04/19/15 Doug McVay

Century of Lies

Doug McVay: This week we speak with the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Betty Aldworth.

Audio file


APRIL 19, 2015


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization. Legalization. The end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I'm your host, Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network and is supported by the generosity of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and of listeners like you.

And now, on with the show. I'm on Skype with my guest, Betty Aldworth, she's the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and, my gosh, it's just great of you to, to, to make the time. SSDP is one of my favorite organizations here. It's not just the notion of student activism, I mean, that's how it got involved in everything was University of Iowa, way way way back in the dark ages in the Reagan Administration, but it's not just that. It's also because Students for Sensible Drug Policy, you're mostly people who haven't yet learned those, you know, what you're not able to do.

You're an organization composed of people who haven't been taught, been told, you know, the stuff that they're not going to be able to do, the things they're not going to be able to accomplish, and that's why you're able to accomplish all thos things, because a lot of us have, you know, we've already learned from the, Oh well you know that never works, oh well yeah, you know -- and that's, that's such garbage. People who believe that the world can change, people who believe that they can actually make something happen, and that's, uh, that's the, I think that's the biggest difference, you know.

I mean, a lot of us -- this may be 2015 but there are a lot of us out there who were doing this work during the Reagan era, and, you know, it's a totally different mindset, so it's, it's it's hugely refreshing, and it's absolutely wonderful, and that's I think one of the biggest reasons why SSDP is so great. I've, you know, talked with several other people and we all agree you're, you are an excellent director, you're one of the best choices they've made -- you're one of the best choices of director they've made in a long time.

BETTY ALDWORTH: Well, Doug, first of all, thank you very much. It has been, it's been about 14 months now and it's been probably the best 14 months of my life, and I got to work on the campaign where we first regulated marijuana, you know, and legalized for adult use in the modern era, so, I'm a pretty lucky gal, that's for sure. It's interesting though, you really hit the nail on the head with this notion that our constituents are people who don't yet know that they can't do everything they believe, right? Everything that they believe is possible, and the way that you put that was so on the mark that it actually made me tear up a little bit, because this work is just so much fun, and SSDP members are so incredibly driven and passionate, and you're right, like, nobody has explained to them yet that they are going to come up against these roadblocks. I like to say that at SSDP we believe the impossible into existence all the time.

And that's just something that we can do uniquely, that no one else really has the ability to do, because, you know, these students have so much energy and so much faith in the notion that they can build a better world, and so they're doing it. Whereas, you know, with some of us who've been doing this work for longer periods of time, we can get a little jaded, feel like, you know, oh we're having this argument yet again. Everything's just so fresh for them, and it's really inspiring, it's so much fun, I can' encourage folks any more to make sure that they've got SSDPers involved in their coalitions, because there's nothing like the energy of youth, and also the, you know, when you elevate the voices of youth, it makes such a tremendous difference in the way that you're bringing your, you know, dialogue to the public realm. Especially considering that so much of the drug war is waged in the name of protecting the children and protecting youth, when of course we all know that it doesn't do so in any way.

DOUG MCVAY: Absolutely, it's -- yeah, you've not -- well, I think that for some of who came up through the Reagan era, we locked into the idea that the struggle was the thing, it was the, it was the conflict, it was the fight, it wasn't about actually winning, it was about engaging in the conflict, and that, that can be tricky, you know? Because you, if people aren't focused on actually accomplishing a goal, if they're more concerned with the process and with making, and with engaging the other side, then, you know, it's just an endless mindless debate, and that's, that just accomplishes nothing, you know. Yeah.

Again, as a student organization, this is a, you're in the spring semester so in a way, the academic year for a lot, a lot of your members is coming to an end. Asking someone in April how things, you know, how the year has gone is a little silly, but not when you're talking about a student group, so, so I get to ask, I get to ask that question: How has the year for SSDP gone?

BETTY ALDWORTH: You know, we are of course -- so, the semester's not over yet, we're still, you know, working on compiling a lot of the information that we'll report on over the summer, and be able to talk about our accomplishments in a handful of months, once we have some more concrete information, but I will say this: SSDP is growing quickly, we are now present on more than 250 campuses at this moment, and we've had presence on well over 270 campuses this year. We've got students engaged in all sorts of really great activities, including education and policy change on their campuses, and in their communities.

