By Maggie Coggan | @MaggieCoggan
Advocacy group, ‘Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia’ (SSDP) have RMIT in their sights, with plans for the opening of another Melbourne chapter underway at the University.
Deakin, Melbourne, and La Trobe and the only Melbourne Universities to have successfully set up affiliated clubs, with negotiations still underway at Victoria, Monash and Swinburne Universities.
President of the Melbourne University chapter, Nick Kent, and SSDP member, Gulliver McLean, discussed the program and the opening of an SSDP chapter at RMIT at a drug reform forum held recently at RMIT. They encouraged students at the event to put their support behind it.
The organisation advocates for drug-harm minimisation strategies rather than prohibition. By setting up an affiliated club at RMIT, Kent believes this will help spread the message and further mobilise students.
“Bringing in voices from everywhere to explore evidence-based alternatives to the drug war is what we’re all about,” said Kent.
“Providing links between students and the prominent politicians, academics and activists in this space is one of our big priorities.”
Co-Presidents of the RMIT chapter Helen Montgomery and Rohan Walsh say their main aim in setting up the club will be “challenging established stigmas surrounding drug usage within our society.”As an organisation, they will push for drug usage to be viewed as a “health issue, and not as a criminal matter”.
“The RMIT SSDP believes wholeheartedly in the ‘Just Say Know’ message, which places a focus on educating people on drugs. This means that if they choose to take drugs, they do so with accurate, evidence-based knowledge of the substance and its risks,” said Walsh and Montgomery.
According to Dr Peta Malins, a lecturer in justice and legal studies from RMIT and a panelist at the drug reform session, the timing is just right for an SSDP chapter to open at RMIT.
Dr Malins said recent events such as the launch of Operation Safenight in Prahran and St Kilda, as well as the Federal Budget announcement of plans to drug test Centrelink recipients, means that “many RMIT students will be keen to get involved in some way.”
“Students coming together at RMIT to advocate for more sensible drug policy, and share the evidence with other students, will have an important role to play in shaping Australia’s approach to drugs for the better.”
At the end of last year, the SSDP was thrown into the media spotlight, with the University of Melbourne Student Union being the first to pass a bill allowing for pill testing kits to be handed out on campus. They released a statement afterwards saying they did not “support recreational drug taking” but they were concerned about young people’s safety, seeing as they “are going to continue consuming these substances regardless of their legality.”
Kent believes this publicity only had a positive impact however, “increasing the visibility of the newly formed SSDP Australia.” He feels it helped to start the subsequent chapters at Monash and Swinburne Universities.
As it stands, RMIT does not accept the use of illicit drugs on campus, or at University endorsed events. In a statement issued to Catalyst from the University, they said RMIT’s approach to students and staff affected by drugs and alcohol is “one of harm minimisation” and of “putting the person’s health first”.
RMIT’s Student Union has accepted the provisional application for the SSDP to become a RUSU affiliated club, but Clubs and Societies Officer, James Kerr-Nelson said they’ve “made it clear” the club cannot “directly endorse drug use, as that would be against the law.”
Montgomery and Walsh say that while “progressive ideas are usually met with controversy,” they plan to “act within the guidelines established by RUSU.”
“We hope to create productive discussion among the University community rather than just outrage,” said Walsh.
Kerr-Nelson said the issue of the SSDP and drug policy will be raised at tonight’s Student Union Council (SUC) meeting, and will discuss whether “drug policy is something that RUSU want to hold a position on, and if so what that position is.”
In May’s SUC meeting it was decided by the council that RUSU will have no stance on drug policy, but will support the creation of the club at RMIT.