Hemp-clad students mingled with activists in business suits at the Student Leaders in Drug Policy and Justice conference at GW this weekend, which crossed party and ideological boundaries to oppose the drug war and support Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.
The conference, hosted by SSDP, drew about 250 students from across the nation to seminars and speakers on domestic and international drug policies, harm reduction at raves and basic legislative and media training.
“One of the best things of the conference was the ability of students to interact with the speakers,” said senior and SSDP board member Brian Gralnick.
Students spoke with prominent speakers including former presidential candidate Ralph Nader and Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy and research institute.
The conference covered many issues relating to the war on drugs, with small group seminars relating specific issues to larger themes.
“Teens in the ’90s had more drug education than any previous decade, but teens in the ’90s used more drugs than teens a decade before,” said Marsha Rosenbaum, who led a small group discussing campus zero-tolerance policies.
Rosenbaum serves as director of West Coast operation of the Lindesmith Center’s Drug Policy Foundation.
The conference highlighted what SSDP members said are myths in drug policy.
“It is our duty to protect our younger brothers and sisters, ensuring drug policy will no longer be based on fear and lies,” Gralnick said.
SSDP members said their movement has grown in the last few years because of strong reactions to the 1998 Higher Education Act, which has denied 45,000 students need-based financial aid because of drug-related convictions.
“The D.A.R.E. Generation’s movement to challenge our nation’s drug laws is getting bigger, better organized and more strategic each year,” SSDP National Director Shawn Heller said in a press release.
Gralnick believes this conference is a major milestone for SSDP.
“Our political power is growing,” Gralnick said. “Politicians who stick to strict drug laws need to start worrying about re-election.”
Gralnick said many people talk about reforming the drug laws in the United States, but no one does anything about it.
“The difference between SSDP members and other students is that SSDP members believe they can cause change,” Gralnick said.
The conference attracted an attentive audience for groups like DanceSafe, a harm-reduction organization known for testing ecstasy pills and promoting health and safety at raves and nightclubs.
DanceSafe hosted a small group at the conference dealing with the “responsible party movement” and provided information on drugs, safe sex and other issues concerning the rave scene.