College kids smoking pot, who would’ve ever thought that sentence would be uttered? Well, everyone. Everyone likely thought that was going to be the potential opportunity. While it is sometimes expected that people are smoking pot when in college, the end results are not always what we predict.
I recently made a trip out to the campus at CU-Boulder, famous for its reputation as a liberal arts stoner school. Especially around 4/20. For years, CU-Boulder has been known as the place to be during the day of 4/20 with a mass rally in protest of marijuana criminalization filling the campus with smoke. Not surprisingly, the campus has always hated this, but it is a part of their culture. It also comes as no surprise that the students of CU-Boulder were quite vocal about the passing of Amendment 64, helping out more than we thought. Here is what you find: in reality, there is much more education going on at CU-Boulder than people imagine. Enter, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. This organization is not a Colorado-based entity, and it is not just confined to CU. As a matter of fact, the organization is international and has been around for quite some time. Here is the thing about it: the students here at CU have a great story to tell based on the world of cannabis.
And it was a fun time getting to hear more about their experience.
I recently had the chance to sit down with Beth Hennemann, the President for SSDP CU-Boulder, and where it was a great conversation about the world of cannabis, it was cool to hear about the great work that students are doing in the realm of activism. During our conversation, I learned a lot about the great work they are doing along with what is still to come.
Can you give me a basic understanding of what SSDP is doing?
Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a grassroots organization, founded to talk about the fact that the drug war is a failure. We believe that drug addiction of any kind should be treated as a public health issue instead of criminalized. Fun enough to also understand, we do not condone or condemn the use of drugs, we simply educate on countless topics. We work around helping educate about legislation. We also put on events that talk about harm reduction and safety for users. A lot of the issues related to drug use come down to misinformation. We are just trying to change this and the world!
How did you get involved in the organization?
I have been the chapter president here at CU-Boulder since January. It is something I was walking around the campus as an excited freshman and was attracted to the table for more information. Who would’ve thought it would change my life. Now, in January, I ran for the position of Chapter President and I have loved it. Since legalization here in Colorado, our membership has waxed and waned quite a bit, we go up and down with membership. Most people viewed it as a huge victory. At the same time, me and the people currently in the organization, we find ourselves still engaged because there is always more to do. Both here in Colorado and across the country. Right now we have 15 members but just got 200 names of people interested in being involved.
What kind of events do you have coming up?
The great thing about SSDP is the size. We are an international organization. We have member chapters all across the United States and a few different countries. There are also up and coming chapters here in Colorado at UD, School of Mines, and CSU. Our spread provides us so many opportunities. In the future, I will be headed to Washington DC for our annual conference. It is in April, making it a little stressful because, at the same time, we have our biggest event happening then as well. We have the 4/20 Summit the week after the conference.
Tell me more about the 4/20 Summit?
The 4/20 is the biggest event we put on. Last year was the first time we hosted it, and we want to make it an enduring part of the community here. We also want it to be better. We started the event as a response to legalization. Obviously, Boulder is known for the annual 4/20 protest that happened in support of marijuana. Now that has all changed. When cannabis became legalized, we wanted to provide education.
We worked in the industry to host an all day event. We got pools of experts together who were willing to talk about a slew of issues. Quite a variety of panels and topics. Throughout the day, we probably had a few hundred people who came to the event. We are excited to do it again and make it bigger. Right now we have support from the university in putting on this event, and we want to do it as an alternative. We know what 4/20 means in our world, and we want to make it something where instead of angering the school, we can create an environment where we are partnering with them. The last thing we want is someone lighting up in the student union, but we provide reasons not to do this.
Our education comes from everything from law enforcement officials to dispensaries to growers to edible companies. We give people a great reason to show up and pay attention. There is so much to learn.
What is one thing you wish young people knew about marijuana policy?
I sometimes think this is a funny question right? We don’t ask the average alcohol drinker to care about the policies behind liquor, but, I understand cannabis is so different. We need people to get involved. It is just a greater consciousness about what is happening in the industry. Hoping for people to pay attention to the potential policy changes coming up. It can ever be as simple as signing a petition for social use. It doesn’t need to be dramatic.
Another huge piece of the puzzle is social awareness. People need to be comfortable talking about their cannabis use. My parents have always loved me and wanted me to do what I am doing. They come from a background of activism and want me to be involved. My family will make jokes about it. We need more people to do this. If cannabis isn’t a big deal, let’s make sure it doesn’t come across like it is a stigma. People should talk about it and feel comfortable addressing it.
What can people do to get involved here on campus?
For all college students, get involved. We would love more members and people getting engaged. We would love more people showing up to meetings. Or even just talk about and sign petitions. It doesn’t matter to us. Here is the crazy thing, being involved doesn’t take a ton of work. It is just simple parts of knowing a little more, doing a little more. Also give us our banner back! (The SSPD organization banner was stolen after their event last year, if you have it, please return it).
Talking with Beth, sitting through the SSDP meeting, it was all a great experience and one I enjoyed quite a bit. It was interesting to talk with these students about the work they are doing, the things they are hoping to accomplish, and the underlying idealism as part of their work. The great piece, the one standing out the most, is the sense of difference in voices. You can tell these students care about their activism and ending the drug war. The beauty now is that it is finally a reality. Finally something that can happen. Before, in years past, these conversations might have been discussed with a sense of radicalism. Now, the tones have shifted. What for years was just a possibility is quickly becoming a reality. There is much more work to do, but, with students like Beth and the other SSPD members leading the charge, I am certain progress will be made.