Update from Europe, Part 1: Berlin

Update from Europe, Part 1: Berlin

by David Hewson

Guten Tag from Berlin, Germany. It’s a great city and the weather is gorgeous, so the lure of a patio beer was unavoidable.

I’ve been in living and working in Germany since September, which has given me the opportunity to see another country’s drug policies first-hand (check out the blog post I wrote last fall, about the relative peacefulness of drunken Oktoberfesters).

I’ve also had the chance to travel and meet a lot of different people in the drug policy reform movement. It brought me to the UK last month (full update coming!), and it’s why I’m in Berlin now.

My trip has also shown me the power of putting yourself out there and making connections, and the role that students can play. So apart from just telling you what I’ve been up to, I also want to tell you how things came together in the first place.

Here’s what’s been happening:

Meeting with Frank Tempel


Wednesday, May 23

photo credit: Frank-Tempel.de

My trip to Berlin happened because Annie Machon, the director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Europe, invited me to join her in a meeting with Frank Tempel, drugs spokesperson for “Die Linke” party in Germany, and a former police officer who has become one of the outspoken critics of drug prohibition in German politics. He seemed like a natural ally for Annie and LEAP Europe – like LEAP members, Frank has used his own personal story to show people the harm caused by his actions as a drug law enforcer, and the need for change.

Apart from the fact that I speak German and could help translate, Annie was also excited to have someone from Students for Sensible Drug Policy present, because of the way LEAP and SSDP have worked together in North America. Many LEAP speaking events in the USA and Canada are set up as speaking tours at SSDP chapters, and a complementary relationship has emerged: LEAP speakers provide an element of authority and credibility to the students’ drug policy reform message, while the SSDP chapter structure make speaking tours work financially (speaking tours instead of individual engagements brings down costs) and the energy to make the events a success. LEAP is hoping that something similar can happen in Europe.

The meeting went very well: Annie and Frank quickly saw eye-to-eye on the issues and the role that law enforcement officials can play in the drug reform debate. They agreed to stay in contact and take advantage of the different things they’re working on, including LEAP co-founder Jack Cole’s visit to Berlin in June.

Click here to see what Frank’s website had to say about our meeting (in German).

How the meeting happened

Annie (left) and Jason Reed, director of LEAP UK (right), spoke at the SSDP UK conference in London, which I attended (full update coming!).

photo credit: Joseph Tynan

At the conference, I made it my goal to ask at least one good question per speaker, so that people would:

1. know that I exist,
2. remember me, and
3. see that I had something intelligent to say.

I asked Annie a question and then talked to her in person at the end of her session; she found out I was living in Germany and spoke German (ding ding ding!), and asked me to join her on her trip to Berlin.

If I hadn’t spoken up, I never would have had this opportunity.

And how did the Frank Tempel meeting happen in the first place?
Annie received an email forwarded through LEAP USA, from a university student in Hamburg named Florian, who was in contact with Frank Tempel and familiar with LEAP. Florian thought it would be good for the two organizations to meet, and emailed his idea to LEAP USA. Annie agreed, contacted Frank, and the meeting was arranged. It was that easy.

Sometimes what you know can seem completely obvious – but to someone else, it’s a revelation. All Florian did was throw his idea out there in the world. Again, if you don’t speak up, nothing happens.

(Final, interesting note: there’s a Canadian connection here – Annie was recruited into LEAP by David Bratzer, a Canadian LEAP member in Victoria, who has spoken at our CSSDP conferences! Here’s a video of him discussing LEAP at our 2009 Vancouver Conference.)

Meeting with the German Hemp Association (Deutscher Hanf Verband)

Thursday, May 24

photo credit: Deutscher Hanf Verband

On Thursday, May 24 – i.e. today – I met with two members of the German Hemp Association, Georg Wurth (left) and Max Plenert (right – I’m in the middle). Both have been working in drug activism for over a decade, and accumulated a ton of experience along the way.

We discussed the situation in our different countries (I got a familiar “what the heck is Canada doing?!!!” when I told them about Bill C-10), LEAP in Europe, and the role Germany and Canada can play in what happens next.

Some interesting points to pass on:

1. Because of its own experience with Nazi authoritarianism, Germany has developed excellent freedom-of-speech legislation, and its citizens tend to be much less complacent about free speech issues in the UK or America. This makes it attractive to organizations like LEAP Europe that have a controversial message.

That said, there are still things that get in the way of people speaking out. German police unions can be very hierarchical, and lower-level police officials that speak out against drug prohibition are often harshly rebuked. This, of course, shows the role that LEAP can play in providing a platform for law enforcement officials to “come out” against prohibition.

2. German society is, in some important ways, very decentralized. This creates challenges for drug reform advocates, but also provides some opportunities.

Firstly, Germany’s different regions seem to go their own way on drug policy issues, so there are different things happening around the country. If you’re the German Hemp Association, this makes it hard to coordinate things nationally, and if you’re Annie Machon, it’s hard to know who to talk to as you get LEAP Europe started. There’s also not one, but TWO national police unions – one that’s more progressive and open to a new approach on drugs, and one that’s more conservative, and isn’t.

