Regulating “New” Drugs

Regulating “New” Drugs

Lisa Campbell

At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs last month, one topic that had delegates buzzing was New Psychoactive Substances.  While technically “New” Psychoactive Substances are as old as global drug control laws, the rush to increasingly schedule substances combined with the proliferation of internet drug culture, has led to an explosion of new unscheduled drugs over the past few years.  Some of these drugs have been used as medicine in indigenous cultures, or trialed by pharmaceutical companies for a variety of essential medicines ranging from anaesthetics to anti-depressants.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report (2013) New Psychoactive Substances were created to, “exploit loopholes in drug control legislation has been a problem since the international drug control system was first established. The proliferation of such substances in recent decades was influenced by the work done by Ann and Alexander Shulgin on phenethylamines and tryptamines in the 1960s and the 1970s. The Shulgins reported over 230 psychoactive compounds that they had synthesized and evaluated for their psychedelic and entactogenic potential. More recently, a number of piperazines, synthetic cathinones and synthetic cannabinoids emerged, which were marketed as ‘legal’ alternatives to controlled substances.” 

Source: UNODC Early Warning Advisory on NPS, 2013

Despite these drugs not being new per se, their widespread recreational use and creation of new isomers and analogs has exploded globally with over 348 substances identified as of 2013. As such, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs included NPS  in Resolution 55/1 in 2012, Resolution 56/4 in 2013, and a new resolution in 2014 building on the prior two resolutions (as well as the 2014 Expert Consultation on New Psychoactive Substances) to address drugs that remain outside the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 with the aim of preventing potential threats to public health. Countries have rushed to identify NPS through early warning systems based on the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), but the amount of new psychoactive substances are increasing faster than governments can restrict them. The data generated by increased monitoring of NPS should be used for public health rather than to further criminalize the people who use them.

In North America, NPS are better known on the street by terms such as, “legal highs” or “research chemicals,” essentially substances that have been labeled “not for human consumption” to get around the law.  In the media they are known by sensational non-scientific branding such as “bath salts,” “spice” and “plant food.”  The first media headlines started coming out in the 2000s, with police units across North America blaming criminals “bath salts” for psychotic behaviour. The case of the Miami zombie attack, an African American man was murdered by the cops while chewing off someone’s face, with the police claiming in their defence that he was crazed on bath salts.  Once the coroners report came back negative for bath salts, the media myth had already propagated itself in the mainstream public’s consciousness as many believed that legal highs lead to psychosis. In North America there have been polarized approaches to fighting NPS, from decriminalization of all substances in small amounts in Mexico, to the state by state and federal rush bans of various classes of NPS in the United States.  While Mexico’s approach to decriminalizing drugs was not in direct relation to NPS, this could arguably be a trend towards acknowledging that the war on drugs is futile and we need to push resources towards public health services rather than criminalization. This blogpost will examine Canada’s approach to regulating NPS, as well as different policy frameworks available to further reduce the harm for young people who use drugs.

Canada has been moving at a sloths pace to regulate these substances, placing Ketamine in Schedule I in 2005 (arguably a NPS according to the UNODC) and in 2012 also rescheduling  MDMA as Schedule 1, along with amphetamines and some previously Schedule III cathinones (β-keto amphetamines), such as MDPV but not Mephedrone. Ironically, these cathinone drugs are of the same chemical structure as Bupropion (3-chloroNtert-butyl-β-ketoamphetamine), one of the most popular anti-depressants and  smoking cessation aid in North America.  Bupropion is so widely available that it is sold over the counter at some pharmacies in Canada.  For further understanding the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA)’s definitions and interpretations of amphetamines and their isomers and analogs, please see this detailed report by Isomer Designs.  Due to the vague language of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act many Canadian based vendors to stay open and until recently there have been very few charges. Most recently one of the longest running legal high companies Izms and PurePillz have  had charges laid by the Toronto Police, leading to a widespread fear of future crack downs on other legal high companies, including synthetic cannabinoid manufacturers.  That being said, there is no legal precedent for considering synthetic cannabinoids a controlled substance in Canada, so the charges will probably not stick in court.  Even if vendors were to go down, with the globalization of drugs happening online any Canadian can find a lab online to produce a new drug that goes beyond the substances scheduled in the CDSA.  This ban does not protect young people who use drugs, as the substances are still widely available for cheap online and remain unregulated.

NPS are important as their very existence wears away the myth that the war on drugs has a chance of working, as the second that a member state places a ban on a substance several new legal analogs pop up to take its place.  In countries which actively drug test their population like the US, synthetic versions of drugs like cannabis increase in proliferation and present new risks.  Due to mislabelling of these legal highs and lack of regulation, in some countries there have been several related emergency room visits.  Oftentimes these legal highs will find their way into illicit drugs like MDMA, actually increasing the risk of overdose.  Obviously this trend in NPS is a concern to not just member states, but also young people who use drugs and harm reduction services globally.  We need a rational approach to NPS that is evidence-based, and need to stay away from media hysteria and look at objective policy approaches to reduce drug related harm. In increasing monitoring on NPS we should be using this data for public health rather than working to further criminalize the young people who use them.  Lucky for us, there is already more than one member state responding to NPS in a way that is targeted at improving the health of people who use drugs. In order to come up with a new approach to regulating drugs, we will explore two evidence-based policy solutions for reducing the potential harms of New Psychoactive Substances; creating a legalized and regulated market for NPS, as well as increasing access to drug checking for party drug users.

Drugs, drugs, drugs

Legalize, Regulate, Educate

New Zealand has taken a completely opposite approach to New Psychoactive Substances, as they found that despite the rush to ban them they could never keep up with the amount of new drugs on the market. As such, they have introduced a new regulatory process where producers and vendors of legal highs will be licensed by the state as a means of protecting the health of consumers.  Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation met with CSSDP Outreach Director Lisa Campbell to talk about the future of a legalized and regulated market for NPS:

Test it Before you Ingest It

ChEckIT TentAs we collect more and more stats on the rise of New Psychoactive Substances, it’s essential that our health services catch up to these emerging trends.  Fortunately for us, Vienna has had services geared towards party drug users since the 90’s, through ChEckIt, a public health service created in partnership with is a joint project of Suchthilfe Vienna and the Clinical Institute of Medical and Chemical Laboratory Diagnostics – Vienna General Hospital, funded by the Addiction and Drug Coordination Vienna nonprofit GmbH and the Federal Ministry of Health.  Similar to North American public health services for party drug users like TRIP Project and DanceSafe, ChEckIt provides access to harm reduction information and supplies, with an special focus on access to drug checking both onsite and at dance music events to keep young people who use drugs safe.  The results of their testing are posted publicly through a colour coded system both at the events at which they’re doing outreach, as well as at their Homebase.

CheckItPillzCanadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy had the great experience of visiting ChEckIt’s Homebase with Donald MacPherson from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, as well as our colleagues from SSDP UK & SSDP Ireland.  Not only does ChEckIt do High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC)  and LC-MS to do drug checking at parties, they also have a community space where they run harm reduction group programming, as well as access to mental health services like counselling and addictions treatment. Instead of  punishing young people for taking NPS, ChEckIt empowers Austrian youth to know what’s in their drugs.  One of the biggest dangers of NPS is the increase in mixing, as dealers increasingly turn to research chemicals to avoid law enforcement and save costs as shortages in precursors lead to price hikes.  Many drug policy experts do not realize that supply reduction leads to an increase in the production and consumption of NPS, as well as cuts in traditional dance drugs like MDMA and Ketamine.  As such, ChEckIt has a warning system designed to alert users on the number of adulterants, testing for hundreds of different substances in under 10 minutes.  For more on drug testing, check out the TEDI Project Guidelines for Drug Checking Methodology, developed by the EU funded Nightlife Empowerment & Well-being Implementation Project. It’s clear from the above alternative policy approaches that another way is possible for protecting youth through decriminalizing drugs and putting public health information in the hands of young people who use them.

