Students for Sensible Drug Policy sees growth in first semester, plans to expand

Written By Hayley Keys, Co-News Editor

Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) is a new club on campus aimed at drug education. Their mission statement is to provide an unbiased, safety-focused education on drugs and drug policy. 

Christian Ferraro, a junior psychology major, is the president and founder of SSDP. He said he wanted to create a club that brought awareness and education to a subject that is normally neglected due to its taboo nature. 

“I googled drug activism because I wanted for so long to do for drugs what drugs have done for me,” Ferraro said. “Then I found a petition made by Pitt’s chapter [of SSDP] and I was like, why don’t I just start a club at Point Park?”

According to Ferraro, there was minimal resistance from the administration. However, he did have to work hard to get the club approved for the fall semester. 

“Everybody had the same questions, they were like, is this going to be a club where people put up posters that say, ‘let’s go to the wharf and smoke weed’,” he said. “I was like, ‘no we’re gonna get together in a room and talk about how we can go there, and smoke weed legally one day’. I mean people are gonna have their opinions about it, but there was not a lot of pushback.” 

Vince Rugani, the University’s Alcohol and Drug Educator, said he was worried at first, but after talking with Ferraro, he felt more confident. 

“I was hesitant because I didn’t know exactly what the club would mean for Point Park,” Rugani said. “When we were having the initial conversation, I just wanted to make sure that it was clear that the University could not go against federal law because we receive federal funding for student aid. But after we talked and I understood their perspective, I felt better.” 

Rugani explained that any university that receives federal funding for student aid is required to follow federal law or students could risk losing their federal aid. He said the clubs who promote activism do not affect this policy because they are not breaking the law. 

“I believe [SSDP’s] approach is more of an activism standpoint, and that’s something I’m very proud of,” Rugani said. “If a student believes in something, absolutely go with your gut and your heart and voice your concerns. That is the only way change is going to occur.” 

Chris Newell is the treasurer of SSDP and Ferraro’s roommate. He said he was drawn to help the club after witnessing his friend’s passion for the organization.

“I’ve seen [Ferraro] work really hard to get this whole thing approved, and I’ve seen his work ethic and his mannerisms in helping SSDP become a professional club,” Newell said. “It’s interesting and its definitely unorthodox, but it’s really good what he’s doing in general.” 

While some up-and-coming clubs might struggle to get recognition or even proper branding, Ferraro and Newell aren’t alone in their efforts. 

Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international non-profit advocacy and education organization focused on ending the war on drugs. They have multiple chapters on college campuses across the country and push youth activists to fight for a safer future surrounding drugs. 

Ferraro said the organization gave him the push to start the club by sending him information and even assigning him a representative to help him build up Point Park’s chapter. 

“Doing this through an organization gives me a lot of stability and it’s more structured,” Ferraro said. “When I got a table at the activities fair, I contacted them, and they sent me all this cool stuff. I had cards and posters and stickers, even a book about my free speech rights on campus, like doing it through them is so beneficial, they have my back.” 

Outside of the organization, Ferraro takes it upon himself to do research and create presentations for the weekly meetings. 

“This whole vaping THC epidemic, where everyone is getting lung disease and stuff, has so much misinformation going around. So I made it my duty to read as much as I possibly could and look at the facts,” Ferraro said. “I gave a presentation on the differences between Juuling, smoking cigarettes, and why joints are actually turning out to be more dangerous, which a lot of people don’t think is the case.” 

Along with the presentations, Ferraro also tries to incorporate more useful information for students on a day-to-day basis. 

“We talked about how to essentially, like how to make your own THC cart, like a wax cartridge,” Ferraro said. “Kids will get them and just hit them and not even care how to spot fake carts, which could have dangerous pesticides in them and scary things like that. That’s why it’s worth coming to and worth listening to these presentations, especially if you are a user of these drugs.” 

He also attends events outside the University in order to broaden his knowledge and get in contact with potential speakers. 

“We have a doctor coming in Oct. 24, and he’s going to talk about the medical benefits of psilocybin mushrooms. I thought we could maybe do a tie-dye day around 4/20 and maybe even a psychedelic art auction to raise money,” Ferraro said. “I want a lot of speakers to come in through. Doctors and neurologists and therapists who travel the world using these substances and maybe even someone who was incarcerated for minor drug offenses who can talk about how corrupt the system is.”

Newell mentioned that they were considering reaching out the local Pittsburgh community. 

“We were talking about doing something with homeless shelters in the area and potentially going around and passing out these bags that have information,” Newell said. “We also want to get the student body involved as much as possible, we want student participation.” 

According to Newell the club has seen steady growth since the first meeting, and he is hoping to see more new faces every week.  

“I would say at the first meeting we had a little over 10 students show up, but more recently we’ve had almost 20 people show up, so we’re definitely growing,” Newell said. 

Ferraro said that he wants the club to be open to all students, even those who weren’t sure of their opinions on drugs. 

“Even if you don’t think the system is corrupt or maybe drugs aren’t for you, I just want to educate, that’s all I want to do,” Ferraro said.  

Newell also suggested that drugs needed to be talked about and that the conversation could have important effects on those participating. 

“Even though there is such a negative stigma around the word drug in general, we’re trying to show that these things are not as they seem,” Newell said. “There is more to it, and it’s not always so black and white.”