SSDP 2012 brings first International Board Member

SSDP 2012 brings first International Board Member

In case we haven’t met, my name is Graham de Barra and I am a founding member of Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ireland and I attend the University College of Cork where I am currently campaigning for the acceptance of an SSDP chapter. A month ago, I attended the SSDP 2012 Conference in Denver.

After a consecutive 30 hours of travel, I landed in the midst of the mountainous Mile-High City and observed the breath-taking views over the snow capped mountains. Approximately 17,000 solar panels surround the Denver airport which boasts 7,000 megawatt hours per year, more than any airport in the world. That’s enough energy to power the entire county of Cork for a couple of days. I got the bus to the famous 16th street Mall in Denver which is a promenade lined with trees and rosy red granite. The scale of buildings are enormous compared to Ireland, the largest of which stands at 56 stories tall. The highest landmark in Ireland stands at a mere 17 stories. I had to remind myself that the best things come in small packages and together with my video camera and tripod, I trekked onwards to the Hyatt Regional hotel to represent the diminutive Emerald Isle among 80 other SSDP chapters.

On Saturday, following an influential speech by Ethan Nadelmann to commence the event, I spoke on a panel discussion organised by Zara Snapp entitled “Global Drug Policy: From the Field to the UN”. The workshop would highlight the incredible work by Daniel Pacheco who sought consultative status for SSDP, which was then followed up by Zara who was a representative at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna in March of this year. SSDP Ireland along with 5 other countries submitted a compilation of documentaries highlighting major issues of current drug policy in a collaborative project with YODA. These tremendous efforts by the international campaign of SSDP were then followed up and discussed at the panel. Along with Zara and myself were Fernando of SSDP Mexico (Estudiantes por una Política de Drogas Sensata), Lorraine of Canadian SSDP and Andrew Livingston of Colgate University. The large turnout to the workshop proved there to be a huge interest for the global drug campaign. Fernando spoke extensively on the drug problem in Mexico, which was echoed and developed by Andrew. Lorraine spoke about the C10 bill that was introduced in Canada, which targets young drug users instead of drug traffickers. I got the opportunity to highlight Irish drug laws and their damaging socio-economic and health effects. There are a reported 300,000 cannabis users in Ireland based on data from the Oireachtas Joint Board, yet 97% of public disorder offences are due to alcohol according to a Garda PULSE survey in 2001. In fact, 47% of all crime in Ireland is due to alcohol. This staggering comparison shows that legal drugs cause much more harm and crime than illegal drugs. Yet Ireland stands at the highest users in Europe of illegal drugs, with double the rate of heroin addicts. The demand for treatment centres and harm reduction services is huge in Ireland.

The remainder of the day saw excellent speakers including Aaron Houston, Brian Vicente, Eric Sterling, Stacia Cosner, Kris Kane, Irina Alexander, and Devon Tackles among others in an extensive range of workshops and panel discussions. The variety was huge and the modern conference rooms in the Hyatt hotel added a professional touch. The environment made it easy to talk with other chapters and individuals and share experiences and knowledge on the drug war. For an Irish medical cannabis documentary that I am working on, I was able to gain huge insight and great footage over the day. On the Saturday night there was an award ceremony to recognise the efforts of individuals and chapters. I was fortunate to earn the “Grace Under Fire Award” in which I was very humble in accepting. The energy and positive attitude of those working within SSDP was inspiring to me.

The next day hosted numerous other speeches and workshops including Steve DeAngelo and the anti-oppression workshop by Rachel Ibrahim. The time for the board elections came and the main ballroom in the hotel was filled with SSDP members. Each chapter was given the opportunity to vote for 5 out of the 13 candidates who they saw would best stand on the board. I sat in anticipation as Mike called out those elected and I was shocked to hear, “Graham from Ireland, err, I can’t pronounce his surname”. I was never so happy to hear someone struggle with my Irish surname and I was welcomed on stage by the new board in which I would be working with. It was the perfect finish to an extraordinary weekend of progressive thinkers and leading drug policy reformers. My knowledge on drug policy vastly improved and I would like to thank the organisers and volunteers for their amazing work and dedication to bringing chapters from across the world together for an unforgettable weekend.

Since elected on the board I founded the International Committee of which I chair. If any international members are interested in working together to help strengthen our network and work on new international projects, please email me at graham@ssdp.org.