National Actions

National Actions

Please check out how you can get involved in transforming drug policy in Canada! On April 1st Health Canada attempted to change the medical marijuana laws adopting the new Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) program, punishing patients by taking away their right to grow their own medicine and forcing them to destroy all marijuana produced through the old Health Canada program. Luckily thanks to the MMAR Coalition Against Repeal, the government has been forced through the courts to backtrack  their decision until the trial is resolved.  Despite this huge win for medical marijuana activists,  Sensible BC is continuing with plans for a National Day of Action on April 1st and we encourage everyone to get involved!  We have also included two petitions to advocate for sensible drug policy; one rejecting Bill C-2 creating more red tape for safer consumption sites, and another campaigning for a 911 Good Samaritan Law for overdoses.

Presenting at CND and Meeting Russell Brand

Presenting at CND and Meeting Russell Brand

Today was a very exciting day at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). Not only did we present on the SSDP International Panel, titled “Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalisation has Failed,” but we also participated in a press briefing with Russell Brand and asked him what he thought about the legalization and regulation of cannabis and other drugs.  It has been a busy week at the CND, and you can find a great video summary by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, featuring some of our favourite drug policy reformers and some key moments:

Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalization has Failed
The first presenter at our side event was Damon Barrett from Harm Reduction International.  He highlighted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child actually contains references to “protecting” children from drugs, yet criminalizing children for anything, as you would an adult is not appropriate. Is criminalization an appropriate legislative response to protecting children from drugs? What do we use to measure if criminalization has benefited children? Damon offered up four main questions  to consider:

  1. Has criminalization worked to reduce initiation? Even if it has, was there a less restrictive means at doing the same thing?
  2. Has it protected children whose parents use drugs?
  3. Has it helped to protect children from drug use in the community?
  4. Has it helped to protect children involved in the supply chain (from production to sales)?

From a child rights perspective, those questions have to be answered. “We have to protect children” is used on both sides of debate. We must run the policy through a child rights analysis.

SSDP International Panel at CND2014

Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ireland was next to weigh in on the panel, sharing a quantitative survey with eleven questions to understand drug use amongst youth. Their survey found that 92% of students have used legal or illegal drugs in the past and 65% have done so in the past week. 91% of participants know the legal status of the drugs they are using and 25% of participants have listed themselves as using illegal drugs. 10% came into contact with the law as a result of drug use, yet 78% of students that came into contact with the law did not change their drug use. Of the students surveyed, 44% of students think some drugs should be regulated like alcohol.

We had our opportunity to speak next. After giving a brief description of CSSDP, we emphasized that there is diversity in the students and youth involved with CSSDP throughout Canada, and we were happy to be able to share the I Am Campaign video by this month’s featured Chapter CSSDP Durham. We then outlined three concerns by youth involved in the drug policy reform movement in Canada:

1.     Loss of Lives Due to Resistance of Evidence-Based Harm Reduction Strategies

  • We are personally affected by the loss of lives amongst youth drug users.
  • In 2007, the federal Conservative government initiated the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS). Priority areas of NADS include prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Note that this does not include harm reduction. In 2008, the leadership of NADS was removed from Health Canada and relocated to the Justice Department.
  • Federal government has fought against InSite, a safer injection site in Vancouver. In 2011, a landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court of Canada to keep InSite open despite the Harper Government’s objections. The recent Respect For Communities Act is another effort to shut down InSite, as the Harper Government is making it more difficult for the clinics to open elsewhere in the country.
  • Julio Montaner, the director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said, “the evidence to date suggests that we lost the war…Because the reality is that InSite is open. But there has been not a single [additional] site opened across this country.”

2.     Canada Has Relinquished its Traditional Leadership Role in Drug Policy

  • Canada’s statement during the High-Level Segment did not include any mention of human rights, harm reduction, the use of the death penalty in drug strategies, or reducing the spread of blood-borne infections.
  • Medical marihuana laws have regressed, as the Harper Government has privatized the program, taking away patients right to grow and raising the price.

3.     Significantly Greater Focus on Prevention than Treatment for Youth… And No Targeted Harm Reduction

  • There are discrepancies regarding Canadian drug policy funding, both in regards to the total amount and the distribution of funding between prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement. An independent audit conducted by researchers for the International Journal of Drug Policy and a National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS) Evaluation – Final Report present different amounts and percentages. This is troubling for youth, as we would like greater transparency and accountability.
  • In an attempt to better understand the portion of the NADS budget that was allocated to activities targeted towards youth, as well as the division of such activities between prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement, an analysis of information provided in the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS) Evaluation – Final Report was conducted.
  • It was found that 98.2% of spending targeted at youth in the NADS seemingly goes towards prevention activities, and the remaining 1.8% goes towards treatment activities. This distribution of funds is troubling. On the ground, we feel the real effects of inadequate treatment funding targeted for youth.
  • Use of prevention funding is also troubling, as prevention activities are not presented through a neutral lens (examples include two websites, namely and CSSDP has launched campaigns in the past to combat this ( by providing evidence-based information to allow youth to make informed decisions about drug use.

Watch CSSDP’s presentation!

After our panel, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the press briefing with Russell Brand, and actually ask a question!  Before the briefing, he had the chance to speak with many delegates including member states and NGOs. Russell Brand mania swept the UN, as he continued to bash the war on drugs and advocate for the human rights of drug users.  While Russell Brand is in recovery and believes in abstinence-based education, he acknowledges that it is not a reality for everyone and that some people can use substances recreationally and still live functional lives without harming society.

Recreational drugs ain’t anyone’s business…

According to Brand, no one is helped by drugs being illegal, unless there is a conspiracy to continue to marginalize communities who are already oppressed. If the point is not oppression than there is no reason to continue this cycle of criminalization and death. Shortly after Russell’s spiel, an NGO representative from Moldova gave a statement on the situation in Crimea and how it will negatively affect people who use drugs.  There are over 800 methadone users in Crimea who will have their prescriptions canceled, and it’s important that there is a UN stance on this issue.  While Russell Brand is not a big fan of methadone, he did acknowledge that people can benefit from methadone as part of a journey to recovery.

Global drug laws need to change because thousands of people are dying.

Russell Brand with SSDP International United to End the War on Drugs

According to Brand, if people want to take drugs, that’s their business, and recovery is a solution for those who have problems.  We shouldn’t “quibble”, but stand together to end the war on drugs.  It is important that people who use drugs have options and the right to choose the lifestyle that suits them, whether it is continuing to use drugs, practicing harm reduction and/or being in recovery. The consequences of the drug war are deadly, including mass murder in Mexico and people being hung in Pakistan and Malaysia for drug-related offences.  Towards the end of the briefing, two members of the Canadian NGO delegation had the opportunity to ask questions. Canadian Drug Policy Coalition Director Donald MacPherson asked about Brand’s support for InSite, and CSSDP Outreach Director Lisa Campbell asked about ending the war on drugs. Russell Brand says he has nothing but respect for Liz Evans and her harm reduction program at InSite, which is a low-entry point model and was devastated to hear that the management was forced to step down.

