Students from 50 colleges said the war on drugs failed at the first annual Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice Conference held at GW this weekend.
The GW Chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy sponsored the event, which drew more than 200 students to the Marvin Center Ballroom. The event featured workshops about bringing activism to campuses and speeches by people who said U.S. drug laws do not work.
GW SSDP President Shawn Heller said the conference will be the birthplace of a major social movement.
Adam Smith, associate director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network, said he agreed.
GW took a bold step in hosting (this conference), he said.
On Thursday night, the students attended a protest and candlelight vigil outside the Omni-Shoreham Hotel, where U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey was hosting the Western Hemisphere Drug Czars Conference.
Smith hosted Friday’s panel discussion on the consequences of the drug war. He said the drug reform issue is a nonpartisan issue people all over the political spectrum support.
The weekend also included workshops on membership and leadership development and working with student governments.
Heller said the conference was important because it brought different colleges together and will help them to form groups on their campuses.
Leslie Burgoyne, who came to the conference from the University of North Texas, said the majority of people disagree with the drug war and it’s a matter of encouraging people to get them to change.
Heller, who is from Miami, said he saw that drug laws were not working and witnessed drug trades being reopened with different people, in spots that had been shut down an hour before.
When he came to Washington, he said he worked for the White House and became increasingly disturbed that bipartisan drug issues were not being discussed.
He said his own research on drug policy led him to help form GW’s chapter of SSDP last year, the second chapter in the country. The first chapter in the nation was formed at Rochester Institute of Technology, Heller said. He said there are 14 other national groups in addition to the Rochester chapter and the GW chapter.
Heller said he believes SSDP will be the biggest organization on GW’s campus next year. The group has about 90 members this year, 30 to 40 of whom are active, he said.
Group members said they hope to hold a conference next year on the west coast so the event will be more accessible to different states.