This story was written by Allison Stice, The Diamondback
Smokers and tokers will get together and try to surprise Congress this weekend by showing up on Capitol Hill in suits and ties to fight for drug policy reform.
Friday kicks off the 10th annual international Students for a Sensible Drug Policy conference, meaning hundreds of students, alumni and drug policy reformers will swarm the University of Marylandcampus as student grassroots organizations from across the country and the world host workshops on lobbying and advocacy and travel to Washington to speak with congressmen.
The College Park SSDP chapter is elated to host the conference, spending the last few days hurriedly passing out fliers, tabling and chalking around the campus. More than 450 people, mainly students, are slated to attend, said SSDP Vice President Irina Alexander.
"It's crazy how you bond with these people that you see once a year," Alexander said. "Everyone is realistic and concerned about drug policy reform."
Chapter President Amanda Simmons said the conference's theme of "Connecting the Dots" helps unite like-minded activists who may be fighting alone for their cause.
"It's liberating to see that you're not the only one," Simmons said. "I want people to go so badly, because once you go to one meeting, even if you don't get involved, there's no way that you cannot be interested or cannot benefit in some way."
Friday, conference attendees will meet with the staffs of their respective senators and representatives to discuss the minimum sentencing laws regarding powder and crack cocaine. On Saturday, the national office will hold sessions on drug war education, including meetings that connect drug policy to institutionalized racism, the environment and religion.
Featured speakers include leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. Alexander said she is most excited to hear from Berwyn Heights mayor Cheye Calvo, who will be on a panel about drug raids. Officers from a county SWAT team raided his house and shot his two dogs after 32 pounds of marijuana were delivered to his house in July; although police claim they were acting on a warrant, Calvo alleges he was never shown one during the event.
SSDP's ultimate goal is to change national drug policies. They point to the $40 billion spent yearly on the war on drugs and the thousands of nonviolent drug offenders in prison as signs of dysfunctionality.
Another critical function of SSDP conferences is to hold the SSDP Congress, during which they pass new resolutions and elect board members.
SSDP members are also eager to reverse what they see as stereotypes of drug policy reformers.
"The image is of dumb, stoner pothead kids who don't want to do anything but drugs all day long," said Dave Shaughnessy, a senior government and politics major. "But not all drug reformers do drugs. SSDP members care, they're not dumb, and they want to fight for change."