CSSDP then asked him what he thinks about legalization and regulation of cannabis?  Can we take a similar approach to other drugs?  Watch his response below, and other key moments from the discussion:

Nazlee continued guest blogging for the CND Blog hosted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) today. She covered the side event we participated in and the Plenary’s tenth meeting, during which UNODC chairs discussed Item 9 a) b) and c), and opened the floor to discussion from member states. The following member states made statements during the Plenary: EU, Portugal, Thailand, China, Kazakhstan, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, India, U.S., Norway, and Canada. On the NGO side, Red Cross and the International Harm Reduction Association made statements. All of her posts are now available on the CND blog and have been linked for the convenience of our readers here. As is the tone of the CND Blog, Nazlee’s posts reported on exactly what was said in these sessions without adding personal reflection.

Protecting Young People (Who Use Drugs)

Protecting Young People (Who Use Drugs)

Lisa Campbell

On the final day of the CND High Level Segment, right before the Canadian Delegation presented their statement, I received a message informing me that my friend Junior had died of a drug overdose. Choking back tears, I had to force myself to focus on the task at hand in the name of advocating for sensible drug policy. In honour of Junior, I would like to dedicate this post to him, as I continue to believe that we must push for life saving services for young people who use drugs.  During the CND, we have strived to be diplomatic in our calls for drug policy reform.  Achieving this diplomacy is difficult when the lives of young people who use drugs are at continued risk because of ineffective drug policies.  Unfortunately, the Canadian Delegation neglected to mention human rights, the death penalty for drug offences, harm reduction or reducing blood borne infections in their statement.

That being said, Canada did mention that a multistakeholder approach is essential, including engaging civil society in ongoing dialogue leading up to UNGASS 2016.  Today, the Canadian NGO Delegation had the opportunity to meet with the Canadian Delegation to discuss some of our concerns at the CND.  In preparation for the event, both the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition created a briefing document titled, “Promoting Smart Policy on Drugs: Brief to the Canadian delegation to the UN,” which was sent to the Canadian Delegation in advance of the meeting.  Although we were unable to address all of the points in the briefing during the meeting, many of questions we were able to ask were not responded to by the Canadian Delegation as a result of  the Harper Government’s  National Anti-Drug Strategy, which limits government officials from acknowledging harm reduction as an evidence-based strategy for improving public health outcomes.

It is strange to see this phenomenon in action, but it’s not the first time I’ve witnessed official government representatives shying away from the topic for fear of reprisal.  While we were able to discuss other issues, the lack of harm reduction funding for programs targeted at youth has a real tangible cost.  It may seem like we are being nit picky about rhetoric, but not acknowledging harm reduction in federal policy (let alone on an international scale) means that young people who use drugs are left without services due to age restrictions and abstinence-based programs.  Talking about young people and drug use only from the perspective of prevention and enforcement means that treatment and harm reduction are sidelined and do not receive sufficient funds to meet demand.  In this blog post, CSSDP will be going through the briefing document point by point to outline the concerns for young people who use drugs, and also to summarize the information discussed during our meeting with the Canadian Delegation.

1. Encourage all countries to adopt a comprehensive public health approach to substance use
While this was not on the forefront of our meeting, it is essential that young people who use drugs are not further criminalized for their use. Some of the students we work with have been caught up in the justice system, often facing jail time or probation when they should be focused on their education.  One of our most active students found out that his sentence is coming up (facing 5+ years potentially) right when he passed his LSAT.  With mandatory minimum sentences, young people are more at risk for increased sentences if caught  in an area where other underage youth are frequenting.  Just because a young person uses drugs does not mean that they are a criminal, and we therefore believe that drug use should be seen as a public health issue rather than a criminal one.

2. Supporting countries’ flexibility to experiment with alternative, health-oriented approaches to drug policy
Although many countries find ways to be flexible with the conventions in order to provide health services like needle exchange, harm reduction interventions for non-injection drug users are lacking.  While we still need services for young people who inject drugs, programs like drug checking have not been scaled up to be accessible to all young people globally. Drug testing kits for adulterants are often seen as “drug paraphernalia” and testing drugs for your friends or in a public health service can be seen as trafficking. While cannabis is being legalized in some states, rhetoric around “adult use” excludes young people, pushing them into the drug courts where sentencing can be just as punitive if they are suffering from addiction and are unable to maintain sobriety.

3. Respect, Protect and Promote Human Rights
Young people who use drugs have the right to access harm reduction services.  Oftentimes this provision of health services can be moralized by governments, as the main arguments for drug prohibition is to “protect” children and youth, which often results in their punishment as opposed to support. While we did not discuss the exclusion of human rights from the Canadian statement during the meeting, we did touch on the issue of the death penalty being excluded from the High Level Segment Joint Ministerial Statement (JMS).  Shortly after the approval of the JMS, several states came together to clarify that they were strongly opposed to the exclusion of condemning the death penalty from the JMS, but unfortunately Canada was not one of them.  The Canadian delegation was very frank in addressing our concerns, stating that they had no qualms with opposing the death penalty, but that the Minister of Foreign Affairs office did not have time to approve signing onto the EU led statement calling on the death penalty to be abolished for drug-related crimes.

3. Ensure Full Access to Essential Medicines
This was the one point on which the Canadian government was all ears and very open to technical expertise from the NGOs present in our meeting.  We were lucky to have Jason Nickerson from the Bruyère Research Institute present to speak to the Draft Resolution put forward by Thailand on Ketamine. As the predominant anaesthetic in many developing countries, Jason was concerned that Ketamine has gone “out of favour” in the international stage due to its increasing abuse in developed countries. The concern is that as drugs become scheduled and controlled in low-income countries, they become inaccessible. Canada should take a leading role in creating inclusion around access to essential medicines.

While it is important that we protect global access to Ketamine as an anaesthetic, it is also worth noting that this drug has a growing recreational use amongst youth in North America, Europe and Asia.  Due to a rise in awareness by bodies such as the UNODC, there has been a reduction in supply, forcing the prices of this cheap generic medicine to skyrocket and increasing adulterants, including New Psychoactive Substances such as Methoxetamine, which can have a higher potential for overdose.  In the Canadian context, as prices increase, young people who use drugs sometimes resort to changing their route of administration to injection, increasing their risk of blood-borne infections.  We need to stress to member states that supply reduction does not necessarily lead to better health outcomes for marginalized youth, and that we need proper addiction services for synthetic drugs like Ketamine.

4. Promote the full engagement of civil society in drug policy discussion

According to Robert Ianiro, “involvement of civil society is critical.” The Canadian delegation stressed that it was Canada that had helped to draft the initial language of the Resolution on the inclusion of civil society. Rita Notarandrea, Deputy CEO of the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse (CCSA), is the  civil society representative on the Canadian delegation, and is a co-lead on many of the resolutions.  CCSA has a long history of youth engagement in creating federally funded youth prevention programs, yet the youth that they chose to engage are not necessarily young people who use drugs or marginalized youth.  In our meeting, we stressed that the inclusion of key affected populations is essential when discussing drug policy reform, such as young people who use drugs and street involved youth.  While scientific data is important, young people who use drugs have on the ground knowledge of trends, including the effects of drug policy.  Through the meeting, we learned that the CCSA sent out a questionnaire and presented summarized feedback from NGOs, but many of the NGOs present at our meeting did not receive it.  We need civil society engagement beyond online surveys, and one that reaches out to populations affected by drug policy and meaningfully engages them in a consultation process leading up to UNGASS 2016.

