There's a T-shirt SESP sophomore Frances Fu likes to wear that reads “Cops Say Legalize Drugs Ask Me Why.” Oblige her, and she delivers a speech worthy of a TED Talk.
“Over the past 40 years we’ve spent a trillion dollars on the War on Drugs with no results in decreasing drug use, or drug trafficking,” Fu says. “The United States is 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population...and 51 percent of those in prison are non-violent drug offenders.” She continues for a couple minutes, seemingly without pausing to breathe.
It’s these types of monologues that elevate Fu from merely a pro-marijuana college student to a full-on legalization activist. She even has the credentials to back it up: Fu is the founder and co-president of Northwestern’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter, a drug education and legalization advocacy group.
She and SSDP are bringing their crusade to campus for Drug Week, a series of drug education-related events on campus which runs through Friday. This is the second such week celebrated at Northwestern, the first being with a previous SSDP incarnation in 2009, and one of the few on college campuses in general, who usually opt for the less condoning title, "Drug Awareness Week." She said she hoped this week would allow students to explore some of the more nuanced aspects of drug policy.
“College students, they know maybe like the superficial issues about the role on drugs,” Fu said. “They know about the legalization of medical marijuana. But they don’t know about all the different parts of the cannabis plant. They don’t know necessarily how the War on Drugs impacts poorer communities.”
Regular SSDP events include talks on drug education and guest speakers like a recent roundtable of campus religious experts billed as “What Drugs Would Jesus Do” that explored religious views on drug use.
Fu lacks stoner badges of honor such as unkempt hair and bad hygiene, which may seem to make her an unlikey candidate for a drug advocate. In her “Drug Policy Dealer” series of videos on YouTube, the eponymous "dealer" smiles and giggles in between talking points on topics such as the many uses of hemp and why the War on Drugs is racist. Her small frame lets the aforementioned T-shirt hang down near her knees like a dress.
She’s not much different in person. Fu will often start to answer a question with a laugh that lies somewhere between being nervous and genuinely amused. But her experience with various interviews and her web series gives the SSDP founder an articulate conversation style, where the smile on her face can easily fade to a blank expression of professionalism.
“When I wanted to start this group when I was a freshman, it was because I knew that I was the different face of what a drug policy activist looks like,” Fu said. “People paid attention because they wanted to know what I had to say, why I cared about this issue.”
Inspired by a two-day conference of Midwestern SSDP chapters at Roosevelt University last summer, Fu decided to make education and responsibility the group’s focus.
“My mom, especially, from a very young age didn’t condone or condemn certain activities, like sex or drugs,” Fu said, adding her mother opted for a philosophy based on right judgement.
SSDP stresses education and policy reform to encourage responsible drug use rather than criminalization. Yet despite an intellectual approach, the group does still struggle with the stoner stigma.
“People will ask us where they can get drugs,” Fu, who understands that the word "drugs" is broad enough to encompass everything from cocaine to caffeine, said. “We’re usually just like, ‘There’s Starbucks right there.’”
At a recent meeting, the group decided that members should adopt a more professional, put together look for official events in order to avoid stereotypes. Weinberg sophomore and a member of SSDP’s external relations committee Daniel Hurwitz praised the members for their ability to take the organization’s mission seriously when needed.
“Obviously, you’re going to get people who smoke weed,” Hurwitz said. But he added that “people are able to categorize it and really come into this group knowing that this is about something that’s more than just like, ‘Oh we want to sit down and smoke pot.’”
Fu’s passion for sensibility does not stop at drug policy. Her pursuits have led her to a position in SHAPE and assisting with ASG’s Alcohol Policy and Working Group. All of these activities on top of classes creates a schedule which Fu says goes from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. most days.
With all of these commitments, Fu is still working to figure out a leadership strategy that will work with her vision for SSDP.
“There’s a way she wants things to be done and if she could, she’d do it all herself. But there’s not enough time in the day to be superwoman, as close to it as she is,” said Weinberg junior Gillian Levy, SSDP’s vice president of community outreach.
According to Levy, this level of obsession pays off.
“She’s really got her shit together,” Levy, who has dubbed Fu “Our Fearless Leader,” said. “You can be passionate and not organized and everything falls apart. But the fact that we’re even having a Drug Week is a testament to Frances’ passion and organization combined.”