We have, you know, one of our students is a leader of the coalition to bring medical marijuana to Nebraska. We have students who have passed good samaritan policies on their campuses all over the country. We've got folks who are building chapters that are going to be more effective next year than they've ever been in the past and I have to say overall, I think that the SSDP network is reaching greater levels of effectiveness than we've seen in a while, and, you know, even though there are so many more folks, they are also doing more intensive action, and we've got 2015-16 school year coming up, where we have a handful of really exciting new projects rolling out, one on the global scale, and then one at the organizational level that are going to really -- I can't talk too much about them yet, but I think that they're going to sort of transform the way that, that the student network is operating in some really powerful and impactful ways.

So the campus campaign kicks off this summer, where we will be placing staffers on the ground as well as doing additional geographically targeted recruitment, outreach and support for chapters in places where initiatives will be run in 2016, so these students will be working specifically on GOTV and education efforts around not only marijuana-related campaigns but also criminal justice and other related campaigns. You know, it's entirely possible that we might see something like California's Prop 47 in other states, and we're very excited to have students working on those sorts of things, so we're growing our staff, we're bringing on two new permanent full-time staffers, one contract staffer to work on the campus campaign, and a handful of full-time interns for the summer to work on this exciting new global project that we're really looking forward to.

DOUG MCVAY: So the global campaign, obviously you can't discuss a lot of the details but I -- well, I've been talking a lot on this show and on every show I do really about the UNGASS 2016 coming up in April of that year at the United Nations in New York. Have you, did you manage to get out to Vienna for the Commission on Narcotic Drugs last, I guess it was in March?

BETTY ALDWORTH: Yes, yes I was at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs along with two students from our student board, our board of directors, and we were able to present during a side event and talk about, you know, flipping the script a little bit, protecting youth from drug policy, as opposed to protecting youth from drugs because of course we all know that drug policy is oftentimes, in its current manifestation, so much more dangerous than drugs themselves. And, yeah, we got to see first hand, a lot of the conversation that's happening right now around global drug policy and global drug control.

And interestingly, l was really surprised, this was my first time to CND and I was very much surprised by just how many reformers were there. Yes, of course there were a lot of prohibitionists there on the NGO side, but there were so many reformers present, and the dialogue was really heavily focused around, you know, harm reduction, evidence-based treatment and prevention programs, and human rights -- the drug control problem in the context of human rights, which I think is the right way to start talking about it.

So, it was very heartening in many ways to sort of witness all of these reformers there and to hear the way that the dialogue is shifting. Now of course, you know, if you thought Congress was slow, just spend some time paying attention to UN policy, that is absolutely glacial. So, nothing's changing all that quickly, but the dialogue is really shifting and it represents this global dialogue shift. So the global project that we're working on for 2015-16 is in relationship to UNGASS, and raising the student and youth voice in relationship to that event, when the General Assembly's going to come together and talk about the world drug problem, and we are hoping to be able to have an impact on that, that conversation through a handful of different actions that we'll be carrying out in the next year.

DOUG MCVAY: Terrific. The first, the only time that I managed to get to Vienna was in 2008, and that was really the year when civil society started to, I mean we got our foot in the door, basically. The Vienna Non Governmental Organizing Committee, the, you know, now there's the New York Organizing Committee working towards the UNGASS, and -- but yeah, what you're saying, it's really slow, but still, if you watch it over, you know, a decade or so, you can see some actually change from, from ignoring and pretending civil society doesn't exist to actually letting us, you know, watch, to letting people -- well, the one you just were, you just attended is the first time that NGO reps were actually in there participating in the plenary sessions with the national delegates, I mean that -- I had a chance to listen to some of the, to some of it that was being webcast by the UN, and it must have been terribly exciting.

BETTY ALDWORTH: Oh absolutely, I'm hooked. There's no question. It was very exciting, and you know, I definitely encourage folks to google the CNDBlog, where there, they cataloged essentially most of the proceedings that were happening, but I strongly encourage folks to if nothing else read the opening statement from the delegate from Colombia. It was the first statement from a delegate during the plenary session, and it was incredibly, incredibly progressive from a, you know, from a reformer point of view, to hear a country talking about harm reduction, about demand reduction, about the tremendous harms of the war on drugs itself.

So, yeah, I definitely encourage folks to find at least that statement and read it, just to get a sense of what, the progress is looking like. Also, you know, we have to remember that there are plenty of other countries holding back and not in any way interested in reform. In fact, the head of I believe it was the INCB [International Narcotics Control Board] said at one point during an open dialogue that the war on drugs had failed not because it was a systemic failure, but because we hadn't been waging it consistently enough, countries hadn't been waging it consistently enough. So, we've, you see points of view on every point -- at every point of the spectrum. But Colombia was great.

