Florida State Conference Recap

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Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL.

Students from SSDP’s Florida chapters convened at the beautiful campus of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) on October 21st and 22nd for the 2016 SSDP Florida State Conference. The conference began Saturday morning with SSDP Executive Director Betty Aldworth giving the opening keynote address. Betty spoke about a variety of topics based on the requests she received from students prior to the conference, including her experiences as an activist, her professional work in volunteer leadership, and her work as a spokesperson for Amendment 64 in Colorado in 2012. A portion of the remarks were focused on the current state of the adult use cannabis industry around the U.S. and what a regulated, legal medical marijuana market might look like in Florida after the potential passage of Amendment 2, a measure to legalize medical marijuana passes on November 8th. The first presentation of the conference was given by FGCU faculty member Dr. Roger Green, a founding FGCU faculty member and Associate Professor in FGCU’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration. Dr. Green discussed how culture and politics have shaped the evolution of U.S. drug control policies beginning in the late 19th Century and extending through the late 20th-Century’s “War on Drugs” and how this has produced a number of highly paradoxical and problematic outcomes. He went on to an analysis of the emerging pathways toward drug policy reform in contemporary U.S. politics. This final portion of the presentation was definitely a highlight for the political wonks in attendance. A short break followed where many of the attendees stepped outdoors to enjoy the stunning grounds of the FGCU campus. Attendees relaxed and chatted in the shade resting on lush, green grass scattered with flowers of abundant colors and variety. A nesting pair of falcons could be seen on a tree-filled island in the midst of a nearby pond filled with lily pads. This experience on the first day set the tone for a recurring theme throughout the weekend: the exploration the relationship between human beings and the natural world and how it relates to drug use. More on that later. After the break, SSDP staff members Scott Cecil and Colin Fitzgibbon led a session about engagement strategies for how to get out the vote on campus and what to focus on after the election, whether or not Amendment 2 passes. An emphasis was placed on voter touches, how to educate the most voters in an efficient manner and how to target the most important information youth voters need. 

Some conference attendees gathered for a group photo at lunch time on day one of the conference.

After lunch, Florida State University SSDP alumna and former SSDP Board Chair Amanda Muller presented on how to recognize and prevent opiate/opioid overdoses in others and how to administer Naloxone. This was followed by an overview of current Florida law regarding Naloxone access and distribution and how that may translate into campaigns for SSDP chapters to introduce or expand Naloxone access on campus. The final portion of the day was an overview of the SSDP phone bank platform, where attendees signed up to make calls to Florida voters asking them to support Amendment 2. SSDP Florida Campus Coordinator Colin Fitzgibbon demonstrated several calls for the room. Day two began with a psychedelic storytelling session moderated by SSDP Board member Kevin Garcia. Kevin started out by sharing a personal story and prompted the group through an open discussion and storytelling session about psychedelic experiences and how they can have a profound physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual effect on human beings. In a continuation of the exploration of the relationships between humans the rest of the natural world, conference attendees were joined by Erica Klopf, who led them on a guided walk through the FGCU medicinal plant gardens and orchards. Erica discussed the history of plant-based medicines in indigenous cultures and the future of plant-based medicine in the age of engineered, pharmaceutical medicines. The beauty and variety of medicinal plants and trees were on full display and many participants could be seen enjoying the tour barefoot.  The next wildly popular speaker was local psychiatrist Dr. Brandon Short. Dr. Short remarked on addiction and some of the effective treatments for its underlying causes. He went on to discuss how he assists his patients with developing lifelong strategies for dealing with addictions. He also discussed his method of dual diagnosis in great detail, which is centered on the goal of removing all stigmas surrounding addiction and mental illness. The final guest speaker June Cutright talked about her experiences as a medical marijuana user in Florida. Ms. Cutright suffers from Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a disorder caused by lesions in the brain and/or nervous system. Cannabis alleviates many of her symptoms, including spasticity, neurological pain, and inflammation. June’s main message was to convey the inhumane nature of Florida’s current medical cannabis prohibition. Overall, this conference was a rousing success and was one of the best programs I have witnessed at an SSDP regional conference, both in terms of the caliber of speakers and content and eclectic nature of the topics discussed. And of course, being able to spend the weekend on a campus nestled in the natural beauty of South Florida on the Gulf of Mexico was an especially fantastic bonus. As the conference attendees said their goodbyes, a handful of the 29 SSDPers in attendance are rumored to have been heard discussing the idea of self-organizing an annual Florida State SSDP Conference…