5. Concerns about the language of a “drug-free world”
Statements around aiming for a “drug-free world” are not based in reality, as it is increasingly recognized that the war on drugs is a catastrophic failure.  There is a great deal of evidence that indicates that rates of drug use are largely independent of drug control policies.  It is time for member states to redefine the measures of success for drug policies.  If the goal was shifted from eliminating all drugs to reducing drug related harms, we could focus on minimizing the negative impacts of drugs as opposed to criminalizing young people who use drugs.  This “drug-free world” rhetoric leads to policies like mandatory minimum sentences which disproportionally impact youth. Party drugs popular with young people, including Amphetamine-Type Substances, Ketamine and New Psychoactive Substances, are increasingly placed under Schedule 1.  Young people are curious about drugs, and we need to provide them with factual information on the harms so that they can make their own decisions and take control of their health.  If the focus is only on prevention, valuable harm reduction supplies are inaccessible.

6. Role of the World Health Organization
While Canada is officially opposed to the language of harm reduction, there is still a vague reference to these evidence-based public health interventions in the JMS. This arises by referring to the WHO, UNODC and UNAIDS Technical Guide, which states that such interventions have, “remarkably reduced the number of HIV infections, with some countries approaching the elimination of injecting drug use-related transmission of HIV.”  The NGOs present were interested in Canada’s specific concerns about the wording of harm reduction.  The Canadian Delegation enforced the government’s commitment to the NAS, and believed that prevention, treatment, control of production and enforcement are the tools they can use to curb harms.  That being said, they presented no issues to the technical guides, but were unable to address our questions as to why harm reduction itself was problematic.

On top of this important meeting with the Canadian Delegation, the CSSDP National Chair Nazlee guest blogged for the CND Blog hosted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) for the first time today. She covered the Committee of the Whole in the morning (which covered resolutions E/CN.7/2014/L.2 and E/CN.7/2014/L.8), and a side event titled, “COPOLAD: Evidence-Based Tools and Resources Available for CELAC and EU Countries” in the afternoon. All of her posts are now available on the CND blog and have been linked for the convenience of our readers here. As is the tone of the CND Blog, Nazlee’s posts reported on exactly what was said in these sessions without adding personal reflection.

Tools for Debate

Tools for Debate

Nazlee Maghsoudi


– Switzerland

Remember to keep checking our website for daily blog updates. We are also live tweeting all events we attend, so feel free to follow the conversation online on Twitter

In the Americas, the War on Drugs has had disastrous consequences, leaving countries like Mexico with over 60,000 dead, filling prisons with the marginalized and shattering the social fabric of communities.  Prohibition has arguably had a greater cost to society than the drugs themselves, and continues to fuel organized crime and violence.  Originally called for by Nixon in 1971, the war on drugs has been a catastrophic failure.  If any region has paid the price in terms of social, economic and public health outcomes, it has been Latin America, which is why it is no surprise that such member states are vehemently opposed to the continuation of prohibition.  As well, the war on drugs has been used as a tool for neocolonialism and to justify overthrowing governments in Latin America throughout the 1980s by Reagan.  Several Latin American member states have called for an urgent reevaluation of prohibition leading up to the UNGASS 2016 while at the High Level Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

Tools for Debate

Building on this movement of drug policy reform, the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States has produced a special report on the Drug Problem in the Americas, including Scenarios and Case Studies which can serve as tools for debate. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs these tools were presented to the world at a side event titled, “A Tool for Debate: The OAS Report on Drug Policy” organized by the Governments of Guatemala, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC).  The full report is available for download on the IDPC website in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. You can find a summary of the event on the IDPC blog. The report presents four possible future scenarios, acknowledging the potential outcomes from different approaches that OAS members can adopt to reduce the harms for drugs in their countries.

As many member states increasingly call for a flexible interpretation of the drug conventions, we can see that some OAS member states such as Uruguay are already experimenting with what the path forward could be.  Milton Romani, Uruguayan Ambassador pointed out that there is no one size fits all solution for the world, and that we need to respect countries’ culture, traditions and institutions within the framework of international cooperation.  However, HE Luis Alfonso de Alba, Ambassador of Mexico stressed that flexibility in the conventions should not be used for unilateral actions without discussing and evaluating the options with other affected member states.

HE Miguel Samper, Colombian Vice-Ministry of Criminal Policy and Restorative Justice praised the report for institutionalizing  discussions which were before “underground” and for opening up a dialog for elected officials to engage in the debate, not just ex-presidents.  The debate will not stop here, as over the next month Columbia is hosting 10 forums during which the report will be discussed.  Romani closed by pushing for frank debate  and an acknowledgement of the spirit of this comprehensive report at 2016 UNGASS.  We cannot accept the increasing levels of violence in states in the name of a war that does not respect human rights; we must develop alternatives.

But how do member states gather los cojones to challenge the drug conventions?  What are the recipes for success to developing alternative policy frameworks?  Open Society Foundations presented a panel in the afternoon featuring representatives from Czech Republic, Switzerland, Portugal and the Netherlands to share their experiences on developing alternative drug policy approaches centred on public health in their event, “Banking on Evidence: Drug Policy Experiences in Europe”.  Hosted by Joanne Csete, deputy director of the Open Society Global Drug Policy Program, this panel explored what elements were needed to lead to the creation of sustainable alternatives ranging from decriminalization to cannabis cafes to harm reduction services (such as needle exchanges and drug checking).  The panelists echoed that the key ingredients to sensible drug policy included having a a multistakeholder approach including civil society, experts, scientists, politicians and the general public.  For the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Portugal and Switzerland, drug use was controlled under the Ministry of Health, and as such a public health approach was developed. Switzerland pointed out that another advantage of tackling drug use from a public health perspective is that you can also include legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.

For each country, the motivation for reforming drug policies and public health interventions was different, ranging from reducing the spread of blood borne infections to preventing overdose to keeping the streets free of crime.  No matter what the motivation to change, the benefits of these reforms are clear through rigorous data collection and evaluation.  One clear message from nation states who are undertaking “flexible” interpretations of the conventions is that policymaking is a continuous process of tinkering and evaluation.  There needs to be a climate in society that is tolerant to change. Moreover, monitoring and evaluations must be used to ensure that these interventions are sustainable and resistant to political change.  For the Dutch, the coffee shop model for cannabis was meant to be a temporary solution while the rest of the world caught up to the times, but it has ended up enduring to this day.  On top of good infrastructure, the Dutch also pointed to the need for fostering debate on a municipal level so that policy was not a top down process.  Town hall meetings were an important element for dialog between sectors and led to long lasting policies. The Swiss emphasized that it was important for policies to come from the grassroots from key affected populations, including people who use drugs.

When the debate is hot it’s difficult to think of science.

