On Saturday, October 13th, Students for Liberty hosted its Midwest Regional Conference at the University of Minnesota. The theme of the conference was “Ending the War on Drugs,” and a variety of speakers, partner organizations, and students came from across the US to participate in the event. SFL Midwest Regional Director Charlie Gers selected the theme to shed light on the massive injustices brought about through the War on Drugs and the prevalence of opioid abuse and overdoses in the nation.
Jim Lark, the first speaker, addressed some of those injustices in his presentation. Lark is on the SFL board of advisors and is secretary on the board of advisors at Liberty International. His goal was to educate attendees on the “perversions of justice” which constitute civil asset forfeiture.
These forfeiture laws, which exist at both the state and federal levels, must be distinguished from criminal asset forfeiture laws. Under criminal forfeiture, property is taken from individuals after they have been convicted of a crime. Under civil forfeiture, property is confiscated before an individual has been convicted of a crime - or gets taken even if the individual never gets charged with a crime.
Lark criticized other aspects which make civil asset forfeiture “morally wrong” as well. In a complete upending of our criminal justice system, defendants in civil forfeiture cases are required to prove their innocence - to prove that they weren’t participating in any illegal activity like drug transporting. It is extremely difficult for forfeiture victims to reclaim their property from law enforcement agencies, even if the charges against the victim were dropped.
President and cofounder of Sensible Minnesota Maren Schroeder voiced similar criticisms about the current state of our legal system. In the past, Schroeder successfully petitioned for PTSD to be added to the list of diseases eligible for treatment with medical cannabis. She reported that, as of October 11th, there were 12,503 patients on medical cannabis in Minnesota.
Still, Schroder is not satisfied. She explained that, in 2016, the government increased the legal threshold for possession of controlled substances but decreased the threshold for weed. She pointed out the racial disparities as well; for every white person arrested on marijuana-related charges, twelve blacks were.
Schroeder would like to see personal use and cultivation of marijuana be decriminalized, and she was not the only one. Keynote speaker Matt Kibbe expressed similar sentiments in his presentation. Using anecdotal evidence from friends as well as his own experience with cancer, Kibbe highlighted an overlooked function of medical cannabis: weaning opioid-using medical patients and opioid addicts alike off the addictive substance.
Of course, the day was not just filled with marijuana discussion. Speakers addressed a variety of relevant, liberty-related topics, from free speech on college campuses to the merits of capitalism. Minnesota local Joe McKenzie hosted a breakout session where he discussed the importance of community leadership.
Conference attendees had the opportunity to talk to the speakers one-on-one and network with each other during the fifteen-minute breaks following each speaker’s session. Attendees received free liberty T-shirts and books, too.
In his opening remarks, Charlie Gers said he envisioned a “brighter, freer future for all.” The conference equipped students with the information and tools necessary to spread the ideals of liberty around their campuses and across their communities.