DOUG MCVAY: Thank you for reminding me. I recorded -- 2 o'clock in the morning pacific time, and those, the webcasts were only done live, the UN does not have an archive of the plenary sessions, I mean they webcast the video live so if you don't catch it, you don't get it. I managed to record quite a lot of it and I still haven't used the audio from the Colombian delegate, so I'm going to have to, I'm going to have to put that into a show here coming up soon. Thank you for the reminder.


DOUG MCVAY: That's an excellent idea. Wow. And that excellent idea came from my guest Betty Aldworth, who's the Executive Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. We're talking policy, we're talking organizing, and well of course 2016 is a presidential election year, not just any, not just any election, since we're going to have a change in presidential administration. It's going to be big, and of course you're going to have students working on the initiatives and, and the like. Yeah. Wow. 270 chapters, or campuses -- the growth that you folks have experienced. Now of course, as long as we're on the international, how are the, how are organizing efforts doing overseas?

BETTY ALDWORTH: We are currently, I believe we are present, we have a presence in 9 countries, if I remember correctly. And I have to just brag on the SSDP chapters in Ireland for a minute. They hosted their regional conference just a few weeks ago, which was exceptionally well-attended and looks like an incredible success overall. But they have a chapter, if I'm correct about this and I'm pretty sure that I am, they have a chapter, the largest chapter in the world, which is more than 200 members in a single chapter. So, you know, when we're talking about the global dialogue, it is a conversation that is happening everywhere right now, and it's not just about what's happening for us here in the US, the conversation on the global level is pretty amazing.

So, yeah, Ireland, we have chapters in New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Nigeria, and others as well. Oh, and we've, we also have presence in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and two US territories, Puerto Rico and Guam.

DOUG MCVAY: Outstanding. Outstanding. The, have the regional conferences, I noticed that the Northeast regional conference was just a week or so ago -- well, something like, yeah about a week or so ago. How did that -- did you manage to get up to northeastern for that one, and how did it go?

BETTY ALDWORTH: No, I'll be headed down to the Southeastern, or the Southern conference rather, this weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, so wasn't able to make it up to the northeastern but it was a tremendous success. Mad props to our UConn chapter, who did such a great job organizing that conference, and they had, I think, almost 100 attendees, which is pretty sizable for a regional conference, and I hear that it went exceptionally well. I should also let folks know while we're on the topic that we have set the dates for our 2016 international conference, and that is going to be April 15-18 of 2016, so I hope that you'll save the dates and make sure to try and make it out for that conference. Everybody says that it's the best conference in drug policy, precisely for the reasons why we started, where we started this conversation, because hanging out with the future of drug policy reform, you know, these young folks, is so incredibly inspiring.

DOUG MCVAY: Now, that's going to be out in DC, or are you going to be somewhere else in the country?

BETTY ALDWORTH: Well, that's the one piece that we haven't quite finalized, but it will be somewhere out here, out east, and we do know for sure that the date is April 15 through 18.

DOUG MCVAY: Okeh. Wow, now --

BETTY ALDWORTH: Those who are paying attention will note that it's immediately before UNGASS.

DOUG MCVAY: I was going to say that, April is when UNGASS, so maybe up in New York City? Hmm.

BETTY ALDWORTH: We shall see, we shall see.

DOUG MCVAY: All right, well I'm looking forward to that one, and I -- that, that will be a -- I'll make an effort, I'll make an effort, see if I can get some support, get some funding to get there to participate and to cover the thing. I mean, it's -- yeah, some of the best conferences, you folks manage to get in a lot of good speakers, and, you know, some of the nuts and bolts of what to do is really important, I think that that's, you know, sharing information is what this is all about, you know. It's -- yeah, wow, this is going to be terrific. Now, let's see, so southern down in Charleston, South Carolina coming up. How many regional conferences do you, do you folks, do you have through the year?

BETTY ALDWORTH: So, we have eight domestic regions in the US -- sorry, six, I believe, regions in the US, and four of those had conferences in the spring. A handful will also have conferences in the fall, we're shifting our schedule around a little bit. And, so, a handful will have conferences in the fall I expect, and then we'll see in fall of 2016 for the 2016-17 school year, most likely we'll have conferences in all six regions, so that would be six conferences in the fall of 2016.

DOUG MCVAY: That is terrific, and spring -- well, spring would give you the entire fall semester to do organizing and preparation. I could see it would be a little tricky trying to get something organized fast at the beginning of a semester, but, well, if anybody could do it I think you folks could. That's, wow.

