By Mark Goldstein

When I arrived in San Francisco for the eleventh annual Students for Sensible Drug Policy conference, I briefly thought that perhaps I had died and woken up in heaven. Being a drug policy activist from the immensely conservative Commonwealth of Virginia, I have seen multitudes of my friends unjustly deprived of their education or processed through the legal system due to their choice to smoke cannabis.   As the president of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Virginia Tech, my views regarding the injustices of the war on drugs have frequently been met with either apathy or outright hostility from fellow students and campus administrators.

At the conference, my eyes were opened to how large the drug policy reform movement actually is. I had the unique opportunity to network with fellow activists from all from the country.  While I had previously felt practically like a lone activist fighting a large and indestructible machine, seeing the size and diversity of this network gave me a new sense of hope.  Not only did the end of the drug war now seem possible; it seemed inevitable.  In attendance at the conference were SSDP chapters from all over the union, as well as Canada, Australia, Mexico, Columbia, Nigeria, Nepal and Great Britain.  Furthermore, a diverse array of organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, and the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative, Students for Liberty, and other organizations were also in attendance.

On the first day of the conference, we had the unique opportunity to take a tour of Harborside Health Center in Oakland.  We were shown everything from the grow room and the clones, to the sales floor.  The tour was especially inspiring for me, because I finally got a first-hand view of the positive impact that medical cannabis has on communities, whereas in Virginia the mere concept of medical cannabis is still an abstraction.  The second day of the conference was devoted to “drug war education” panels.  After an inspiring speech by DPA Executive Director, Ethan Nadelmann, I attended panels on psychedelic studies, the racist implications of the drug war, and how the drug war affects women in America.

The third day of the conference was devoted to activist training workshops in order make our student organizing more effective.  Some of the things I took away from these workshops are the importance of coalition-building with unlikely allies (everybody from local businesses to religious groups) as well as tricks for communicating our message to people (such as arguing in front of a large audience, and keeping a wide arsenal of statistics available).

If there is one overarching message I received at the SSDP conference, it is that drug policy activism is at the highest point it has ever been.  Our network is at the apex of its strength, and policy is shifting in our favor.  With cannabis legalization on the ballot in California, our goal is the closest it has ever been to being realized.  We are in the golden age of drug policy reform, and things are only going to keep getting better.


Mark Goldstein  President of Virginia Tech SSDP