Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get an interest in drug policy in Canada?
Evan Loster: My interest started in university. Ideologies about society changed with inspirations from first year philosophy, psychology, and sociology courses. I was having a conversation about marijuana legalization and psychedelic research. They brought up CSSDP and starting a chapter in Winnipeg. They suggested becoming involved in with the organization. I researched it.
I realized that there was a platform for students to become involved at a political level. My awareness changed from the experience. I did not become part of the board of directors in the first application.
One year later, Gonzo Nieto reached out to me. I applied and was voted on the board. Since then, my interest has been growing. My education and awareness has been growing, too. My awareness of the issues and the drug policies in place affecting human lives.
It is becoming apparent, which contributed to becoming involved politically, scientifically, and emotionally. From personal experience, I had siblings deal with drug addiction. I have volunteered in psychiatric wards too. These life experiences drove interest into consciousness, psychedelics, and drug policy.
Jacobsen: With respect to your current position, what tasks and responsibilities come along with it?
Loster: On the board, you commit as much as you can because it is a volunteer organization. We delegate tasks, organize campaigns, and help start and support chapters. Our chapters are the backbone of the organization, we represent the students in individual institutions across the country.
I chair the political advocacy and special projects committee. We write position statements on policies in place, bills being enacted, supporting initiatives voicing human rights issues around drug policy, and so on. It is what you can commit.
It can be writing blogs, helping with the website, or attending conferences or demonstrations to represent us and our chapters – show our presence.
Jacobsen: Two philosophies enter the discussion across the board. One is punitive or zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction or minimization. Which is preferable to you, and why?
Loster: I believe in harm reduction. It is a human right to experience altered states, whether it is substance induced, a religious experience, or otherwise for the shift in consciousness. It has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. We have a co-evolution with mind-altering substances.
For me, I do not think punishment will help people. It will further instill self-hatred. It will further instill the real causation of an addiction. It will promote criminal activity because you’re taking people dealing with an internal battle and throwing non-violent drug offenders into an institution with violent offenders.
It takes away any place to grow. You do not see another way. You come out with this negative view. Unless, of course, you have a rare life experience that changes you. It is subjective to the person. There are many reasons punishment will never work.
We need more empathy for how trauma affects. People are humans. It boils down to treating humans as humans. It does not have to be any more complicated.
Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?
Loster: It is hard to narrow it down to one thing. It is advocating for human rights and a harm reduction based sensible drug policy. CSSDP’s core principle is to help youth mobilize themselves and provide a platform for them to make a difference.
A lot of people don’t necessarily believe in their government, don’t know how to get involved, and may not got out of their comfort zone to find a way. If we can provide that platform, and bring awareness to it, it allows youth and students to have a voice in that political fashion.
Jacobsen: You affirmed a preference for the harm reduction approach, which involves prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement – as the four major parts of it. If we take into account the more practical, general things of it, at least in Canada, what comes to mind for you with respect to harm reduction, practical examples?
Loster: For me, there’s plenty. The three that come to mind are safe injection sites, naloxone training, and providing that overdose antidote to first responders and the users themselves. If you have a demographic of people who are high opiate users, who would have easily accessible naloxone, the idea is not to encourage use, but to, in essence, save lives.
We’re not suggesting by providing naloxone the encouragement of the use of heroine by them. We are accepting the fact and reducing the risk. We are providing a harm reducing service to eliminate that risk. Secondly, with supervised injection sites, the ideology behind that is not to encourage use, but safe use.
If there’s testing services, it ensures no adulterations of the substances. If clean needles and access, then no transmissions of HIV, STDs, and diseases in genera. These services provide the support of community.
You’re providing support as well. It revolves around reducing harm and providing support. So, you have more positive reinforcement of certain types of behavior to ensure reduction or elimination of mortality.
Every harm reduction principle is related to saving lives. Punishment is more related around, not necessarily saving a life, but reforming a life. An archetype of a productive member of society, according to them.
Harm reduction is more accepting of people and their issues, and working through those problems. One emergent phenomena in Canada, even with the legal barriers, is drug testing at music festivals.
With new adulterants like fentanyl, and other synthetic powerful opiates, those services at music festivals are essential because it brings awareness for people. For instance, Shambhala is a music festival. They did drug testing.
