Students for Sensible Drug Policy National Conference Recap for Ladybud Magazine

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More than 400 student activists, alumni, and supporters convened in Washington, D.C. the last weekend of September for the Students for Sensible Drug Policy 2014 Conference and Lobby Day. The conference featured educational breakout sessions hosted by panels of well-known experts in the drug policy reform, harm reduction, and cannabis industries. An on-site Job Fair offered students and alumni an extraordinary opportunity to connect with employers and turn their student activism into a lifelong career.

Networking throughout the conference offered a unique chance for students, job-seeking or not, to chat with inspiring activists who have been working to end prohibition for decades in some cases. As an international grassroots network of students with nearly 200 chapters in 43 states and 14 other countries, many chapters are located in areas where even discussing drug policy reform is still highly taboo. As Deputy Director and conference–planning ‘Wizard,’ Stacia Cosner, puts it: “Attending an SSDP conference is truly a life-changing experience, especially if you are young and new to the issue. It might have just been you and one other person at your school, but then you come here and see hundreds of people working on the same stuff you are working on.”

The expert panels covered a wide range of topics in policy, harm reduction, leadership, organizing, and community outreach. The session I personally found most interesting was “Building a Legally Sustainable Cannabis Market” with Josh Kappel and Andrew Livingston from Vicente Sederberg, and Mitzi Vaughn and Khusihid Khoja from Greenbridge Corporate Counsel. These practiced specialists examined problems that developing cannabusinesses frequently encounter such as residency requirements and extensive constraints in banking.

Discussions were already started on how we must maintain values, wary of the ‘New Jim Crow,’ in the fast-approaching post marijuana-prohibition era. SSDP founding partner and CEO of the ArcView Group, Troy Dayton, said, “When it is difficult to see the correct path is when it gets tough; the need for mindfulness becomes greater.”

I also had the opportunity to participate in the national Lobby Day on Capitol Hill with nearly 200 other activists as a part of the conference. Colorado-based SSDPers Samantha Johnson, Elijah Ullman, and myself met with staff of Senator Michael Bennett and Representative Jared Polis to discuss two significant pieces of legislation: the Smarter Sentencing Act (H.R. 3382/S.B. 3382) and the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act (H.R. 1523). The three of us were first-time lobbyists and quite nervous, but our CO state reps were fairly supportive of the bills, and of our overall mission to end the failed drug war.

From its early beginnings in 1998, SSDP has grown into a fully functional activism machine, educating and connecting the next generation of drug policy reformers. “Without SSDP and without that experience in college, I would be floating in the wind,” says Sam Chapman, SSDP alumni and owner of New Economy Consulting, a firm for cannabis businesses in Oregon. SSDP can only continue to thrive with help from industry and individual donors who enable the programs to have a far reach and substantial benefits.

Readers can follow Students for Sensible Drug Policy on Facebook here and the Students for Sensible Drug Policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder chapter on Facebook here. A video of the event has also been made available on Youtube.

For previous Ladybud coverage of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, click here.