Panelists, activists discuss drug policy at regional conference


Hayley Glatter/Daily Senior Staffer

Former police officer Ryan Harmon talks to student drug policy activists at the Midwest Regional SSDP Conference. The conference attracted more than 60 students from across the region.

Hayley Glatter, Copy Chief

Student activists from across the Midwest came to Northwestern on Saturday to hear several speakers and engage in discussions regarding different aspects of U.S. drug policy.

NU’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized this year’s Midwest Regional SSDP Conference. The daylong event included panels, speakers and breakout sessions for attendees to learn about the War on Drugs and to discuss activities SSDP chapters are engaging in across the country. The event also provided the opportunity for activists to network and talk about using SSDP in professional settings.

Representatives from the University of Michigan and Roosevelt University, among other schools, attended. Both schools have also hosted the conference in recent years.

NU SSDP co-founder and former co-president Frances Fu said her experiences at the conferences marked turning points in her work with SSDP.

“The one at Roosevelt my freshman year was the reason I wanted to start SSDP at Northwestern,” the SESP junior said. “All the students there, all the conference attendees, were super professional. They dressed well. There’s always this stereotype of what a marijuana legalization advocate looks like and everyone there was so articulate, so passionate.”

Speakers from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers and the Illinois Consortium on Drug Policy gave presentations throughout the day.

Opening speaker Ryan Harmon, a former Indiana police officer who spent much of his career fighting corruption, kicked off the conference by talking about his experiences with the double standards that permeate the police force.

“What we need in government is to end the hypocrisy,” said Harmon, a presenter from LEAP. “You’re going to have (officers) that have experimented with all kinds of things. I used marijuana in college. There were guys that were polishing their boots that used marijuana. They used cocaine. They stole things. They did all kinds of things. Because why? Because we’re human beings. We have fallacies.”

Harmon continued to discuss the negative impact the War on Drugs has had on communities. He added that those in power need to reframe the way they see the issue. After using his position as a police officer to crack down on drugs, Harmon’s perspective on the War on Drugs resonated with attendees.

“It’s just really interesting to see the perspectives of the people that have fought the War on Drugs for a whole career and now they’re finally feeling like they’re able to come out and speak out against it because they’ve seen first hand the violence that it brings,” said Reid Murdoch, a University of Michigan law student who attended the conference.

Later in the day, breakout sessions were held on topics varying from opportunities in drug policy to medical marijuana in the Midwest. Fu said she hoped the event would motivate attendees and bring the regional SSDP community together.

“It’s not just one conference alone that prompts a change in drug policy reform, but especially I think having conferences like these at higher education institutions is really important,” Fu said. “Because it’s people like us at Northwestern or other colleges who are going to take that information and make a difference and do something with it in the future.”

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