MU drug policy reform groups host public conference

Two-day event to feature variety of speakers, sessions
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | 7:14 p.m. CST; updated 12:39 p.m. CST, Thursday, February 19, 2009

This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Glenn Nielsen's name.

COLUMBIA — Members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws think that when it comes to drugs, the U.S. government is fighting a losing battle.


For a complete online schedule of the Missouri Drug Policy Reform Conference, go to

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“The war on drugs is the most ineffective war in history, the most expensive war in history and the war with the most casualties,” said Evan Groll, president of the SSDP at MU.

That’s one of the reasons SSDP and NORML are hosting the 2009 Missouri Drug Policy Reform Conference at MU this Friday and Saturday.

MU hosts chapters of both these organizations, and the groups have been working the past four to five months to put the conference together. The two groups have been working closely with another chapter in Joplin to recruit speakers and get the word out about the conference.

Groll, a senior at MU, said he became involved in SSDP in 2006 because he has seen the negative effects of criminalization of drug use in his own life, and he dislikes the fact that his tax dollars are being used to put others in jail.

The Drug Policy Reform Conference will offer the public a chance to engage in an open dialogue about alternatives to drug prohibition. It also will give participants a chance to educate themselves about the facts surrounding drug use and criminalization in the United States.

“It all comes down to education,” Groll said. “Our goal is to raise awareness and dialogue with the public.”

Another goal is to educate the public about how many people go to prison for drug-related crimes. Groll said that although the United States leads the world in number of incarcerations, the majority of those incarcerated committed drug crimes, not violent crimes. Members of SSDP and NORML think that not only is a waste of tax money but also is unfair and potentially racist.

“Prohibition is grown and thrives on racism,” Groll said.

Both organizations believe drug use should be a matter of personal choice, but they do see room for some restrictions. They do not condone drug use among children, for example, and they feel policies similar to those used for tobacco and alcohol would be appropriate. They also argue there should be better substance-abuse treatment programs for inmates.

“It’s not a criminal issue; it’s a health care issue,” Groll said.

Glenn Nielsen, chairman of the Missouri Libertarian Party, will be among those attending the conference. Groll said that among political parties, Libertarians are most open to SSDP and NORML’s efforts.

The public is invited to all the conference events, which include a welcome and introduction, elevator arguments and a keynote address Friday evening. The conference begins at 5:30 p.m. All speakers will appear in the Arts and Sciences Auditorium. The Friday night schedule also includes dinner at Shakespeare’s at 8:30 p.m. and a benefit concert at The Blue Fugue at 9:30 p.m.

Saturday events begin with coffee and bagels at 9 a.m. in the Arts and Sciences Auditorium. Several speakers and breakout sessions are scheduled throughout the day, which wraps up at 7 p.m. The conference ends with a benefit dinner at The Grand Cru at 8 p.m.

Speakers will include Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML; Mason Tvert, executive director of Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation; Cliff Thornton, founder of Efficacy; and Dan Viets of NORML and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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