The 2015 SSDP Pacific Regional Conference was held this past weekend (March 14-15th) at California State University Fullerton. A total of 38 students, alumni, and allies from across the Pacific region descended onto Orange County to see old friends, make some new ones, and learn new skills for the future. In spite of the plus-90 degree SoCal heat, the conference was a rousing success and helped set the stage for what should be a productive year on the West Coast.
The conference officially commenced on Saturday night with a social at the Law Office of Randall T. Longwith, a local lawyer in Fullerton who helps with ballot initiatives and cannabis law. The social was also sponsored by Berkeley Patients Group, who provided both food and drinks for the evening. There was a fantastic combination of students and alumni from around the Pacific region as well as several local activists.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Looking Ahead to 2016.” The programming reflected upon not only the impact students have had so far in the Pacific region, but how students can continue to build upon their success and have an even bigger impact on the 2016 election cycle, particularly in California where marijuana legalization is expected to be on the ballot. A consistent theme throughout the conference was avoiding complacency within the movement even as victories continue to be won. Keynote speaker Professor Alex Kreit of Thomas Jefferson School of Law set the tone early on in the day when he urged students to think not just on marijuana policy reform, but to consider the entire institution of prohibition a failure and that the “war on drugs” will still not be over once marijuana is legalized.
After a short break, the next panel, Learning from Measures in the Past, began. Featuring several individuals who have worked on past ballot initiatives, the panel examined what specifically made those initiatives succeed or fail. Diane Goldstein of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Ladybud Magazine moderated the panel, which also consisted of SSDP alumni Sam Chapman, Doug Lanphere, Sean Donahoe, and Dale Geirringer. One of the more common discussion points during the panel was the need for change and flexibility throughout the ballot process and how coming to a consensus with allies is much better for success than conflict.
After a lunch break, sponsored by ASI, we dove into the next panel, Student’s Role in Legalization. Moderated by myself, the panel was made up of SSDP chapter leaders Lauren Mendelsohn of University of California Irvine Law and Eric Gudz of University of California Davis, as well as former UC Santa Barbara student activists Lauren Vazquez, the “Fired Up Lawyer.” Panelists discussed how they were/are able to get students motivated on campus to participate in the political process, and also discussed the issue of keeping people motivated even after major victories.
The final two panels were breakout sessions. Conference goers were able to choose between attending a panel on Mass Incarceration and Prop 47 or a panel on Emerging Careers in the Cannabis Industry. In the emerging careers panel, several current industry members (including SSDP alumni) shared how they found their current jobs and advised students that the best way to get a job in the industry after graduation is to have humility, work hard, and do what makes one passionate rather than chase a big pay day.
The conference was capped off with some closing remarks by SSDP Pacific Region Alumni Association President A. Kathryn Parker, who thanked everyone for coming and reminded the room that there will be more opportunities to gather together as a region in the future, such as the Pacific Regional Campout slated for this summer. By the day’s end, another SSDP Pacific Regional Conference was successfully in the history books.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to Kandice Hawes, chapter leader of CSU Fullerton SSDP, for her hard work, time, and dedication towards making this conference a success. Also thanks to Lauren Mendelsohn, Ashleigh Dennis, and A. Kathryn Parker for their help in planning the conference. Thanks to our sponsors Berkeley Patients Group and ASI as well. Finally, a huge thank you to all the students, alumni, allies, and supporters who came out for what was truly a fantastic SSDP event!
If you attended the conference and would like to offer feedback on your experience, please fill out this evaluation form so we can use your feedback to make the next Pacific regional conference even better!