5th Annual Conference Roundup: Part 2

5th Annual Conference Roundup: Part 2

This is a continuation of our conference roundup – click here for Part 1.

Saturday, March 3 – mid-afternoon
Refreshed from a break, conference attendees split up for the afternoon’s breakout sessions.
The first workshop, “Peer Outreach”, was led by Ashley Schwanke, a member of CSSDP’s new Edmonton chapter and a staff member with the Streetworks harm reduction group. It was live-tweeted by Elaine Hyshka:

As with so many of the weekend’s presentations, the shadow of Bill C-10 loomed over the topic of peer outreach. According to Ashley, more funding is needed for harm reduction and similar initiatives, and the new crime bill’s focus on mandatory minimum sentences and other measures is a step in the wrong direction.
The second workshop discussed the North American Opiate Medical Initiative (NAOMI), a clinical trial on heroin-assisted drug therapy, and the NAOMI Patients Association (NPA), a group of former NAOMI patients in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that emerged after the study was completed.
Workshop leaders Dave Murray and Diane Tobin, members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), laid out the background of the NAOMI study, which studied heroin-assisted addiction treatment and other treatment alternatives, and how it has affected participants’ lives. The study did have some benefits for participants: many found the program worked much better for them than other programs, such as methadone-assisted treatment. But there were serious problems as well, including the issues of
1. consent (how do researchers truly obtain consent from participants when they control something that is central to participants lives – namely, heroin?), and
2. access to heroin once the study was over (participants were denied further access to heroin, forcing them to return to their often-chaotic pre-NAOMI lives).
In response, Dave Murray created the NPA, a space for former members of the study to meet, support each other, and speak out on these issues. An NPA report, published in March 2012, has finally provided a voice for participants’ experiences, and recommendations for how future research should be conducted. The NPA has noted that history may soon repeat itself, since NAOMI’s follow-up research project, the Study to Access Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) has not addressed many of the NAOMI’s problems.
Following the breakout sessions, CSSDP members met for our yearly Annual General Meeting (AGM), where new board members are elected and major issues discussed.

The meeting saw one of the largest candidate turnouts in CSSDP history! In the end, 4 new board members were elected, with another 3 elected as alternates (to replace any members who resign throughout the year). Our new members are all very impressive, and are already contributing to the organization in important ways.

Capping off a long day, conference attendees joined forces with Calgary 420, a local cannabis activist group, to hold a vigil for prohibition’s victims at Calgary City Hall. The group observed a minute of silence for those whose lives have been lost or damaged by destructive drug policies, and heard from speakers looking inspire a spirit of optimism and hope for the future.
It was a good day for press. In addition to our online presence (the livestream and all the live-tweeting), we got the attention of major broadcasters. CBC Calgary published an article on the conference online, and CBC Radio interviewed Executive Director Caleb Chepesuik and Carlos Negraeff, head of our Calgary chapter.
We also got a major appearance on Global Television, where speakers Scott Bernstein and Donald MacPherson gave their opinions on Bill C-10. The video is available here (our clip appearing at the 6:45 minute point).
Sunday, March 4

The last day of the conference started with our student poster presentation, a chance for our members who are studying a topic related to drug policy to share their research, and for everyone else to get a chance to pepper them with questions about it.


Sunday’s opening panel explored different issues related to Cannabis Reform.

The first speaker, Dan Werb, shared his ICSDP research on the economics of cannabis – focusing especially what the price of cannabis might be if the drug were to become decriminalized or legalized.

The topic is of great interest in drug policy discussions, since prices have a major impact on how drugs are consumed – especially among young people, whose protection is a major justification for the drug war. But while most agree that consumers in an illegal market pay a “prohibition tax”, it’s far from certain what post-prohibition prices would be, or what tools policy makers could use to best influence on consumers’ decision-making.

The second panellist, Keith Fagin, spoke about his experience as a cannabis activist with Calgary 420. In recent years, he’s become convinced that no matter how frustrated you get, focusing on being respectful is one of the most effective ways to promote change. By being assertive but gracious, you can win respect and help overcome prejudices, like the “lazy pot user” stereotype.

The third speaker, Lisa Kirkman, shared her personal experience as a marijuana activist and victim of prohibition. Being a marijuana activist and a good mother are often seen as mutually exclusive, and while in the United States Lisa actually had her son taken from her, as she was considered unfit to raise him due to her drug-related work. While she had been victimized by drug prohibition, however, she also talked about the opportunities for women, and the role they can play in creating change.

The panel over, attendees split up into another workshop session.

The first workshop was led by Michaela Montaner, drawing on her experience with the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) to talk about Coalition Building. Once again, Elaine Hyshka was live-tweeting – Michaela later said that she “perfectly distilled” the session:


The second workshop was led by Heiko Decosas, of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC). Called “Create your own media:, Heiko shared his lessons learned, focusing on the importance of narratives and storytelling in connecting with your audience.

Another break, and then the fourth and final breakout workshops of the conference.

The first of the last was led by Shauna MacEachern, CSSDP’s Outreach Director. Titled “Just say know! Honest drug education”, she addressed ways to teach the facts about drugs, in an educational environment that is usually very reluctant to do just that.