It was a success. There were no overdoses. They had naloxone on site. They didn’t need to use it. There is a drug testing culture. You are informing someone of the substance. Also, you’re informing the entire community the drugs and the effects of the drugs.
MDMA, for example, has a common logo on it. They would put that on a board saying, “Green bubble B pills, all tested high for PMA.” So if you’re walking by the drug testing tank, and if you have those pills, that information can prevent bad use.
You get an alert of a possible substance with an adulterant in it. Another aspect, the provision of the drug testing service. The legality is an issue. The testers can’t touch the substance. You have to follow a strict regimen.
The users need to understand. It is up to them. You can’t say to use or not to use a substance, but must inform. It leaves responsibility to the person, the choice to the person, which is a good thing. It promotes self-independence.
There is a legality issue. If you tell someone, “If you take this pill, it could cause cardiac arrest,” that’s more important than curtailing that because of legality. Until we get past the taboo with harm reduction services, it will become more open, more broad, and realistic.
Harm reduction is education, too, from a youth level. You should start as young as possible. Of course, age appropriate content. For instance, you do not show pictures of overdose people to children. That is a scare tactic. It is not informing.
There are individuals using heroine throughout life. They hold a job. They function throughout life. The services should provide education appropriate to age. People should know what people do rather than the stereotypes. I used a suppressed tablet, thinking this was pure MDMA. I didn’t understand the feeling.
It was an abundance of energy and feeling in a different state, not being able to sleep. Most likely, those pill were not pure MDMA. At the time of ingesting the pill, I didn’t know it. I thought “A purple pill with a crown on top. Cool!”
So, you didn’t receive education in high that was saying, “These are pressed capsules. Did you know MDMA can’t be made into pressed capsules?” That information could have instilled the unconscious thought into me, “Oh, these are pressed. These aren’t pure MDMA.”
That beginning phase is important. People can make proper decisions. When we limiting people to not being able to make proper decisions, we get into trouble. You are taking away that self-empowerment from them.
You are saying, “You aren’t wise enough. You can’t decide this.” However, if you have the spectrum of information, people will use it. It is much better to have the optimism. People will use it.
If there’s people ignorant of the knowledge gained, that is something needing independent change. It is more a reflection of the personality trait rather than our work. There’s the independent side of the person. There’s intervention from a community perspective.
It is important to have a harm reduction community, which is important for an individual’s self-development. We can promote the behavioural change.
Jacobsen: What events have success?
Loster: In Europe, there are a lot of events. Zendo Project is a major one in the United States. They’ve been at Burning Man. There’s an organization called Dance Safe. That’s what I know. Other have contemplated it, but have stopped because of legal issues.
That’s the biggest issue. You have festival run by boards. The problem is everyone on the board must agree. We need drug testing. Even in my own community, we have something called Folk Fest. I want to bring drug testing to it.
Even talking to the harm reduction community in Winnipeg, there’s this problem having accountability and responsibility in those events. They tried to bring Plan B. One, sexual assault is an ongoing and common issue at these events. Two, the need to have that protection for females is a good thing.
For example, an unsolicited sexual encounter and don’t want to have their baby. Plan B was over-the-counter. They didn’t want to take responsibility for giving that out to people. They will turn down the entire idea.
Since the festival turns down the idea, it doesn’t mean that won’t happen there. Same with the festival. They didn’t want naloxone at the festival without a trained professional. Naloxone is easy. You don’t need to be a trained professional to administer it.
It is as easy as taking saline mixtures up the nose. I hope, in spite of it, some will bring naloxone. It is not to promote drug use, but to help attendees to stay safe. Universities should have access to it.
It is a tough time. You are stressed and depressed in this major time of development. Many will experiment with substances. Opiates are a good substance to reduce pain. They calm you. They bring you down. The issue is this becoming a recurrent obsessive behaviour.
Also, when you think a taken substance is one thing, and it’s not, it can be a big problem. Across the world, there are safe injection sites. Many countries have legalized heroine. Canada too now. Paraguay has decriminalized all drugs.
It is a perfect example. The statistics demonstrate drug related crime has gone down. Overdoses have gone down. HIV/AIDS rates have gone down. Drug use has gone slightly up. The statistics might be deceptive. Have rates gone up or have people admitted it – since the stigma is gone?
Maybe, people admit it. Maybe, people experiment without the dissolution of the stigma. If someone wants to try marijuana or a therapeutic amount of MDMA, that should not be stigmatized. It is awesome to explore yourself.
