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The following information was reproduced/adapted from the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, (Chelsea Green, 2009) by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert.

Getting active on your campus

Colleges and university campuses provide an ideal environment for promoting the “marijuana is safer than alcohol” message.  Many college campuses are all too familiar with the serious problems associated with alcohol use, and most students recognize that these same problems are not associated with marijuana use.  Marijuana policy reform also tends to be a uniquely popular issue amongst students (perhaps because so many students have first-hand experience with pot), and many have ample time and energy to invest in working toward it. Here are some pointers to help you capitalize on this fertile environment.

Start or Join a Student Organization

Although it is certainly possible to spread the “marijuana is safer than alcohol” gospel on your own, we strongly suggest that you consider joining or launching an official student organization.  Student organization status is often required to carry out certain activities on campus – such as hosting campus forums -- and in some cases it comes with benefits such as free printing and copying, access to student activity funding, and campus office space.

You should begin this process by looking into whether there are any existing marijuana or drug policy reform organizations already on campus – such as a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).  If so, consider becoming involved with these groups and inquire whether they would be interested in launching a ”marijuana is safer than alcohol” campaign. If there isn’t already a likeminded organization on your campus – or if there is, but it’s focused on other efforts – consider starting a new student organization. It’s not as a hard as it may seem, and we would be happy to provide you with guidance.  SAFER recently began allowing students to organize SAFER student organizations known as campus SAFER campaigns.  Please contact us for more information on starting a campus SAFER campaign on your campus.

Spreading the Message and Raising Funds

The easiest way to spread the “marijuana is safer than alcohol” message is to distribute flyers and other educational materials on and around your campus.  You can simply print materials from the SAFER Campuses Web site or you could coordinate with SAFER to receive stickers and T-shirts you can use to raise funds to support your efforts. Find out whether your school has rules for distributing materials, and whether you are able to set up an information table in a high-traffic location on campus (typically inside or outside your student union). Whether you’re tabling or just roaming campus handing out flyers, be sure to bring a clipboard so that you can collect the names and email addresses of individuals who are interested in getting involved or hearing more from your student organization.

Organize a SAFER Referendum

Placing a SAFER Referendum on your school’s student election ballot is an extremely effective way of sparking a debate on campus over the relative harms of marijuana and alcohol.  Such a measure would express the sense of the student body that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and, therefore, campus penalties for pot possession should be no greater than the penalties for illegal possession of booze.  Although student organized campus referenda are typically non-binding, they raise the profile of the issue and provide a specific goal around which you can organize. Referenda can usually be placed on the ballot either by petitioning the student body and collecting a minimum number of signatures, or by an action of your student government.  Look to your student government office, their Web site, or the student constitution or bylaws to determine whether your school has a referendum procedure, and to learn what steps you must take to qualify for the ballot.

Push Administrators to Endorse the Emerald Initiative

The Emerald Initiative is SAFER’s response to the Amethyst Initiative, which is a call by several university presidents to lower the legal drinking age in the U.S. to eighteen years of age.  The Emerald Initiative calls on college presidents and chancellors – particularly those who have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative – to "support an informed and dispassionate public debate" on whether allowing college students to use marijuana more freely could result in fewer students engaging in dangerous drinking.  University officials may be reluctant to endorse the Emerald Initiative, so you will need students to apply both direct and public pressure.  Seek meetings with your student representatives and urge their support.  If school leaders do not endorse the initiative, launch a campus campaign to highlight that your president or chancellor is ignoring an alternative solution to alcohol-related violence on campus.

Student Government and Elections

In addition to being a leader on campus yourself, you can encourage other existing or potential leaders to further the “marijuana is safer than alcohol” message and to push for corresponding campus policies.  You can start by reaching out to members of your student government – especially any you already know – and gauge their support on the issue. If you find one or more who are supportive, ask them to work with you on a SAFER Referendum or on a resolution in support of the Emerald Initiative. They might also be able to assist you when it comes to working with administrators. Of course, if you are interested in taking a more hands-on approach to working with the student government, you could run for office yourself and use the SAFER message as part of your campaign platform.

Another way to influence student government is to develop a candidate survey and distribute it to those running for relevant offices. Ask whether they agree with the general premises of a SAFER Referendum and the Emerald Initiative, and whether they would introduce, support or oppose such measures. You can use this information to mobilize members of your organization and to persuade the broader student body to vote for the supportive candidates (or against potential opponents). You will also find out which incoming student leaders are most likely to work with you in the future.

Organize Public Events

As a part of a recognized campus organization, you will have opportunities to host campus forums or panel discussions to debate the issue of whether the existing university policies surrounding marijuana and alcohol are making campuses less safe.  You could also organize a screening of a relevant film, such as “Death By Alcohol,” the 30-minute documentary on the alcohol overdose death of Colorado State University student Samantha Spady, or “Grass,” which summarizes the history of marijuana prohibition. Guest speakers also have potential to draw a crowd, so if your group is able to get student activity or event funding, you can reach out to SAFER, SSDP, NORML, and other marijuana policy reform organizations to see whether it would be possible to bring one of their representatives to your school for a speaking engagement.

Generate Media Coverage

We also encourage you or your group to engage in public actions that generate media coverage and draw attention to the “marijuana is safer than alcohol” message.  Don’t be afraid to be creative, humorous, controversial (within reason), or bizarre (the proverbial “man bites dog” story) in your efforts. For example, you could organize a media conference during the week before a traditionally rowdy football game or other alcohol-fuelled event, at which you call on the university to provide a “safer zone” where students have the option of using a less harmful substance than alcohol.  Or you could organize a student demonstration in response to a newsworthy alcohol- or marijuana-related incident that occurred on or around campus, such as an assault or alcohol poisoning, or to bring attention to a student being punished harshly for marijuana use. 

 

P.O. Box 40332 – Denver, CO 80204 – Phone: 303-861-0915 – mail@saferchoice.org