The last of the last was led by Greg Khaymov, from the TRIP! Project in Toronto. TRIP! has never been shy about going where the drug users are to provide them with the information and tools they need to be as safe as possible. Greg’s workshop, “Safer Drug Use”, drew upon this experience to provide nuts-and-bolts suggestions for making drug use, well, safer.

The workshops done, it was time for our final presentation: “Harm Reduction as a Generational Struggle”, by Barbara Ross of Alberta Health Services, and CSSDP’s Alex Rowan. Closing off the conference, they traced the development of harm reduction, from its rocky beginnings, to its current growing acceptance, to where we might go with it in the future.

Final thoughts

This year’s conference took place during a deflating time for Canadian drug policy reformers, as our country passed Bill C-10 and adopted the mandatory minimum sentences that have been such a failure in the United States. Going beyond C-10, there is a general feeling that as a country, we are sliding backwards in drug reform while the rest of the world (especially Latin America) is on the verge of making some major changes.

At the same time, there is a profound sense of optimism in our organization. Our vision hasn’t changed – we’re still working to build a Canada where drugs are seen as a health issue, and where young people can get the best drug education we can give them. But there’s a feeling of growth, too – lessons learned in how we got here; new members, ideas and possibilities; and a distinct sense that while things may be difficult for the next little while, the “Berlin Wall of Prohibition” (as Donald MacPherson calls it) is starting to crumble, and we just need to keep chipping away at it.

We hope you think so too.

Take part in our Naloxone interview – with Scots!

Take part in our Naloxone interview – with Scots!

by David Hewson

Interview naloxone professionals from Scotland! UPDATE: the details for this interview have now been finalized!!

Let us know your thoughts!
Ok CSSDPers, we’ve got an interesting opportunity here!

As most of you already know, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs passed a resolution last week to promote naloxone, an antidote for opiate overdoses. This is good news.

Amid the tweeting around this, I connected with two people from Scotland who work with naloxone: Kirsten, a registered nurse working in addictions, and Stephen, the national coordinator and lead trainer for Scotland’s Naloxone Programme. I asked if they’d like to be interviewed for a post on our blog…and got a great response!!



If that wasn’t enough, a British harm reduction group called Injecting Advice saw what we were tweeting about, and now they want to reprint the interview on their website! Not bad.
So the stage is set…and this is where you guys come in.
We want your help with this – and here’s why:
1. We need to ask some good questions! For those of you with no background in harm reduction (like myself) – what do you want to know about naloxone? For those of you with more experience – what do you want to ask the pros now that we’ve got their attention?
2. If Injecting Advice is interested in our interview, then lots of other people must be too. Who else should we be telling about this? Some of our friends from the conference come to mind, like CAANS in Red Deer and Streetworks in Edmonton. Who else can you think of who might want to submit questions, post the interview on their blog, or otherwise get involved?
3. Last, but not certainly not least…just because. That’s why you should get involved. Interviewing interesting people, building connections and promoting events for a worthy cause are all activism skills we want you to learn – so seize this opportunity to do so!

So here’s what happens next.

In the comments below, tell us:
– what questions should we ask our interviewees? what do you really want to know about harm reduction, naloxone, or what’s happening with drug policy in the land of haggis? 😉
– who should we tell about this? where and how can we promote this cool opportunity?
– how do you want to be involved? do you want to take part in the interview directly (you’re welcome to!!)? should we try to livestream the event? do you want to live-tweet your thoughts/reactions for our followers while the interview is happening?
Let us know what you think, and we can all go on from there. Looking forward to hearing from all of you!
5th Annual Conference Roundup: Part 1

5th Annual Conference Roundup: Part 1

This is first of two posts in our conference roundup – click here for Part 2.

Events come and go, but for CSSDP members, there’s just nothing like our annual conference. It’s always been an inspiring and energizing event, and this year’s event – hosted by our University of Calgary chapter – was no different.

The conference followed months of planning and a well-coordinated promotional blitz. Here’s what happened next.

Thursday, March 1
We landed our first press with a piece in OpenFile Calgary. In his article, James Wilt interviewed Carlos Negraeff, the head of our University of Calgary chapter, and they discussed our conference in light of Bill C-10, which would introduce mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes and other charges.
Friday, March 2

The conference kicked off with a screening of the film Cocaine Unwrapped, telling the story of cocaine and the people who use it, smuggle it, enforce the laws prohibiting it, and are otherwise affected by the drug and its trade. The movie led into a Q&A session via Skype with Zara Snapp, the international liaison for our partner organization, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, who lives in Mexico and was able to shed some light on the suffering the cocaine trade has caused in that country.

Saturday, March 3
The first full day of speakers and workshops, with 80 attendees in-person and more participating online, watching our first-ever livestream or following on Twitter and Facebook.
This tweet said it all:

Using the conference to promote Twitter and other online tools had been one of our goals. With chapters spread throughout our huge country, geography is not on our side, so we were naturally interested in ways to make it easier for people to connect online. The flurry of tweets, retweets and pictures with the #cssdp12 conference hash tag provided an important backchannel for conference participants, and a way for those watching from afar to get into the thick of the action.