– Czech Republic

It is clear that the drug conventions have been, and continue to be flexibly interpreted by member states.  While it is difficult for countries to challenge prohibition, there is a new consensus emerging in Latin America that this must be done.  The aforementioned European states serve as an example that another world is possible, and that member states feel confident in challenging international drug policy when negative outcomes arise.  Whatever emerges from the debate, it is clear that drug policies must be adapted to respect human rights, public health and the unique cultural contexts of member states.  Too many people have died over this war, and it is time to take money out of the hands of organized crime and focus on the overall health of society, including people who use drugs. While the debate is hot, we have lots of evidence on hand to support a public health approach to drug policy, including the latest scientific statement presented at the High Level Segment last week.

Take Control of Controlled Substances

Take Control of Controlled Substances

Persuading Opponents of Drug Policy Reform to Take Control of Controlled Substances

Nazlee Maghsoudi



Remember to keep checking our website for daily blog updates. We are also live tweeting all events we attend, so feel free to follow the conversation online on Twitter

Even on our Saturday off, we were still surrounded by innovative drug policy interventions! When strolling the streets of Vienna, we came across CheckIt, a nightlife harm reduction program that does outreach at parties, empowering recreational drug users with information on party drugs. CheckIt also provides onsite drug checking, detecting adulterants in substances and sharing the results with the community. The coolest thing about randomly coming across their office was that they had posters and fliers in the window from the TRIP Project that were so old that the colours had faded!  It was really cool for Lisa to see, as she has been volunteering with TRIP since she was a teenager and also had a CheckIt sticker on her office door for the years when she worked as the TRIP Project Coordinator.

Although the 57th Session of the Commission for Narcotic Drugs (CND) will officially begin on Monday (as last week was the High-Level Segment), we have an exciting blog entry today after attending two events put on by the NGO community. The morning event was an interactive workshop facilitated by Transform, Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia (MUCD) and Espolea, titled, “How to Constructively Engage with – and Win – the Debate on Drug Regulation.” The afternoon event was an International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) Strategy Meeting, where NGOs brainstormed in preparation for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) in 2016. The former event will be the focus of this blog entry.

As we have seen over the last couple years, the debate on regulation is no longer theoretical, and has moved decisively from the margins to the mainstream. It is no longer just former heads of state that are talking about regulation, but sitting heads of state are now involved, thereby giving the debate mainstream legitimacy. It is now more important than ever that activists advocating for drug policy reform be able to support and inform the debate on regulation in a coherent and positive way. The interactive workshop this morning strived to provide practical tips for doing so.

Regulation is the norm for risky stuff… prohibition is not.

Both extremes of drug policy, namely ultra prohibition and commercial promotion, have high levels of harm. In the former, control is in the hands of criminals and in the latter, control is in the hands of profit-oriented entrepreneurs. Regulation of risky products or behaviours is a primary function of government, as their fundamental motive is the public good. We are arguing for strict legal regulation by governments that is shaped by risk and environment, and therefore does not apply a one-size-fits-all model. Importantly, in a regulated environment, activities that are outside the regulatory framework are still prohibited (such as selling drugs to children). It is important to emphasize that we do not want regulation for illicit substances to go down the same path as alcohol, tobacco, or big pharma, which have many problems of their own. Instead of this global commercialization, we can learn from these examples and use the blank slate that exists with illicit substances to create a new and much more effective regulatory framework.

Begin the debate by finding common ground.

Before you get into a debate on regulation, find some common ground with your “opponent.” This can be accomplished by highlighting the shared aims regarding what drug policy should be doing. Policy aims that few (if any) will disagree with include; protecting and improving public health, reducing drug-related crime, improving security and development, protecting the young and vulnerable, protecting human rights, and providing good value for money. Once you have established this common ground, you can critique the current system and present regulation as a path that can be used to reach these goals.

Emphasize key messages to increase the persuasiveness of your argument.

In advocating for regulation, there are several key messages that activists should emphasize:

    1. Regulation is “retaking control.” We are not relaxing or liberalizing laws, we are not surrendering or weakening our stance on drugs, and we are not creating a free market. We advocate for retaking the market and retaking control!


    1. Drugs must be regulated because they are risky, not because they are safe. In the past, as many activists may have experienced, pro-drug arguments have undermined the drug policy reform movement and have had little traction. Approaching the debate from an angle that drugs are risky eliminates a key argument of prohibitionists, namely that “drugs are bad for you and must be banned.” Activists must emphasize that we are not “pro-drugs” but we are “pro-effective policy.” A world without drugs is not realistic, and although we agree that drugs are risky, we recognize the need to reduce the harms associated with inevitable use.


    1. Regulation is not a silver bullet. Often times, prohibitionists argue that advocates for drug policy reform believe all drug problems will go away with regulation. Activists must emphasize that regulation would combat and reduce the problems associated with drug policy harms, not drug use harms. Activists must be humble about what we believe regulation can achieve and over what time span. Activists should highlight the harms that will be reduced and the benefits that will arise in the short, medium, and long term. Over claiming is truly counterproductive!


  1. Change will be phased and incremental. Activists that frame their drug policy reform debates this way are able to challenge people’s concerns about overnight change. Instead, activists should emphasize that the path towards regulation will be an incremental, evidence-based process that is carefully evaluated and monitored.

Try using these tips to engage in a discussion with someone who is unknowledgeable about, or an opponent of, drug policy reform and let us know how it goes! Feel free to comment with strategies you have found to be effective in your experiences as well. Happy convincing!

What Was Done, What Was Said & What Wasn’t Said: Uruguay, Czech Republic & Canada

What Was Done, What Was Said & What Wasn’t Said: Uruguay, Czech Republic & Canada

Nazlee Maghsoudi


– Czech Republic 

Remember to keep checking our website for daily blog updates. We are also live tweeting all events we attend, so feel free to follow the conversation online on Twitter. You can also tune into the live webcast.

We continued to hear member states’ preliminary statements in the General Debate today at the 57th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Review. The Round-Table Discussion regarding Money-Laundering also took place. For a detailed account of the statements made at both of these events, please consult the International Drug Policy Consortium’s CND Blog at In addition to the official events, Uruguay held a press conference today to discuss their creation of the first regulated market for cannabis (exhibited in the photo above taken from @encod). The following is a reflection on selected key comments made during the events today.

Uruguay does what is best for their country and doesn’t play politics

Uruguay’s press conference provided a thought-provoking and convincing rationale for their creation of the first regulated market for cannabis. They approached their defense by providing a critique of politics, during which they stated, “Politics means convince people. When policies don’t show favourable results, our first instinct is to insist on our policies. We need to change.”  Uruguay recognizes that it is the government’s responsibility to not fall into this trap of politics. This very thought process led Uruguay to change their drug policies by creating a regulated market for cannabis. In the words of Uruguay, “We know that prohibition is not the answer because the evidence is overwhelming. The evidence is clear, so why don’t we change?” However, they are also not unconditionally committed to their new approach, as they stated, “If this does not prove to be the right decision, we will change again.” Evidently, Uruguay is committed to evidence-based drug policies and refuses to play political games, particularly when the cost of ineffective drug strategies is so high.

Uruguay stated that their decision to create a regulated cannabis market was based on three fundamental objectives, namely to go one step further than decriminalization, to assure cannabis users legal access to cannabis, and to combat the black market of cannabis. Cannabis is not intended to be a regular commodity, and Uruguay is working to increase the awareness of risks associated with cannabis by members of their population.

