Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a Washington, D.C.- and San Francisco, CA-based non-profit advocacy organization founded in 1998 by a small group of students at Rochester Institute of Technology and George Washington University in response to that year's reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which contained a provision denying student loans and grants to students with drug convictions.
Micah Daigle has served as executive director since August 2009 (he joined staff as field director in June 2006). Tyler Smith is campaigns director, Amber Langston, Jonathan Perri, and Stacia Cosner are regional outreach directors, and Morgan Lesko is webmaster.
SSDP functions through chapters in U.S. and Canadian high schools and colleges promoting student and teacher activism for sensible change in attitudes towards drug use and drug abuse, and drug policies. As of January 2009, there are over 150 chapters in the United States, Canada and the U.K. SSDP has staffed offices in Washington DC, San Francisco, and Ottawa.
Mission Statement: "Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society. SSDP mobilizes and empowers young people to participate in the political process, pushing for sensible policies to achieve a safer and more just future, while fighting back against counterproductive Drug War policies, particularly those that directly harm students and youth."
Values Statement: "Students for Sensible Drug Policy neither encourages nor condemns drug use. Rather, we seek to reduce the harms caused by drug abuse and drug policies. As young people, we strive toward a just and compassionate society where drug abuse is treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice issue. We recognize that the very real harms of drug abuse are not adequately addressed by current policies and we advocate measures that would effectively help those who develop drug problems. Yet, we also believe that individuals must ultimately be allowed to make decisions for themselves as long as their actions do not infringe upon anyone else’s freedoms or safety.
Because the War on Drugs has historically been justified as necessary to protect youth, it is our responsibility as young people to stop this harmful war from being waged in our names any longer. As scholars, we seek solutions to society's drug problems through focused research, honest dialogue, and informed debate, instead of unquestioned extremism, punishment, and propaganda."
Structure as a Grassroots Organization: SSDP comprises student chapters all across the country. Any student anywhere can start a chapter. While SSDP has a variety of national campaigns and actions that everyone can participate in, chapters are also encouraged to work on those issues that have the most traction in their own communities. Annually SSDPers convene for a national conference. There, students acquire essential activist knowledge and skills. Also, chapters elect students to serve on SSDP's Board of Directors. The Board in turn selects SSDP's executive director, who is responsible for tending to both the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as its long-term direction. An important duty of the executive director is to hire staff. Currently, besides an executive director, SSDP has an alumni director, three outreach directors, and a webmaster. Ultimately, the SSDP staff exists to serve SSDP's chapters and activists.
Legally, SSDP consists of two separate, distinct entities — Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation and Students for Sensible Drug Policy Inc. The former, as a 501(c)3 organization, engages in education and outreach. Donations to SSDP Foundation are tax-deductible. SSDP Inc, as a 501(c)4 organization, engages in advocacy, or attempts to effect change to law and policy. Accordingly, donations to SSDP Inc are not tax-deductible.
SSDP was founded around the issue of the drug provision in the 1998 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 which denies federal financial aid to students with drug convictions. The HEA has been criticized for disproportionately affecting minorities and working-class students. Since then, the organization has expanded its scope to include other elements of drug policy like drug testing and student privacy rights, promoting rehabilitation over incarceration, harm reduction, opposing the ineffective anti-drug media campaign, and addressing the lack of objective drug education and scientific research. SSDP's chapters also work on the campus level to oppose prohibitionist drug policies and replace them with sensible alternatives, as part of the Campus Change Campaign.
In addition to working on issues that primarily affect students, many of SSDP's chapters work on local and state-level campaigns such as marijuana deprioritization, reinstating voting rights to felons, and medical marijuana. Chapters are also known to hold day-long festivals to promote their cause on campus, with varying results.
Representative Mark Souder of Indiana is known famously among the SSDP circles as the author of the Aid Elimination Penalty in the Higher Education Act Amendments of 1998. Souder is seen, to members of SSDP, as one of the foremost proposers of insensible drug policies. Souder has declined to engage in a debate with SSDP members regarding the Aid Elimination Penalty, and instead relies on ad hominem attacks calling the organization "nonsensical" and "legalizers". The "legalizers" comment came in a Dear Colleague letter written by Souder supporting the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty. SSDP has since responded with a letter signed by over fifteen other organizations who also oppose the Aid Elimination Penalty including; the United Methodist Church, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers.