More than 100 students and marijuana policy activists from throughout the Great Lakes region met at the Best Western Executive Plaza on Jackson Road yesterday to discuss issues of drug addiction, policy reform and medical marijuana.

The event, the Midwest Conference of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, was held to increase awareness about marijuana and allow attendees to network with other activists.

“The conference has been a huge success, with residents from nearly every state in the Midwest,” said Chris Chiles, the executive director of the University’s chapter of SSDP. “The turnout is phenomenal.”

The conference aimed to bring drug law advocates together, Chiles said. Between speakers, conference attendees divided into groups of 15 to 20 led by drug policy experts, who facilitated discussion between group members.

Chiles said he hopes the push to reform drug laws across the country will come from grassroots efforts like the SSDP conference.

Drug reform is necessary, Chiles said, because drug education will allow people to make more informed decisions.

With the passage of Proposal 1 in November, Michigan became one of 12 states that have legalized marijuana for medical use. Today will be the first day that identification cards will be issued by the state for patients and caregivers, allowing them to grow or possess marijuana for medicinal purposes without threat of arrest or prosecution.

Conference attendee Renee Wolfe, who has used marijuana for medicinal purposes for more than 25 years, suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is looking forward to the new legal status of the drug under Michigan law.

“I’ll be leading the march up the steps of the state House in Lansing tomorrow to hand in my paperwork,” she said.

The card will allow patients or caregivers to possess up to 12 marijuana plants or up to 2.5 ounces of useable marijuana.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, gave the keynote address at the conference. Nadelmann said he was more optimistic than he has ever been about the future of drug law reform in the United States.

Nadelmann said he believes the recent increase in cross-border violence with Mexican drug cartels — who traffic illegal drugs into Mexico from the United States — will help to bring about the end of marijuana prohibition. If marijuana is made legal, Nadelmann said, there would be no black market for marijuana, which would reduce violence due to smuggling.

The tax revenue that could be generated by legalizing and selling marijuana to both medical patients and recreational users is another reason Nadelmann believes the country is closer to reforming marijuana laws. The potential regulation of the marijuana industry could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax revenue for the country, he said.

Kalamazoo College students Alex Griffin and Meghan Moriarty, who attended the conference, said they were both hopeful about the future of marijuana law reform in the state, especially after the legalization of medical marijuana.

“Now, more than ever, it’s important to discuss drug law reform,” Moriarty said.

Donald R. Vereen, senior academic program officer at the School of Public Health, spoke about the importance of making informed policy decisions when it comes to drug laws.

“Policy of any kind should be based on research,” Vereen said. “We tend to get into trouble much faster when we generate policy without adequate research.”

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