Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are contacting their state representatives through a letter campaign in support of four bills up for debate during this legislative session. The students are focusing primarily on HB 507, which calls for the decriminalization of marijuana under one ounce.
Letter-writing participants Francesca Brighty, geography sophomore, and Kerry Greathouse, biology sophomore, said SSDP has increased efforts to promote what members believe are sensible drug policy on campus this semester.
The students have written letters at their past two meetings and plan to follow the Legislature’s decision on the bills until the session ends June 1.
“We’re putting most of our efforts to the 507 decriminalization bill because it’s pretty easy to get behind for a lot of people,” Greathouse said.
Greathouse said writing was a powerful reminder that representatives work for the public and need to know what their constituents think.
“We’re about to flood them with handwritten letters they normally never receive,” Greathouse said. “They get tons and tons of emails, but I think handwritten letters — they’re unique and more impactful.”
Jamie Spencer, executive director of Texas’ National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he believes when legislators receive a handwritten note, it counts 10 times as much as an email or phone call. He said one written letter represents a larger number of people behind the letter-writer, who agree with the sentiment expressed and just haven’t reached out.
“They take handwritten letters more seriously because they believe it reflects a greater commitment on the part of the letter writer,” Spencer said.
Brighty said handwritten letters add a personal touch and allow students to share their stories with representatives. She wrote a letter to support a bill that would legalize medical marijuana because her father, who lives in California, has benefited after using the drug to treat multiple sclerosis. She said representatives should hear from UT’s student body on pivotal social issues.
“I have seen it help my dad in all these ways, and I feel like that’s what they want to hear,” Brighty said. “We’re not under any false ideas that we’re gonna be changing laws tomorrow, but whatever you can do minimally makes a difference.”
SSDP’s 10 active members constantly look to recruit more students. Brighty said SSDP wants to start a dialogue on UT’s campus about drug reform and teach people to look at drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue.
“When people think of [SSDP], they think, ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of people who love drugs,’ or ‘stoners,’” Brighty said. “But having education can save your life or help your friend.”
Brighty said campus and state policies surrounding marijuana affect all students, whether or not those students realize it. She said teaching students about legal ramifications associated with certain drugs helps them make educated decisions and helps to prevent future arrests.
Spencer said students involved in SSDP believe their work is worth any stigma that is attached.
“If a student were able to put on their résumé ‘I was a leader with SSDP,’ they are actually going to open more doors by having the cojones to actually care about something and go out there and get it accomplished,” Spencer said.