Students for Sensible Drug Policy brings 500 young activists to the “epicenter” of marijuana law reform at their 11th Annual International Conference.


On the first day of this year’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy national conference in San Francisco, hundreds of budding young activists from across the country – and around the world – signed up for a tour of nearby Oaksterdam University and Harborside Health Center, giving most of the students their first look inside the world of medical marijuana. It was a rare chance to witness first-hand the common sense and compassionate policies that many have been working so hard to bring to their own home states, not to mention an incredibly exciting way to start a three-day weekend packed with seminars, activism, parties, awards, and plenty of planning for the future.


Following up on an afternoon spent exploring the different models of cannabusinesses that represent the leading edge of “activism by the deed,” the next day’s “Drug War Education” program appropriately opened with a panel asking: “What do model medical marijuana dispensaries look like?” – a question capably answered by Debby Goldsberry of Berkeley Patients Group, Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center, Robert Jacob of Peace in Medicine and Aundre Speciale of Cannabis Buyers Club of Berkeley. With major funding for the SSDP Conference provided by BPG, HHC, CBCB and other well-respected dispensaries, the vital link between the activist community and the medical cannabis community has never been more obvious. Panel moderator, former SSDP executive director Kris Krane, was also quick to point out that the most responsible, foresighted, and ultimately successful leaders in medical marijuana all got their starts as activists.


Other highlights on Saturday included an overflow crowd at MAPS’s psychedelic seminar, where Rick Doblin described the organization’s amazing work in studying MDMA and agitating for more medical marijuana research, plus an examination of America’s role in the Mexican Drug War, a discussion of what legal marijuana will look like when it happens, and seminars addressing the effect of the drug war on women, minorities, and poor communities around the world.


Saturday’s keynote address came from local cannabis hero and California State Representative Tom Ammiano, who provided a historical perspective on the fight for medical marijuana in San Francisco and around the world, and updated students on the prospects for his landmark tax and regulate marijuana bill and the similar voter initiative that will very likely appear on California’s ballots in November.


How do you top a highlight like that? How about with a party and awards ceremony featuring music from Panda Conspiracy and Roots of Creation, plus the announcement of new SSDP board members and special recognition of top chapters and activists. With old friends reconnecting and new friendships forming among far-flung allies, the party was a strong reminder that provoking societal change takes more than just the truth and hard work, it also requires a real community of support, and SSDP excels in this regard.


Despite losing an hour sleep due to daylight savings time, these tired young activists packed the seminars early on Sunday for the final day of the conference, one dedicated to activist training. Covering campaign strategies, media appearances, effective lobbying, new media organizing, networking skills, and much more, Sunday’s program showed students how to take advantage of prevailing winds in favor of reform by turning belief into concrete – and effective – action.


Given the level of excitement among the students, the beautiful vision of the future they’d seen in San Francisco, and the rising level of support for ending the War on Drugs, it’s safe to say that the next generation of young activists stands poised to take this movement to places their predecessors have only dreamed about reaching.


Want to get involved? Join SSDP on your campus, or start your own chapter!