Jacobsen: There’s an inverted pyramid of drug abuse. An inverted pyramid of harm and legality, tobacco and alcohol are harmful to individuals, families, and societies. Cannabis is in the national discussion now.
It is illegal. Yet, it does not have major harms associated with it, especially compared to tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are legal and harmful. Marijuana or cannabis is virtually non-harmful and illegal. This is repeated across the spectrum.
What seems like the reason behind this?
Loster: I am unconventional. I use Terence McKenna and Bill Hicks for this perspective. Tobacco and alcohol promote productive workers. Same with caffeine. They are the most prized substances in society. You ingest nicotine and caffeine to make you productive. There’s no other reason for it.
It doesn’t bring you down at night. The whole basis is the promotion of cultural values of productivity. You drink alcohol to forget about the shitty work week. So, you have a coping mechanism.
When people stop using these substances, that’s when they stop being able to work at that level. You start depreciating yourself. Your true qualities are showing. Let’s use the opposite side of the spectrum, I like heroine as an example.
There are differences in the addictive qualities of heroine and tobacco. Heroine, you may want to stay home more than go to work. Same with psychedelics. They make you question the cultural patterns.
If everyone tried LSD or psilocybin, people wouldn’t contemplate work for tomorrow. They would look into other values, which the establishment doesn’t want now. I don’t believe in a massive conspiracy. Ideologies have created a giant illusion believed by us.
The ideologies began with a few people. It spread. If you look at a cult, a cult as it first comes out, it has a huge stigma. Everyone thinks it’s bad. If you attach the word to it, it is instantly demonized. Every major belief system started as a cult.
You had a small number of people believing something. It grew. Scientology is ridiculous now. In 1,000 years, if it’s still here, people will think it has some basis in reality because “Why has it been around for so long?”
It boils down to substances most promoted in society are promoting cultural values. Those most penalized are against those values. One of Nixon’s or Reagan’s political advisors targeted specific marginalized groups of people by penalizing the drugs used most by them.
The black community was crack and heroine. Even to today, Jay-Z put out a music video about the war on drugs. He talked about the media promoted crack as a black problem, even though more white people than black people used it.
Legally, blacks got worst charges and indictments for selling crack cocaine because the people using crack were in poverty and in minority neighbourhoods based on the expense. Same with the Far Left movement. They penalized psychedelics because LSD and psilocybin created a counterculture movement.
It was associated with it. It mostly boils down to culture. There are classifications of legality and substances are not based on science, more on how we want people to act and behave. Even altered states of consciousness like schizophrenia is demonized in our society, if you’re a shaman, you are seen as a gift.
Our society doesn’t make schizophrenia mark the archetype of sanity. We demonize and attempt to medicate it.
Jacobsen: The examples of Bill Hicks and Terence McKenna sit alongside Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Dass, or Richard Albert. I like the analysis. It is not a conspiracy theory. It is an analysis of institutions. By “an analysis of institutions,” I mean a critical framework from which to examine society at large.
If you take the American examples that you gave, we have crack cocaine, sellers in the white population or the European Americans in terms of descendants, and the buyers in the black population or the African Americans.
You have the psychedelics with the Far Left, politically. These become the minority, marginalized, demonized groups. In Canada, we had cannabis with Mexicans. We had opium with the Chinese ‘scare’.
These become manifestations of xenophobia. In addition, certain cultural values can be expressed by output of the human organism. For example, we have the examples of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.
Each of these activates particular sets of networks in the brain, in the main part of the central nervous system. The values held by the society in terms of what is taken as what you called an “archetype” for the values that the society takes in.
Those values, in a concrete sense, are represented in each person’s neural architecture. When they take a substance, it will activate certain networks more often than not. If caffeine, it’s busy, busy, busy. If alcohol, it’s down, relax, forget.
In other cultures more the fringe, sub-cultures in the society, you can have psychedelics from the Far Left, which are exploratory drugs for the most part. They bring about experiences that are typically called mystical, transcendental, or religious.
We have stories of Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse. Ok, maybe, but that was probably a naturally born expression of a similar neural architecture being activated naturally rather than artificially. That’s what I’m taking from what you’re saying.