The day started with our keynote speaker, Marliss Taylor from Streetworks (a harm reduction organization in Edmonton) discussing the long arc of history – including the Indian Residential schools – and how we ended up where we are today with drug policy.

Our next speakers went further into the theme of harm reduction, with slightly different backgrounds and perspectives.

Scott Bernstein, from the Pivot Legal Society in Vancouver, discussed InSite – which he had defended at the Supreme Court of Canada – and the swirling cultural trends that were affecting it and other safe-injection sites.

Donald Macpherson, director of the year-old Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and a CSSDP appointed member, gave a general overview of what drug prohibition had done to our society. Pointing to the criminal elements in the illegal drug trade and the recent deaths from PMMA-contaminated ecstasy, Donald laid out how our current policies are maximizing harm – not reducing it – and called for a new approach.

The third panellist, Jennifer Vanderschaege, talked about the difficulties of doing AIDS-related harm reduction work in rural Alberta with the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society. While there was plenty of frustration, she also related the surprising allies she’d found, and suggested that when doing things that are unpopular, sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

After the panel ended, the group split into two breakout sessions. Jen from CAANS did her second speaking bit of the day, discussing community responses to policy changes, while Heather Koller, from our Thunder Bay CSSDP chapter, showed how drug dealers (and other unlikely characters) could be used as harm reduction allies. After the workshop, Heather interviewed with the CBC for an article that was published the next day.

Time for some lunch, and then our afternoon panel, called “Talking about drug policy”. Who are the voices out there? What do they know? What don’t they know yet, that they should? How do you talk to them about it?

The first speaker, the University of Victoria’s Dr. Susan Boyd, presented on bias in how grow-op busts are reported. The mainstream media tends to portray grow-ops as run by organized crime; while many are, there is in fact a wide spectrum of different types: rural and urban, low-budget mom & pop operations, and more intricate setups.

The second speaker, CSSDP board member Karl Smyth, gave the audience a tutorial on how to talk about and debate drug policy. He pointed out the difficulties that come with challenging long-held beliefs, and the importance of finding common ground in values and beliefs.

The third speaker, Meera Bai, shared her experience in promoting harm reduction among evangelical Christians. A Christian herself, she has found that by understanding and explaining harm reduction work through Christian values, she has found strength and support among members of the religious community.

As in the morning, the panel then took questions from the audience and online. The following exchange I had with Meera showed the possibilities for dialogue we had opened up by bringing the conference online:


Gotta love technology.

Time for a break. Click here to for Part 2!

#ForoDrogas in Mexico City Looks North – Zara Snapp

#ForoDrogas in Mexico City Looks North – Zara Snapp

Note: this is a guest post by Zara Snapp, international liaison for SSDP – Students for Sensible Drug Policy, our American sister organization. You can learn more about Zara by reading her bio or following her on Twitter (@zarasnapp).

Two weeks ago in Mexico City, the organization Mexico United Against Delinquency (MUCD in Spanish) held a large forum on drugs and the need for a shift in drug policy. Several factors made this forum different from others held in the past.
In the first place, MUCD is a primarily conservative organization, started by high-class folks who were beginning to feel the effects of both delinquency and the increased violence related to drug trafficking. They began to demand greater accountability for crimes and have been working towards lowering the high impunity rate in Mexico (currently at 98%). It is interesting that the issue of drug legalization has begun to creep into the discussion of businessmen and entrepreneurs. Traditionally, the public discourse regarding legalization has been kept within academia and activism. When you looked around the Forum, there was a mix of participants, activists, high-class “señoras,” academics and businessmen. In socioeconomic terms, it might have been the most diverse conferences I have ever attended.

The second factor that made this conference stand out was the curious inquiry into different international models—with a focus on Canada. While the conference also featured Mexican academics, politicians, activists and practitioners, several of the speakers were either Canadian or mentioned the Canadian drug policy model as one that could be duplicated. Participants were impressed with the story of Insite, the supervised injection site in Vancouver, and how it was politically possible through actions by practitioners such as Donald MacPherson (Note: Donald sits on our CSSDP Board of Directors!) While injection drug use is not the primary policy concern in Mexico, harm reduction strategies are entering the general discussion and folks are working to deal with both the increasing consumption and the hugely increasing transit of narcotics to the north. During the conference, we also heard from a former Vancouver police officer who shared that he had not been trained to instill fear, but rather to help people. This is in sharp contrast to the Mexican context where most folks are afraid of cops, who are seen as extremely corrupt.

Looking North – beyond the United States, to Canada – is something that is happening more and more in Mexican drug policy circles. There is a growing realization that while the United States may not act on these policies, we can begin to develop a regional strategy: collaborating across Latin America and Canada will yield greater results than just complaining about the regressive policies of the United States. This weekend, CSSDP will be hosting its 5th annual conference in Calgary. For those of you who want to learn from the Canadian model, both the accomplishments and the challenges, but can’t make it all the way up north (like me) – you can watch the conference through livestream right here! Good luck, enjoy the conference and get ready for action afterwards! Abrazos from Mexico!