Uruguay was careful to emphasize that they “don’t want to be a model for the solution for this type of problem. This is the best option for [their] country, [their] people, and [their] situation.” The use of a state monopoly for the cannabis market is a strategy that is most appropriate to Uruguay’s unique circumstances. There are still many state monopolies in Uruguay, and in many cases, such as with alcohol, Uruguay has used a state monopoly first in order to maintain control. Moreover, all drugs are decriminalized in Uruguay. Uruguay asserted that four decades without penalization for the consumption of drugs created the foundation for this step. Hence, the regulated cannabis market has been designed in such a way to fit the specific needs of Uruguay. Yet, there is a key lesson that we can all learn from Uruguay, namely that “It is more difficult to control an invisible market than a visible market.”

Czech Republic agrees that times have changed since signing the first convention

The Czech Republic’s preliminary statement implicitly supported the actions of Uruguay.  The Czech Republic stated, “Policies should not be based on beliefs of a drug-free world, but rather must reduce the maximum risk and harms. We must adopt alternative regimes that are appearing on different continents… instead of trying to force those countries to dismantle those experiments or just being silent about it. We should actually appreciate the courage that they were the first ones to take this risk.”

The Czech Republic also emphasized, like we did in our blog post yesterday, that times have changed by stating, “In 1961, when we all signed the convention, the evidence was not very clear. We have the experience now… the policies where people die or get seriously ill should not be driven because of ideologies or wishful thinking. The idea for a drug-free world… was built on false assumptions and is not achievable. We have the evidence that a balanced policy, based on the protection of public health, is far more effective, and is more cost-effective. That is why, although we respect every country’s own policies… unwillingness of any country to look at the evidence is a threat to their own citizens and globally.”

Canada omits important themes and debates from their statement

Canada’s preliminary statement in the General Debate did not include any mention of human rights, harm reduction, or the use of the death penalty in drug strategies. In these ways, Canada has lagged behind other member states, who have been much more progressive in their statements (and in their actions). Canada did, however, discuss the importance of identifying and disseminating information on New Psychoactive Substances (NPS), as well as working with civil society and all stakeholders in devising strategies going forward. CSSDP, along with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, will be meeting with the Canadian representatives next week.

Similar Words, Conflicting Words, and Beautiful Words

Similar Words, Conflicting Words, and Beautiful Words

Nazlee Maghsoudi


– Spain Spokesperson

Remember to keep checking our website for daily blog updates. We are also live tweeting all events we attend, so feel free to follow the conversation online on Twitter. You can also tune into the live webcast.

The following events took place today at the 57th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) High-Level Review: the Round-Table Discussions regarding Demand Reduction, the High-Level Briefing of the 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing and the 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation, and the Round-Table Discussions regarding Supply Reduction. During the Round-Table Discussions, the General Debate was also taking place, during which member states made their preliminary statements. For a detailed account of the statements made at each of these events, please consult the International Drug Policy Consortium’s CND Blog at The following is a reflection on selected key comments made during the 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing and the 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation, and the General Debate.

Many first statements, including scientists, doctors, youth, and states, included the importance of harm reduction and the need to move drug policy outside of the criminal realm.

The 2014 UNODC Scientific Consultation highlighted that substance abuse disorder should be treated as a medical and public health issue, rather than a criminal justice or moral issue. States must stop incarceration for minor, non-violent, drug-related offences. In the words of Nora Volkow (Director General, National Institute on Drug Abuse, United States of America) “imprisonment does not equate with treatment.” Michel Kazatchkine (Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, United Nations) added that there is a “significant gap between what science has shown works, and what is in reality being implemented by countries in their policies.” He stressed that harm reduction interventions (particularly needle and syringe programs), in combination with opiate substitution therapy, are compelling strategies that indisputably reduce HIV and hepatitis transmission, mortality, drug dependency, crime, and therefore result in improved quality of life. Policies that hinder access to harm reduction must be reformed, as they result in stigma and policy displacement, which in turn undermine support for harm reduction. Harm reduction interventions are cost-effective and consistent with the UN Drug Conventions, but are not used widely enough.

The European Union (EU) agreed with the key points of the UNODC Scientific Consultation, as the EU’s experience and a multitude of robust evidence have indicated that harm reduction is effective and must therefore be used. The EU is a strong supporter of comprehensive drug strategies, and especially of risk and harm reduction.

Norway stated, “we know what works, we have to implement what works, and then evaluate our progress,” again emphasizing the gap between the lessons learned from evidence-based practice and drug policies worldwide.

Mexico’s statement emphasized that drug and supply demand reductions are not enough to solve the global world drug problem and these strategies should not cause outcomes that are more harmful to the social fabric than the problem they are intending to solve. Mexico will take this opportunity to enrich the existing pillars of supply and demand reduction with efforts that aim to prevent and reduce unintended effects. The new dynamics and approaches that have emerged in recent years should be analyzed and not denied, as these unilateral violations indicate that there is no longer consensus about international drug strategies. Only coordinated actions will enable us to respond to global challenges. Mexico therefore believes that states need to collectively generate strategies using a long-term perspective with the health and safety of society at the core in order to combat the world drug problem that transcends international borders. This change does not reject law enforcement, but recognizes the vulnerabilities that can lead to more harm than good.

Nevertheless, there were some clear divergences in perspectives.

Queen Silvia of Sweden advocated for zero tolerance of drugs and stated that the UN Drug Conventions are the best path to accomplish this as an international community.

The President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, claimed that the UN Drug Conventions have not waged a war on anyone. He advocated for a health-oriented approach and the use of scientific evidence in constructing drug strategies. However, in the view of CSSDP, his statement did not align with common understandings of public health and evidence-based approaches to drug policy, such as universal access to harm reduction. Raymond Yans argued that today’s situation resembles a time when the U.S. was panicked about drugs and resultantly created the UN Drug Conventions. He stated, “Is it not ironic that in a parallel time we are considering legalizing illicit substances for recreational use just because times have changed? Is it not common sense to control the supply of illicit substances and limit their production?”

CSSDP, as well as numerous other NGOs, disagree with what is implied by the question posed by Raymond Yans. Recognizing that times have changed means acknowledging that we are now more well-informed about the successes and the failures of our past drug policy approaches. While in the past drug policy was driven by ideology, with time we have learned that a new strategy may be needed.

As observers at today’s events, we felt at many times that contrasting opinions were masked by the use of similar language. Those that seemed to be advocating for reform, and those that were more content to stay with the status quo, used words such as “public health,” “evidence-based,” “balanced approach,” and “reducing harms.” It seemed that the intended meanings of words differed depending on the individual using them, thereby creating an illusion of consensus.

There were, however, some beautiful words heard at today’s events.

“We have to fight inequality and injustice before we fight [for] prevention.”

– Dr. Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

“Drug users are in need of love and recovery, not social exclusion and punishment.”

– Dr. Gilberto Gerra, UNODC

“In today’s world, there is no peace without development, and there is no development with respect for human rights. Health and human rights must be at the centre of the international drug control strategy.”

– Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations

“Drugs are a reality of our society, a world without drugs is not obtainable.”

– France Spokesperson

“The main objective should be oriented at not criminalizing poverty.”

– Argentina Spokesperson

“In December 2013 we created a regulated cannabis market. President José Mujica said that he was convinced that we were in an uneven war, which was costing Uruguay a lot of money to tackle drug trafficking. So what is worse, drugs or drug trafficking?”

– Uruguay Spokesperson

“Since 1961, the logic has been imposed on us to criminally control cannabis. We are moving away from the spirit of the conventions with a spiral of endless cycles of violence. All psychoactive substances should be regulated according to how toxic they are.”