But the regional differences also provide opportunities. For example, while very conservative parts of the country like Bavaria seem completely uninterested in drug policy reform, Hamburg has a safe-injection site, and the conservative mayor of Frankfurt has defied her party and promoted more humane drug treatment policies.

Another difference: universities.

North American students’ lives are often centred around their universities; in addition to studying, they often live on-campus, play sports, go to parties – and attend events like the ones held by SSDP. They are a natural recruiting opportunity for activist organizations, and even non-students from around the university often get pulled in.

German universities tend to be more academics-only; the students live off-campus, play sports in unassociated clubs, and have fewer on-campus events. For Georg and Max of the German Hemp Association, it means that they’ve had to hustle for every new member, since they don’t have the natural funneling opportunity that universities provide for SSDP in North America. But the way I see it, the people they do get are more likely to stay engaged once they graduate, which is an issue for SSDP.

3. Like many reform activists I’ve met, Georg and Max are frustrated by the fact that people just don’t seem to get the injustice of it all.

Getting people to see that it’s unjust to criminalize people for nonviolent drug offences is a German problem too. From their perspective, the only recent example of the public outcry against law enforcement actions was when police used water cannons and pepper spray against people protesting the placement of a new train station in Stuttgart. The reason? The injured were largely middle-class, and that’s different – and newsworthy.

Again, this is where LEAP Europe can play a valuable role, by bringing attention to injustices that are often ignored.

How the meeting happened

Quick updates were key.

Two hours after our meeting with Frank was over, I logged onto Twitter and found this:

 

So basically:

1. Frank’s website already had a report of our meeting, and
2. Georg and Max tweeted it, then found me on Twitter, and wanted to know if I could meet with them.I called them, set a time for today, and that was it.
This wasn’t the first time things happened via Twitter; the Scottish Naloxone interview I did in April also came together that way (more information in my UK update, coming soon!). So I guess the take-home message is, you get a lot of opportunities through Twitter – if you can manage the constant stream of information without losing your mind!
All in all, a good couple of days: interesting possibilities, new allies, and a renewed respect for speaking up, both online and off. Try it. Exciting things can happen.
Chapter event:Know Your Rights at the University of Western Ontario

Chapter event:Know Your Rights at the University of Western Ontario

by CSSDP

Our University of Western Ontario chapter held a great event on February 29th – and in the pre-conference excitement, we forgot to tell everyone about it!

Kudos to Geoff and the rest of the UWO chapter for pulling it off with style. Here’s the update Geoff sent in:

“Just wanted to share that we had a “Know Your Rights With the Police” event today, where we screened a copy of BUSTED: A Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters from the FlexYourRights Foundation, then had a local criminal defense lawyer come in as a guest speaker. Attendance could have been better, but we had a solid group of 20 students who were very interested and engaging during the Q&A session with our guest speaker lawyer afterwards. Attached is a picture of our CSSDP club executive with our guest speaker. We plan on making this an annual event, hopefully attracting a larger audience next year!

I’m sure your probably already aware of FlexYourRights, but if not check them out. Their DVDs make a great club event that is relevant to members but outside the box of just talking about drug policy reform.

Geoff”

If you want to get in touch with Geoff or learn more about the UWO chapter, please you can email him at gruddoc@uwo.ca.

Response to Niagara high school drug searches

Response to Niagara high school drug searches

by CSSDP Board

Last week in the Niagara Regional Police, using police dogs, were sent to eight high schools in coordinated searches coinciding with “420”.

Article: Police search eight high schools for drugs 

OVERVIEW: the police searched eight area high schools, identifying 22 students who were in possession of drugs, or who were determined to have recently used them. Police seized drug paraphernalia, steroids, marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, and charged one young offender with possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Some say that searches like this are necessary, because it’s unhealthy for high school age students with still-developing brains to take drugs. If that’s the case, why do we continue to take a crime-and-punishment approach to this problem? Is there a better way to address the fact that youth are taking drugs, without compromising their futures with a criminal record?

Here are some specific problems that we have with searches like these.

Safe Learning Environments?
A few stoned students might be disturbing their own learning, but we seriously doubt that any of the students who had recently consumed cannabis were as detrimental to their peers’ learning as a police raid complete with sniffer dogs. From an educator’s perspective, that would be massive disturbance to the school environment. Asking students to resume learning after what must have been an exciting, and for some, a traumatic experience, is a tall order.
Is it right to disrupt the learning of an entire school, in order to take punitive measures against end drug users?

Criminalizing Youth
A high school student caught with cannabis, who could be selling it to his/her peers, is a far cry from the organized crime that the federal government claims to be taking aim at with the recently passed Bill C-10. Had the youth charged been just a bit older, he would be facing adult charges and a mandatory two year sentence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act 5(3)(a)(ii)(C).

Deterrents Undermine Trust
The use of deterrents like drug dogs assume that youth are untrustworthy. They undermine the ability of educators and youth to build relationships built on honest dialogue.

What do YOU think about drug dogs and searches in high schools? How can we make schools safe and nurturing spaces for learning – including a judgment-free discussion about drugs?

NOTE: the picture above is not from recent Niagara drug search (we couldn’t find a picture, sorry). It is taken from an article about similar searches in New Zealand. To see the article, click here.