Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get involved? How did you get an interest in Canadian drug policy?
Avery Sapoznikow: I am finishing an undergraduate degree in psychology with an honours thesis on cannabis and attention. I am doing research on drug use and counselling because I want to be a clinical psychologist. Also, I want to maintain an active research portfolio involving drugs and drug policy.
So, one good means of achieving this is to become involved with CSSDP. I began to look around last year. I found a chapter at UBC with Michelle (the founder of the chapter). We work in the same lab. It developed from there. There was the call for board applications at the end of the year. I took advantage of it.
Jacobsen: What is the lab with Michelle?
Sapoznikow: We’re both involved in the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use Lab with Dr. Walsh.
Jacobsen: With the UBCO chapter, how many members now?
Sapoznikow: We’re at about 25 now.
Jacobsen: What are some activities of the chapter?
Sapoznikow: We are running a co-op with the nurses around naloxone – they have been running workshops with our support. We have been running screenings of movies. Also, documentary screenings and having some guest speakers.
Jacobsen: What is your position in the chapter and responsibilities?
Sapoznikow: Locally, I am the Vice President. Nationally, I am a member of the board of directors.
Jacobsen: How do you draw people into the chapter?
Sapoznikow: We have been doing tabling events. A lot has been focused on changing policies via the use petitions. Otherwise, it has been through posters around campus. I will be doing more next semester as this semester has been quite busy.
Jacobsen: What is the general perspective, for people well-entrenched in the field, on the more punitive approaches to drug policy and the harm reduction approaches?
Sapoznikow: Currently, the punitive approaches have been shown to be the worst ways to deal with these problems. We need to shift away from punitive measures. It doesn’t help. That’s from a psychology perspective. Also, in terms of mandatory minimums, it doesn’t help. Punishing people for something they can’t help on their own does them a disservice and in the end could make things worse.
Jacobsen: What are the consequences on individuals with drug misuse from the punitive issues?
Sapoznikow: They exacerbate the recurring issues. For example, if someone has conduct disorders, which leads to their misuse of drugs, it will likely exacerbate their condition.
Jacobsen: How does this cascade into larger society?
Sapoznikow: Usually, these punitive measures are placed upon people from lower socio-economic status. So, it puts them deeper into this low-income lifestyle because of the barriers in place from having a criminal record. It makes things worse for everyone involved.
Jacobsen: Who are some researchers people in the harm reduction movement who are reliable sources of information?
Sapoznikow: Anyone who has legitimate research associated with an accredited university. Dr. Walsh is one of the leading people for cannabis. With it being legalized, he would be a massive resource for people to tap.
Jacobsen: What about organizations?
Sapoznikow: Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, and our US equivalent group SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
Jacobsen: Since you’re newer, you have a fresh perspective on the operations of CSSDP, Any areas for improvement for CSSDP? Any areas where things are going well? Also, where do you hope the organization goes into the future for students?
Sapoznikow: Our strongest aspect, in my opinion, is the social media reach. We reach tons of people via the individual chapter pages as well as the national pages. Probably, the weakest area is conferences because there has not been one for a while, we need to get more people involved together with this to make the events possible.
If we can get conferences going, we could become a more unified organization. More cross-chapter work would be good. The chapters are a bit segregated. More of an effort from the board and the chapters for reaching out. I think the chapter should communicate.
Jacobsen: Some organizations have a network. Whether it’s a repository for conversation like fora for articles or interview, all of the organizations in one place. It wouldn’t be tiered, but simply a nexus. Do you think that is a good idea for harm reduction in Canada?
Sapoznikow: Definitely, I think collaborative efforts are key for this. It affects so many sectors. A combined effort from people involved in economic policy, government, and prisons. We need everyone involved to find a happy medium. Right now, it is not working. It is only putting money into big business (prisons) pockets.
Jacobsen: Any new thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Sapoznikow: Drug policy is a topic of utmost important facing us today with marijuana being legalized. Drug policy will be a big thing in the next few years. With CSSDP being one of the biggest groups in Canada with a focus on drug policy, we should become more involved in this transition process. We should set an example for others groups.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Avery.
Member-at-largeScott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/