BETTY ALDWORTH: There's no question, if anybody could do it, it's certainly our student members.

DOUG MCVAY: Oh, that is terrific, that is terrific. Okeh, so, and that's of course when you'll have the new election of board members and you'll have some other stuff happening. Now, what kind of, you've got some projects that are still, that are still in the planning stages. What kind of, what are the current campaigns that you folks are engaged in?

BETTY ALDWORTH: Well, so, this year we had a handful of exciting things that we did, more broadly than our regular action. We launched our alumni association, and we're also working on a career services program, so really trying to make sure that we're supporting students both during and after their college experience, you know, once they become alums that they are continuing to receive support from us, and stay connected to the network. We piloted out some experiments for the campus campaign earlier this fall, to make sure that these ideas that we had were ready for full-scale implementation come the 2015-16 school year leading up to the 2016 election.

And then, we also are working on, in addition to growing the network, just making sure that students are getting the kind of core support and resources that they need in order to carry out those fundamental reforms that SSDP is so well known for. So, of course, working on campus policy change, whether that's fighting eviction policies, or fighting expulsion policies, working on adjusting sanctions for alcohol and drug use so that it's not threatening a student's career when they happen to be one of the 16 million students each month who choose to consume drugs or alcohol.

So there are a lot of campus policies in that realm to reduce the harsh punishments that are, almost everybody can agree are unfair. Good samaritan programs and projects are always high on the list for our students, they're working hard on making sure that if a student is undergoing an overdose, is in the midst of an overdose from drugs or alcohol that they don't have to fear, their friends don't have to fear calling for help in those cases, and we know that thousands of lives are saved through GSP programs every year. Increasing access to naloxone, we're working on raising the awareness of syringe exchange programs, especially in light of the opioid problem that we're seeing now nationwide and in every kind of community. And all sorts of different individual pieces of policy change that are hot in different states at the moment and of interest to our students, but all with the notion that it's time to replace these ridiculous policies with sensible ones that protect students, families, and communities.

DOUG MCVAY: So, uh, so yeah, how can people find out more and get involved?

BETTY ALDWORTH: Yeah, so I would definitely encourage people to go to our website at SSDP.org, and there you can connect to us on twitter and facebook, sign up for our email lists, you can learn more about what you will be facilitating if you were to make a gift and how we support the student network of thousands of members, through a fiscal donation. You can learn about upcoming events on our website, including some events coming up in DC, Denver, maybe Chicago even, and also figure out how to, you can also learn about some of the individual students who are doing such amazing work through their empowerment with SSDP. You can follow us on Twitter, @SSDP, or find us on facebook, facebook.com/schoolsnotprisons. And, if you have an SSDP chapter in your neck of the woods and wanted to be able to connect with them and help empower or educate them individually, you can certainly learn about what's happening in your individual community through our website as well.

DOUG MCVAY: All right, well, I want to thank you again, Betty. Betty Aldworth, executive director of SSDP, has been my guest. I just cannot thank you enough for the work that you're doing and for all the time you've give me for this, for this interview.

And that's all the time we have this week. I thank you for listening. This is Century Of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Century Of Lies is heard on 420Radio.org on Mondays at 11am and 11pm, and Saturdays at 4am, all times are pacific. We are heard on time4hemp.com on Wednesdays between 1 and 2pm pacific along with our sister program Cultural Baggage. And we're on The Detour Talk Network at thedetour.us on Tuesdays at 8:30pm.

A few of the stations out there carrying Century Of Lies include: WERU 89.9 FM in Blue Hill, Maine; WPRR 1680 am 95.3 fm in Grand Rapids, Michigan; WIEC 102.7 FM in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; WGOT-LP 94.7 FM in Gainesville, Florida; KRFP 90.3 FM in Moscow, Idaho; Valley Free Radio WXOJ-LP 103.3 FM in Northampton, Massachusetts, KOWA-LP 106.5 FM in Olympia, Washington, and Free Radio Santa Cruz 101.3 fm in Santa Cruz California. To all our listeners and supporters: Thank you.

Recordings of this show and past shows are available at the website DrugTruth.net. While you're there, check out our other programs and subscribe to our podcasts. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DrugPolicyFacts and also @DougMcVay. The Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, be sure to give its page a Like. Drug War Facts is on facebook too, please give it a Like and share it with friends.

We'll be back next week with more news and commentary on the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

DEAN BECKER: For the Drug Truth Network, this is Dean Becker, asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.