannual review of Tech's drug policies. Due at the end of the semester, it is part of the Drug- Free Workplace and Communities Act. The law mandates any institute of higher learning to review its policies every two years.

"This is the year it lands on, and that's why we're so trying to get the ball rolling this semester," said secretary of the SSDP Bryce Abbott about the review.

A double major in history and psychology, Abbott joined the organization last year and is now a very active member.

The club stands for a two-part platform that might come closer to a reality by the end of the semester. The first part of their reform is called the "Good Samaritan" policy that, in moments of medical crisis, would give students amnesty from Tech's codes of conduct.

The club feels that students in a situation such as an overdose might second guess helping someone because current policies might punish anyone related or present at the incident.

"That puts you in a position where you are like, 'Well, should I call for help or should I not because of the consequences of the actions,'" Abbott said. "And so what the medical amnesty would do is it would eliminate the code of conduct."

Of course, these codes of conduct only relate to the university and students are not guaranteed a free pass from law enforcement.

"If the police got involved and charged you with it, it doesn't deal with that," Abbott said about the Good Samaritan policy. "It's something totally different. Ours is just university policy."

Instead of punishing the student by suspending him or her for six months to a full year, the offender would submit to an evaluation by a trained counselor to see whether the student is suffering from a serious dependency.

This is the other half of their platform known as the First Diversion Platform, which would require that the counselor evaluate whether the student is using within moderation or requires a more intense brand of help.

"People with serious drug problems don't need punishment, they need help," Bloom said about the First Diversion Platform.

Reinertson believes that students whose use is deemed more moderate should engage in peer-based discussion.

"There's a group on campus called ADAPT, Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team," Reinertson said. "And I haven't spoken with them yet but I will, and basically students join this group to council other students. So if the student doesn't have immediate dangers and the counselor doesn't even think that they need to continue counseling with the psychiatrist, they can be referred to see these students for counseling."

Those deemed to have a drug issue, on the other hand, could be referred to an off-campus rehabilitation center for treatment, and failure to attend such treatments would result in disciplinary action. Although these proposals may seem radical, several other schools have introduced such procedures.

"Many other universities already have this in place, that for at least first time offenses, students go to a counselor," Reinertson said.

In preparation for the impending review, the club will sit down with administrators and counselors this week to talk about the changes the club has drawn up. It is just one part of the change that SSDP strides for.

"What Students for a Sensible Drug Policy is really doing is really a grassroots efforts of students trying to make a difference," he said.

With so much coming up, Reinertson believes that reform lies in the very near future for Virginia Tech.

"This semester I really feel like it's picking up a lot of potential," Reinertson said. "We have the review coming up; it's due at the end of the semester, so I feel like if there's any time for changes to be made to our drug policy, it's this semester."

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