Loster: Even to add on the caffeine, anxiety, nicotine basis, we’re a society that utilizes things like Xanax to counter those effects. You can go to your doctor tomorrow and say, “I have too much anxiety,” rather than realize that you take too may stimulants.
You can prescribe a pill to take more stimulants. You are more of a machine rather than a human. You lose the artistic element, which is self-expression. There’s a reason individuals are drawn to natural human expression.
People see someone dancing in the middle of the street and are drawn to it, “Why are they doing that?” You are all the same people. It is weird to see people have that natural expression in modern society.
That’s the difference between the counter-culture and archaic forms of society, and modern society. Substance use comes from the level of comfort individuals have with their neighbours. You might not say, “Hi,” to them.
That’s opposed to the more intimate societies. It is less than the substances, the psychedelics, but a reflection of the cultural values. We can create a psychedelic reality. It is constructed things in that form to create the behaviour.
Those people feel more interested in talking to a stranger about their day. Our society, people will honk, try to drive you off the road, and so on. Maybe, that’s a reflection of individuals being on stimulants rather than being mellow.
It is hard for youth. If you identify with the artistic side, you have everything against you. You have barriers, resistance, and problems to face. It is not impossible. However, it will be hell to get there.
You will have people say, “You’re crazy. Don’t you want to buy a house and have a family?” Your own family too. It is difficult. It is multi-dimensional. We need to get youth to behave independently.
Our youth are good at organizing. We need to organize into a central message and do something about it. The CSSDP is an important framework for it. If we continue to see the organizations, initiatives, and coalitions build and grow, then more momentum will happen for it.
It will continue to grow as long as people stand up. Another way to look at this society is to look at vaping. Analog cigarettes are being taken over by vaping. Millions of people vaporize, even though it’s not legalized.
In Winnipeg, 25 vape stores have opened in recent years.
Out of nothing, you have an economy, jobs, and millions of people with a healthier manner to ingest nicotine. So, the government hasn’t done anything. It has tried to do it. You can’t vape in public spaces.
You need to make windows frosted. So, children can’t see inside. They haven’t stopped the phenomena. It is an essential point. You see this with dispensaries for marijuana, not closing and continuing to promote their ideology.
That is, they should have a non-discriminatory storefront for people over 19. People will not intervene. It is too much a headache. They will accept the social or cultural change. It is practical for them anymore.
Also, another thing is the number of people retiring in the next couple of years. The majority of the work force is on the verge of retirement. Even the provincial government has trouble finding replacement employees, you used to have 10-20 candidates per job in the government.
Now, you won’t can as many candidates. Many young people don’t want to work in the public sector. It is not a fun place to work. There are no incentives. Do you want to work for low pay with people having a completely different mentality?
With the division and segregation within the government, no organizations work together. They want to attach their name to it. You have the division that creates roadblocks and problems. Everyone needs to have their hands on it.
That’s another step too. For society, everything takes years. The dimension of time does not have to dictate the rate of change for an ideology. As long as you have an consensus of belief, it is a pinnacle moment of drug policy.
Everyone changes to a common belief about drug policy. Everything will change at that time. With the overdoses happening, it is becoming a larger epidemic with 30 overdoses in one weekend or one night.
Everyone uses the same adulterated supply. At that point, society will change. It is a common trend. We need to lose 2,000 or 5,000 lives before changing the policies to help people. As we both know, drug policy hurts the prosecuted and those overdosing.
Also, it has political and economic ramifications. It affects parents and siblings. If you associate with someone using drugs, especially if the drug has legality behind it, it is an issue.
Jacobsen: You described the context for the CSSDP. I want to shift the conversation to other organizations. What other organizations would you recommend individuals look into if they have further interest in getting involved, knowledge – in whatever capacity they can?
Loster: In Canada, I would recommend the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. They are the reason for the CSSDP and its progress. They are the ‘parent’. They have more power, and experience through life and career work. There’s a starting point.
I am a huge fan of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Their work is amazing. If I could be involved with them, eventually, that would be part of my dream. The paradigm pushed by them with therapeutic use of psychedelics is important.
There are misconceptions about them used in a recreational way, which is not reflective of the experiences. Some might assume hallucinations. Others see this as a transpersonal change. That’s one major organization, which I love. They formed Zendo Project.
They test harm reduction services for psychedelics. There’s the Open Societies Foundation. There’s the American version of us, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. There are others. There are online campaigns to tell stories and reduce stigma.
