The 2012 International Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) Conference has wrapped up in Denver, and I can easily say that it was one of the best weekends of my life. I vividly remember when the legendary Adam J. Smith (that Adam Smith!) told me about the SSDP conference when I first met him just a few months ago. To be honest, I didn’t know much about SSDP at the time. I was a non-traditional college student at a university that didn’t have a SSDP chapter when I was slaving away on my undergrad pursuits. As a result, it wasn’t until I started The Weed Blog with Ninjasmoker that I started to learn about the amazing things that SSDP does around the world.
Up until the point that I met Adam J. Smith, all I knew about SSDP was what I read on the SSDP website. But after talking to Adam, and seeing the passion in his eyes when he talked about SSDP, my curiosity peaked. I remember him saying, ‘The best way to learn about SSDP is to go to the SSDP conference in Denver this year, you guys are totally coming.’ I also remember thinking to myself, ‘this guy is out of his f’n mind if he thinks I’m getting all the way to Denver.’ Up until that point, the farthest east I had ever been was the Guitar Center store in Boise, Idaho.
However, the more that I hung out with Adam and heard about the inspirational stories of college students changing the world through their efforts, the more Ninjasmoker and I tried everything we could think of to get to Denver. Those efforts ramped up after I attended the first ever Cannabis Law Reform Conference at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon which was put on by the hardworking members of the Oregon SSDP chapters. Students like Bradley Steinman and Sam Chapman (and many others!) blew my mind by accomplishing something that is often very hard to do in Oregon – getting Oregon marijuana activists and legalization initiative representatives to sit down in a room and have a civil conversation.
I have seen many, many people try to accomplish what Oregon SSDP did, and they failed over and over. Needless to say, I was hooked on SSDP after that. In an effort to highlight other SSDP chapter’s events, I sent out interview questions to every chapter that had an e-mail address online. I’m very happy to say that those posts get page views every day, and I will continue to post them as I receive them. No hurries or worries to chapters that have yet to respond :) Within just a short time of hearing about SSDP from Adam J. Smith, I went from a distant observer to a lifelong fan of all things SSDP.
The drive to Denver was interesting. For more on that, check out my article about drug inspection checkpoints. When we arrived at the hotel and conference center in Denver, I was very impressed by the amount of SSDP members hanging in and around the lobby. I wasn’t sure how many people attended SSDP conferences, but I heard there were a lot of students that came from all over the world. The word on the street proved to be true, as there were students from Maine to California and beyond. To clarify, by ‘word on the street’ I mean Adam J. Smith. Adam hyped the conference from the day I met him to the day of the conference, and I’m happy to say, my expectations were exceeded several times over. No words can truly express the awesomeness that is SSDP and what they do!
The conference started on Friday with lots of hugs and high fives with familiar faces. Registration was at 5pm with a welcome reception and an alumni gathering going on simultaneously. Afterwards, SSDP members went off to hear candidate’s speeches while Ninjasmoker and I took the opportunity to put up a couple blog posts and reflect on the fact that we just drove farther than they did in the movie ‘Road Trip.’ We drive a lot, but that was a bit much!
The second day was the first ‘real day’ of the conference. Ninjasmoker and I were very excited because it was the first time we had ever had a table at an event. It has only been nine months since we attended our first event for TWB. So far we have been to some fun events, but we have never had our own place to set up shop and talk to people. I was also really excited to meet the people that had sent TWB the answers to the interview questions that I sent out, and to match their names with their faces. The table was really efficient for that, because people could easily find us and come say hello. As SSDP members that have met me will attest, I’m very short, and I don’t exactly stand out in crowds, especially if people don’t look down…
Unlike other events that we have been to (High Times Cannabis Cup, WeedMaps Spring Gathering, Cypress Hill SmokeOut among others..), where there are a lot of vendor tables selling all kinds of products and/or meds, the tables at the SSDP Conference were like a ‘who’s who’ of drug policy reform. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, S.A.F.E.R., N.O.R.M.L., Americans for Safe Access, Marijuana Policy Project, and the Drug Policy Alliance are just a handful of the organizations that were there. I recently wrote an article titled, ‘If You Could Meet Anyone In The Marijuana Movement, Who Would It Be?’ I practically cut that list in half this weekend with all of the legendary people that I was lucky enough to meet and/or see as a speaker.
The opening remarks on Saturday were delivered by Ethan Nadelmann. Just being in the same building as Mr. Nadelmann is bucket list stuff for me, let alone having the honor of hearing him speak. That was a surreal experience. The conference had the best panels that I have ever sat in on, and as loyal readers know, that’s my FAVORITE part of these events. Hearing what knowledgeable people have to say is better than anything I can think of. All I want for Christmas is to hear people like Scott Morgan talk lol.
