In anticipation of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem taking place in April, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) organized a consultation with NGOs working in drug policy in order to inform Canada’s position at the international level. Co-Chair Gonzo Nieto and board member Andras Lenart attended as representatives of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to bring the youth voice to the consultation. Some of the other non-governmental organizations present included the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the Assembly of First Nations, the Partnership for a Drug Free Canada, Bruyere Research Institute, and the Canadian Public Health Association. Health Canada, Justice Canada, and CCSA had representatives there to observe and take notes on the discussions.
The objective of the consultation was to read the UNGASS Zero Draft Outcome Document and provide feedback on the topics. These topics include drug demand and supply reduction measures, how to treat problematic drug-use and associated criminal elements, and how to ensure treatment access for those who need and want it. Although it was apparent there was a lot of overlap in our viewpoints, NGO representatives brought different perspectives to each issue. Another primary discussion point was how to reconcile Canada’s upcoming legalization of cannabis with international treaties and conventions which explicitly forbid sale of the plant for recreational consumption.
In our discussion, we emphasized CSSDP’s position supporting harm reduction measures in relation to drug use. We advocated for peer-based education, drug checking services, safe injection sites, and increasing the availability of naloxone. Considering social and health issues, we argued for a focus on the social determinants of substance dependence. Our government needs to endorse social programs which address inequality and marginalization instead of continuing to put people who struggle with substance dependence through the legal system — an especially critical point considering 80% of offenders have addiction or substance abuse problems (read more here). Finally, we pushed for ensuring the availability of medicines such as opiates and psychedelics for research and medical purposes.
We perceived the discussions to be successful – we reached a near group consensus about endorsing more sensible drug policies. The government of Canada is having stakeholder consultations with other groups, and its ultimate position will be influenced by consultations such as ours. Considering the existing drug policy approach has not been effective and has caused harm to many communities, we want Canada to take a strong stance in support of sensible and progressive drug policy. At UNGASS April 2016, Canada could be instrumental in achieving an international drug policy grounded in science and reflecting human rights.