It’s a huge step in elimination of the stigma. There are multiple organizations out there. They fight for change. It is a growing movement. As I become more involved in it, I did not realize the number of frameworks and support.
Even through social media, you can tweet, retweet, like, or follow someone, there’s something right away. It is like an organism grows. Its dendrites are growing and making new connections and becoming bigger, and bigger.
Once involved in networks and organizations, it leads to more networks and organizations. It grows. You choose the level of involvement as well.
Jacobsen: There have been attempts to unify the various organizations on a small scale. Medium-term to short-term partnerships for this. What is the importance of partnerships between organizations to make larger changes?
Loster: It is looking at the fact of a single human having a great belief. However, unless compiled with other minds, your belief will only be good to yourself. When you combine organizations, not only does it bridge the gaps in spite of differences, it gives a larger voice.
It gives a larger following. In this sense, rather than 100 minds together, you can have 10,000 minds and opinions. Many more ideas too. It is essential for the change. You need the multidimensional perspective.
It is important for the change for everyone. There will always be differences, especially if you do not include these people. You want to keep people included without marginalizing people. Like the United Nations event, an event with a single mandate unifies everyone.
When on that level, you’re thinking of the entire world. You meet individuals from Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, the United States, and so on. You learn about damaging organizations like Smart Approaches to Marijuana.
They are a perfect example. They are smart approaches to marijuana, but they are a front for the standard policies – non-evidence-based and punitive policies. They demonize the substance, have irrational claims that the science disputes, and so on.
You can have complete ignorance, too. A country like Malaysia will have policies ‘based on human rights,’ but they support the death penalty. You’re not laughing at the country. It is humorous. How can they say that?
You can have someone from Montreal and Indonesia agree with you. When you come together, your culture does not matter. Your beliefs matter. There’s a human rights lawyer from Indonesia. It is another country with the death penalty for traffickers.
They’ve killed foreigners like Australians. He wanted to talk about drug policy. He was silenced by his own country. He had a position in the roundtable and talked to us. He might risk the entire culture that he’s from. He might not be able to return to the country dependent on the political ideology there.
He’s crying as he’s speaking to us. He’s had friends killed for drug related offenses. We see that first hand. Afterwards, everyone observing from upstairs (those without seats) stood and clapped. We weren’t clapping as individual organizations.
We clapped as individual humans that realized the truth he was speaking as well as giving him acknowledgement of his sacrifice. His pain and suffering. That we’re all there for him. We never met before. We aren’t from the same country or culture, not the same race or gender.
However, with the same belief, we support each other. When organizations come together, they have the same belief. You can see if organizations work together and through their mandate. It is the biggest thing. You have a collective power. The more people, the better the greater the voice.
Jacobsen: With respect to CSSDP, there are ways to get involved with it. What does CSSDP most need from volunteers? How can potential volunteers expedite that to help out?
Loster: CSSDP needs more ground members, more chapters. The board can use for help. However, it doesn’t matter the size of the board without the youth starting to form groups and make changes. If you have a 100 board members dictating tasks, starting campaigns, and so on, without chapters, nothing is happening.
We can start a campaign and post on social media. We don’t get followers or chapters, or momentum in the movement with people. The biggest thing is chapters and youth becoming involved in CSSDP.
Youth advocating for sensible drug policy. That’s the biggest thing. It is start and create a chapter. If you want to get involved with us, you can start a chapter. If there’s a chapter near you, you can start there. There’s nothing limiting the chapters from influencing their own development.
We don’t have huge resources to start a huge event. Imagine a chapter hosting an electronic music festival with the need for drug testing. We would support it. However, we don’t do it. The chapter does it.
There’s nothing limiting a chapter. They can grow and become their own entity. The big thing is chapters becoming bigger and independent for their own community. W can change things at the national level through advocacy.
The changes happen piecemeal with conversation with friends, family, and fellow peers and altering the mind state of politicians. If every community begins to change, the national side will too.
Eventually, you will have the same situation with the states. You have states with a belief pattern, legalizing cannabis. As well, the federal disagreement. Of course, it will become ridiculous. Individual states will legalize and the federal will not. People won’t care.
It is self-empowerment for people. It boils down to people empowering themselves to the point of making change in their own lives. It starts small and becomes large.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Evan.
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/