Last weekend, SSDP students, alumni, and supporters gathered at Northwestern University in Illinois for SSDP’s 2014 Midwest Regional Conference! More than 60 students attended the conference for an exciting weekend of expert presentations, training, workshops, and networking events. The speaker panels and events that took place throughout the day were each designed to give students the tools needed to continue growing their schools’ chapters now and for years to come.
After a welcoming breakfast on Saturday morning, conference attendees met for the opening speaker Ryan Harmon of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). Harmon is a retired commander from the Public Corruption Section of the Indiana State Police and is a former US Marshall. In these positions, Harmon witnessed how drug prohibition can cause corruption and institutional deterioration within law enforcement agencies, and students at the conference were able to hear him speak in person about his valuable experiences and the lessons drug policy reformers may learn from them.
The opening speaker was followed by an educational panel of mothers led by Gail Smith, Founder of the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (CLAIM). The panel of mothers were incarcerated for drug offenses and left unable to receive the help that would have improved their health and protected their children. The stories from these mothers provided SSDP students with even more compelling reasons to support replacing prohibition with sensible policies that reduce harm and save lives.
The next panel focused on the institutional barriers that are keeping healthcare professionals from fully embracing harm reduction practices. Many healthcare professionals are tied down by negative social stigma, limited education, and overly restrictive alcohol and drug policies that do not allow them to address drug abuse in a humane and sensible way. This panel discussed ways to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals and drug policy reformers, so that those suffering the harms of drug abuse are not denied the help they need.
Six drug policy oriented panels were held after lunch and before the day concluded with an outstanding closing speaker. “Opportunities in Drug Policy” tends to be one of the more popular discussion topics at our conferences, and this illustrates SSDP students’ high level of dedication to the cause of ending drug prohibition. The professional panel gave students tips on how to market their experience in drug policy reform work to potential employers, and this will be helpful to students continuing in drug policy work as well as those following any other career path.
A “Know Your Rights” educational panel discussed some basic techniques for dealing with an unexpected police encounter. This information is important for drug policy reformers to learn, practice, and teach, so that every US citizen is aware of the legal protections that they are guaranteed.
Patients, caregivers, and a representative from Illinois NORML led another panel focusing on “Medical Marijuana in the Midwest.” Although 21 states and the District of Columbia now have some form of medical marijuana legislation on the books, only two of these states are in the Midwest: Michigan and Illinois. This panel discussed the obstacles and challenges faced by patients and professionals in the Midwest as they work to usher in a successful legal medical cannabis industry.
Devon Tackels, SSDP’s Outreach Director for the Midwest Region, led the next panel, “Fundraising for your SSDP Chapter,” which discussed a variety of fundraising techniques that have been successful for SSDP chapters in the past. Although it can sometimes seem discouragingly difficult to raise money, Devon showed conference attendees just how successful SSDP chapters have been and will continue to be!
“Policy Opportunities for Advancing Overdose Prevention” was the last panel before the conference’s closing speaker, and it highlighted the need to support programs that address the growing opioid overdose problem in the United States. The panel summarized the epidemiology of overdose, reviewed overdose education and naloxone distribution information, and also discussed some of the policy barriers and facilitators involved in addressing overdose-related issues.
The Closing Address was given by Kathie Kane-Willis, co-founder and director of the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy, Adjunct Professor at Roosevelt University, and advisor to Roosevelt University SSDP. Her speech was entitled, “Drug Policy as a Human rights Issue – A Call to Action,” and it was a perfectly motivating and inspiring conclusion to the day’s events! After spending the day discussing harm reduction and overdose prevention, and hearing from formerly incarcerated mothers and medical marijuana patients and caregivers, Kane-Willis’ speech drove home the message that the war on drugs is indeed a war on us.
SSDP’s last regional conference of the year, the 2014 Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, will take place this weekend, April 18th-20th, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Event details can be found on facebook, or at ssdp.org/events.