– Uruguay Spokesperson

Featured Chapter: Durham College & UOIT

Featured Chapter: Durham College & UOIT

CSSDP at Durham College & UOIT has had a very busy school year! As of March, 2014, the chapter has raised over $300 for the national organization and a local harm reduction program through fundraising events.  In addition to this, the chapter has over gone massive organizational structure changes, adopting a flattened leadership style and an inclusive, anti-oppressive stance.  CSSDP@DC&UOIT launched their “I Am Campaign” in February at their large scale event which welcomed nationally acclaimed author and academic Dr. Gabor Mate at their Social Justice Week event, titled [Despair]ities: The Impact of Canada’s Drug Laws.  The chapter is looking forward to their school-year wrap up event in April, and benefit concert called “[Safe] Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll”.

Flattened Leadership, Inclusion, and Anti-Oppression

In an effort to make our club more inclusive and democratic, CSSDP@DC&UOIT has adopted a flattened leadership style which seeks to mitigate the advantages afforded to those with privilege and empower those without through democratic reforms and inclusive practices.  Our chapter will now have an elected executive committee which will serve a one year term.  Members are strongly encouraged to nominate individuals from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and from a diverse cross-section of sexualities, age, and abilities. The Executive Committee will consist of a minimum of five individuals; however more may be added at the will of the membership.  Gender parity on the Executive Committee is required and, of those who are elected to the Executive Committee, two spokespeople will be appointed by the committee (one man, one woman) for a one year term.  One Financial Officer and three Signing Officers will also be appointed by the committee for a one year term, and executive committee members will rotate the roles of minute taker and meeting chair.  The club had also adopted a consensus decision making platform which seeks the consent of all participants and it encourages compromise, inclusivity and group solidarity.

The CSSDP@DC&UOIT Chapter is committed to a working within an anti-racist, anti-sexist, and otherwise anti-oppressive practice and framework.  We recognize that drug policy does not exist in isolation from other broad social structures such as political, economic, and cultural systems, norms, and institutions. While we believe prohibition and other regressive laws hurt everybody, these policies and laws disproportionately marginalize the most vulnerable in our society.  Our chapter also aims to create a positive space for democratic meeting where all can participate meaningfully regardless of race, gender, sexuality, age, or ability. With this in mind, CSSDP@DC&UOIT has come to a consensus that as of the next school year, we will be dropping the “C” in “CSSDP” as to be more inclusive to the large amount of international students attending school on our campus.

I Am Campaign

In February 2014, CSSDP@DC&UOIT launched their “I Am Campaign”.  The video consists of images of students and youth across Canada holding signs that make “I Am” statements. The campaign is intended to highlight the diversity of drug policy reformists, express the common values that many of us hold, and combat the stigma that anti-prohibitionists face for the work they do.  We hope that the video will empower youth and students to come out of the drug policy reformers “closet”, and help to work towards a society where young people can speak the truth about drugs without fear of reprisal from their colleagues, employers, and families.

[Despair]ities: The Impact of Canada’s Drug Laws

CSSDP@DC/UOIT is proud to have partnered with Social Justice Week 2014 Steering Committee in this event. We welcomed Dr. Gabor Maté to deliver a 90 minute keynote speech on the impact of Canada’s drug laws.  A symposium-style panel discussion then focused on how visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples, women, and people living in poverty are disproportionately affected by the criminalization of drugs.

[Safe] Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll

[Safe] Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll is a benefit concert hosted by CSSDP@DC&UOIT, and STILL Promotions at The Wasted Space in Oshawa on April 25, 2014. The concert is intended to raise funds for the national drug policy reform movement, and local harm reduction programs, in addition to raising awareness about the need for drug policy reform, honest drug education, and harm reduction programming. The concert will host local, up and coming bands in the evening, and acoustic performances during the day. Tickets will be sold for $7, or attendee’s may pay $10 at the door.  Keep your eyes open for the event page for this event, which will be available for viewing shortly!

To learn more about CSSDP@DC&UOIT initiatives, email us at, or visit our Facebook page CSSDP@UOIT/Durham.


University of Toronto chapter

University of Toronto chapter

University of Toronto

We are the University of Toronto chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and believe that drug use should be an issue of public health, not criminal justice.

If you’re in Toronto, check out our Facebook group and come to our chapter events!

Send us an email:

2 + 5 =

NGOs Assemble at CND

NGOs Assemble at CND

Nazlee Maghsoudi


– Dr. Gilberto Gerra UNODC

Remember to keep checking our website for daily blog updates. We are also live tweeting all events we attend, so feel free to follow the conversation online on Twitter. You can also tune into the live webcast.

The Vienna NGO Committee’s 3rd Informal Civil Society Hearing was held today in cooperation with the UNODC and the WHO. This event marked the first gathering of NGOs for the 57th CND and High Level Segment. Two panels, as well as other speaker remarks, allowed for discussions on how we can together address drug abuse through a health-based approach as part of the International Drug Control Conventions.

The informative and interactive nature of the event fostered an environment of spirited and honest debate. This type of dialogue was consistently described as of paramount importance by many NGOs in attendance, notably by Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. We hope that these kinds of conversations continue throughout the 57th CND and High Level Segment.

There were two primary questions addressed at the Informal Civil Society Hearing, one to each panel. Both questions, as well as key takeaways from some of the panelists’ responses, are outlined below.

How do the International Drug Control Conventions accommodate a health-based approach?

Paul Rompani, Mentor International – According to the WHO, health is defined as “a state of complete physical and mental well-being.” This broad definition is useful, as it allows us to incorporate the prevention of problematic use of substances beyond those that are illicit, such as tobacco, alcohol, and inhalants. Although some prevention policies are effective, there is widespread use of ineffective and inefficient prevention practices and policies. To combat this, we must rigorously evaluate programs and policies.

Ann Fordham, International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) – A study conducted in 2008 found that levels of drug use in society are largely independent of the policy environment. It concluded that countries with stringent policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal policies. Hence, punitive policies lead to unintended consequences without reducing the use of drugs. The international drug control system is premised on the health and protection of humankind and there are some provisions in the conventions that allow for this. However, there are some clear limitations in the conventions, as penal penalties are prevalent, and flexible interpretation is not always done to the fullest extent possible by signatory states. If we are serious about health, we need to get serious about harm reduction. We must ensure that we have harm reduction measures for people that use drugs, rather than a singular focus on preventing drug use. Harm reduction is applicable to the drug market as a whole, not just to drug consumption, as we cannot eradicate the market at all costs. Striving to do this is at odds with protecting the safety, and the health, of our communities. Perhaps a fifty-year-old treatment framework is not appropriate for the challenges we are facing today. Government positions are polarized and the difficulty of reaching consensus means an honest debate is needed. We must call on the CND, the UNODC and the INCB to get serious about putting health at the centre of the conventions and the international drug control regime.

Fay Watson, (EURAD) Vice-Chair, EU Civil Society Forum on Drugs – A drug strategy is most effective when comprehensive and consisting of the following seven elements: Prevention, Early Detection and Intervention, Risk and Harm Reduction, Treatment, Rehabilitation, Social Integration, and Recovery. Additionally, we must be cautious of applying evidence from one country to another country, as social and cultural differences have an impact.

Using 2014 Momentum to get 2016 Right: What specific areas of policy or practice should be further explored leading up to UNGASS?