I attended two panels. The first one was ‘Cannabusiness: From Activist to Entrepenuer’ which was led by Kris Krane and Troy Dayton. The legendary Steve DeAngelo and MJ Freeway founder Mark Goldfogel also particpated in the discussion. The topics included where cannabis activism and industry intersect, where they conflict, and how to financially support yourself as a cannabis activist. This was the the most popular panel of the event from what I could tell, as there were many people sitting on the floor and lining the walls in order to hear what the speakers had to say.
I know that I am like many marijuana activists that are in the ‘marijuana closet‘ for fear of being discriminated against in the workplace. Finding a way to make a career in the marijuana industry is very important, because it allows effective marijuana activists to focus on helping the movement, rather than delivering pizzas or selling bags. I learned more from this panel than I have learned from most other things I have done in my life. There will be more articles about what I learned coming soon.
The second panel that I attended was ‘Marijuana Reform: 2012 Statewide Ballot Initiatives’ which was led by Brian Vicente (Colorado), Mason Tvert (Colorado), Theresa Daniello (Ohio), and appearing fashionably late was the legendary Adam J. Smith (Oregon). Adam was delayed at the airport, but as anyone who knows him will attest, he is really Batman in disguise and can’t be stopped. I was a little disappointed that Washington’s I-502 campaign wasn’t able to send a representative. There was a lot of discussion about their initiative at the conference, and it would have been awesome to see them represented. Despite I-502’s absence, the panel was still riveting. It is the most exciting year in marijuana policy reform’s history. There are so many states pursuing initiatives, and some already have solidified their spot on the ballot. This was also a very popular panel, and expect A LOT of follow up posts on the information that was discussed. I was able to talk to reps from each campaign, and they promised to send over info (peer pressure Mason!)
After the last panel sessions were over, it was time for closing remarks by Kris Kane and Adam Smith. These are two very, very talented men that have put in a tremendous amount of work helping the world. To hear their stories of inspiration and their words of encouragement was truly a pleasure, and a memory that I will cherish forever. From the looks on the faces of the students and alumni in attendance, as well as the seemingly never ending cheers from the crowd, I can only assume that it was an experience that attendees will cherish as well.
The conference convened for dinner, then re-started with a SSDP Diversity and Outreach Committee Meeting followed by an awards ceremony. Ninjasmoker and I took this time to ‘regroup’ during a walk before the social segment of the conference started. A lot of work and learning had occurred so far in the conference, and it was time to relax in SSDP style. It’s hard to say that there was a favorite part of the conference for me, but the social time last night was definitely up there. I was able to go into more detail with the campaign directors for the Ohio mmj campaign (geniuses, again, follow up articles coming), get introduced to drug policy reform legends who I have admired for a long time, as well as hear about the efforts of SSDP students who are working very hard in their areas. I was so impressed by how much passion students had in states like Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, and other states that aren’t usually given as much love as states out West. They promised to send me updates from time to time, and I really hope they do!
One of the most interesting people that I was able to meet on Saturday was Eric E. Sterling. Here is Mr. Sterling’s bio from the conference program, “Eric E. Sterling is president of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. He testified for marijuana decriminalization in 1976. In the 1980’s, he was Assistant Counsel for the U.S. House Crime Subcommittee, responsible for drugs, gun control, money laundering, and pornography. He has been a DPA member since 1987 and is active in bar associations, public commissions, and drug reform groups. His expert analyses are regularly published and widely presented and broadcast. Eric serves as an appointed director on SSDP’s Board of Directors.” Eric talked with conference goers all night long, which was EXTREMELY entertaining. I included a picture of his shoes, which might be the most fantastic things I have ever seen (taken at 3 am!).
The conference started out a bit slower this morning. Perhaps the attendees were up late the night before doing various, ehem, activities. I heard Johnny Green was up at 4:20 am on a walk ‘clearing his thoughts’ with some friends…Johnny Green will neither deny nor confirm these allegations. I was at The Weed Blog table at 8:40 am and the conference area only had about five people there. Things picked up once breakfast was brought out and the panels started again. The conference wrapped up after a lunch, SSDP Board of Directors meeting, group photo, and closing remarks. Ninjasmoker and I had to duck out a bit early so we could make our way back to Oregon. We have been antsy to see if we can go through another drug inspection checkpoint….
The Weed Blog would like to thank SSDP for letting us come out to their conference. We would like to thank all of the SSDP organizers for putting on such an amazing event, and to the students and alumni of SSDP for being so friendly. SSDP feels like a family, and we are glad to be informal members of that family :) I haven’t ruled out a return to law school, and I am close to getting Ninjasmoker to go back to school. Maybe we can become official members in the future. We will continue to support SSDP in any way that we can and if you are a TWB reader that is looking for a worthwhile cause to support, look no further than Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Any resources that you can send their way will be put to good use, and I can say from first hand experience it will make the world a better place.