Allan Clear, Harm Reduction Coalition – It is time we take harm reduction seriously. Harm reduction is evidence-based and has been proven to work. The amount of money that the community impacted by drugs receives (i.e. that goes towards harm reduction) must be scaled up. We are not asking for new money. We are asking for reallocation and smarter use of available funds by scaling down ineffective arrests and incarceration.

Eliot Ross Albers, International Network of People who Use Drugs – Two bodies of international law, namely human rights law and drug control law, exist in parallel universes. Drug users are the most vulnerable and the most marginalized people in society, and they are the ones that experience systematic human rights abuses as a result of our drug laws. Repressive drug policies fuel the repression, stigmatization and incarceration of people who use drugs. We need to review drug control laws to acknowledge their divergence from human rights. We need peace for drug war prisoners!

Kevin Sabet, Drug Policy Futures – We need a better integration of public health and criminal systems. It is not a simple solution of legalization, as people enter and re-enter the criminal justice system for crimes beyond simple drug use. However, the crimes are directly or indirectly related to their use. We therefore must find a balance between mass incarceration and legalization.

Thanks for reading! We had a great first day at the United Nations in Vienna, Austria and are looking forward to the next week and a half.

How to Create Social Change

How to Create Social Change

Step 1: Ask yourself, “What change do I want to see in the world?

Do I want to…    end stigma against people who use or are dependent on drugs?

change local, provincial, or federal drug laws?

help people who are harmed by drug use or drug policies?

Finding your answer to this question can help focus your efforts.

Step 2: Ask yourself, “What is the best way to achieve this change?

Is it by…    changing the minds of voters or politicians?

increasing funding for a program?

spreading awareness about a particular problem?

providing people with accurate and helpful information about drugs?

Many people have opinions regarding this question and will say that this or that strategy is a waste of time. The truth is that no one knows which efforts will result in meaningful change. What’s important is your own answer to this question and that you pursue accomplishing it.

Step 3: Assess the skills and resources you have. 

If you can….




speak another language


organize an event

write music

build a website

If you have lots of…



valuable knowledge

valuable experience

Step 4: Think about how use them to achieve your desired change.

– Call your local MP’s office, ask for a meeting, tell them what change you want to see happen and why
– Write us something for our blog, write a letter to your local MP or newspaper

– Learn about drugs or drug policy and share your revelations

– Translate some valuable info into another language

– Draw a cool picture that we can use on our posters and keep in our website’s resources section
– Organize a panel, debate, conference, concert

– Write a song about how much the drug war sucks!

– Improve CSSDP’s website

– Share info you get from CSSDP’s Facebook page with your friends

– Make a donation to CSSDP, or put your money into another project you like

– Write it into a speech or presentation

– Share it in a blog post


Step 5: Work to achieve the change you want to see. 
Sometimes it’s difficult or impossible to assess the effect your efforts create. Don’t listen to the naysayers who will tell you that your efforts don’t accomplish anything. Social change does happen, but it doesn’t happen by itself. What’s important is that you try and keep trying to create the result you’re looking for. There are tons of resources online and within CSSDP to draw from. Connect with our other members and be part of the movement!

CSSDP Is Going to Vienna!

CSSDP Is Going to Vienna!

Nazlee Maghsoudi

CSSDP has officially launched their first involvement in international drug policy! Thanks to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (, CSSDP has secured two seats to attend the 57th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) & High-Level Segment. This meeting will be taking place in Vienna, Austria from March 13 to March 21.

Why is the meeting so important?

Every year, international leaders from around the globe meet, along with the participation of civil society organizations, to debate drug policies. This year’s meeting includes the High-Level Segment, during which  member states will review the progress made, and the challenges encountered, since the 2009 Political Declaration and Plan of Action on the World Drug Problem. The main focus of the High-Level Segment will be the negotiation of a ‘Joint Ministerial Statement’, as well as recording member states’ views of progress. The High-Level Segment only occurs once every ten years. It is especially important this year, as it will set the stage the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS), which is hoped to be a turning point for the UN Drug Conventions.

2013 saw the first direct violations of the UN Drug Conventions by Washington State and Colorado and by Uruguay through the legalization and creation of a regulated market for cannabis. Although the United States can argue that they are still in compliance with the UN Drug Conventions, as signatory countries are required to comply with the conventions subject to their constitutional limitations, their role (and the perception of their role) as father, designer, and main supporter of the international drug control regime is sure to change. Uruguay’s overt violation of the conventions will surely generate varied responses, although their defense and how other states will respond remains to be seen. This is an incredibly important meeting, as it will reflect the changes that have been occurring in drug policy reform internationally.

Who is representing CSSDP?

Lisa Campbell is the Outreach Director for CSSDP. As the former TRIP! Coordinator and having worked as the manager of a needle exchange, Lisa has worked with a diversity of young people who use drugs and continues to advocate for drug policy reform across the globe. She has a plethora of experience in drug policy reform, having served as the Senior North American Representative for Youth RISE’s International Working Group, and her knowledge on drug policy reform, current international legislation and its effects on young people who use drugs will be a valuable contribution to the CND.

Nazlee is the Chair of the Board of Directors for CSSDP. Nazlee’s specific interest and expertise is in the international drug control regime and the UN Drug Conventions. She is a Master of Global Affairs student at the University of Toronto and is therefore quite familiar with international policymaking. She first became interested in drug policy reform when she heard Donald MacPherson speak at a conference during her time as a Commerce student at Queen’s University. Nazlee is super excited to be attending this meeting, as it is an exceptional opportunity to see what she has studied so closely in practice!

What will CSSDP be doing while in Vienna?

CSSDP will blog every day on what they are witnessing and learning in Vienna by summarizing, analyzing, and reflecting on all the events they attend. Please check back regularly to stay up to date on what is happening in Vienna!

CSSDP will be participating in a side event presentation with members of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) from around the world and members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The title of this side event is “Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Prohibition Has Failed.” For those in attendance at the meeting, the side event will take place on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 from 1:10 PM to 2:00 PM in Conference Room MOE100.

Nazlee will be acting as a guest blogger for the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC). Check out their blog at for detailed information about the meeting and all the preparatory sessions that have taken place!

Simon Fraser University chapter

Simon Fraser University chapter

Simon Fraser University

We are the Simon Fraser University chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and believe that drug use should be an issue of public health, not criminal justice.

If you’re nearby, check out our Facebook group and come to our chapter events!

Send us an email:

3 + 9 =

Durham College/U.O.I.T.

Durham College/U.O.I.T.


We are the Durham College/UOIT chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and believe that drug use should be an issue of public health, not criminal justice.

If you’re in Oshawa, check out our Facebook group and come to our chapter events!

Send us an email:

13 + 3 =

Thunder Bay Region

Thunder Bay Region

We are the Thunder Bay region chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and believe that drug use should be an issue of public health, not criminal justice.

If you’re in Thunder Bay, check out our Facebook group and come to our chapter events!

Send us an email:

4 + 7 =

Kwantlen Polytechnic University chapter

Kwantlen Polytechnic University chapter

Kwantlen Polytechnic University

We are the Kwantlen Polytechnic University chapter of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy!

We advocate for the decriminalization of drug use and believe that drug use should be an issue of public health, not criminal justice.

If you’re nearby, check out our Facebook group and come to our chapter events!

Send us an email:

11 + 9 =