Frustrated with Canadian and international drug policies? Want to do something about it? Well, you’re in luck! CSSDP will be electing FIVE new members to the Board of Directors at the next Annual General Meeting (AGM), taking place during the 7th Annual National CSSDP Conference. As a member of the Board of Directors, you will be responsible for furthering CSSDP’s objectives at the national level. You will have the opportunity to do really amazing and cool things, like representing CSSDP at conferences, making presentations on behalf of CSSDP to members of the government, attending drug meetings at the UN, and much more! The AGM will occur on Saturday, February 28 from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM. Check out the AGM event on Facebook to find out more details, including whether you are eligible and what you should do to prepare!
With the wave of backlash again Health Canada’s anti-marijuana campaign, the rise of unrest among Canadians who are sick of the government’s unwavering anti-cannabis stance is certainly reaching a tipping point. Even more recently, their ads liken cannabis users to “zombies”, sealed with a young, innocent girl in pink sunglasses.
I am certainly tired of the media treating young people like they’re too incapable to really understand a realistic representation of drug use— the underlining fear that exposing young people to honest drug education would lead to more drug use. I hate being the target of fear mongering cannabis advertisements, paid with tax dollars, filled with inaccuracies, where attempts to impose a narrow view about drugs, especially cannabis, have failed. Now more than ever, these advertisements have made me even more interested in the cultural and moral frameworks that surround drug policy in Canada. Young people have a right to honest, open education about all drug use and effects. Information and realistic drug education is how youth protect themselves and engage knowledgeable decision making which includes a thought to harm reduction strategies, such as the availability of drug testing kits.
For example, I know that current scientific evidence shows that cannabis use will not lead to psychosis, but that there is an increased risk for those who are predisposed to mental illness. In fact, cannabis has shown promising potential as an effective anti-psychotic medication for some. I also know that the war on drugs rhetoric often relies on this “myth” to make people believe that anyone is susceptible to schizophrenia once they smoke cannabis – it just takes that one time and your life will fall to the equivalent of an egg smashed to bits by a large iron pan.
I know that smoking cannabis, on a scale of relative harm, won’t make me ‘stupid’ or any less motivated to complete my degree and get a job. And yes, relatively conventional people, young and old, smoke cannabis. If we are speaking about the harms of common substances, I would argue alcohol, which is regulated and available legally, is more destructive and is linked to more evidence of social harms than cannabis, and many other substances– unless you count the war on drugs itself and its destruction on communities, families, and individual lives.
I know our government places more time and effort in enforcing morality then approaching drug policy from a public health approach. Rather than give young people the tools to make informed choices, they are focused on perpetuating outdated stereotypes about cannabis harms. They continue to ignore the conclusions repeatedly drawn by academic researchers, drug policy experts, and front line workers, to name a few. They warn us, but refuse to give us any harm reduction tools.
I know that legalization does not mean a “free-for-all”. We really don’t have to be afraid of it because there are a variety of different models legalization could take. In fact, regulating cannabis properly will keep cannabis out of the hands of children, and really take the jazz out of the black market, among other things. Recently, studies from the US are showing that legalized cannabis has actually decreased teen use. We have lessons from our own medical cannabis programs, along with models from states in the US and other countries, that could help us actualize a realistic and safe approach to legalization.
I know that the CCSA found that 25% of youth smoked pot, proving Canada to have one of the largest youth populations who use cannabis. But, probably not that surprisingly, most of these young people go on to be law-abiding, conventional citizens.
I know that cannabis has some promising medicinal benefits, and that these benefits are continuously left unacknowledged by our government. We’re only just beginning to tap into the potential of what this could mean for the way we treat things like chronic pain, epilepsy, PTSD, cancer, and the roles it could play in things like addiction treatment and palliative care. Patient experiences are important.
I know that when The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health tabled a report entitled, “Marijuana’s Health Risks and Harms”, which makes relatively little mention of anything but the risks, I interpreted this as propaganda, rather than a fair representation of both sides of a story produced after carefully weighing all the evidence presented by a variety of different experts.
Lastly, I also know that youth around the world are mobilizing. As a member of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, we are moving towards engaging youth from chapters around the world to strategize for the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session 2016. Our 7th Annual National Conference, “A Rising Revolution: Drug Policy Reform Around the Globe”, will be held in Toronto this year, and this is one strategy we are using to get young people together in one place to talk about drug policy, along with drug research experts like Dr. Carl Hart and Donald MacPherson, and strong activist voices like Dana Larsen, Marc Emery, Adam Greenblatt and Jodie Emery. Surely cannabis policy will be a deciding factor for many young people this election, and we want to see policy guided by principles of public health and harm reduction.
Dr. Carl Hart, Author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society”
Associate Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Columbia University
Ayesha Mian, President, SSDP UK
Marc Emery, Prince of Pot, Cannabis Culture
Jodie Emery, Candidate for Liberal Party Nomination, Vancouver-East
Donald MacPherson, Co-author of “Raise Shit!: Social Action, Saving Lives”
Executive Director, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
Dana Larsen, Director, Sensible BC
Scott Bernstein, Open Society Foundations
Toronto Crime Stoppers put out a PSA recently raising awareness of adulterants in Molly. While the PSA was pretty funny, it didn’t provided accurate information on adulterants found in MDMA or any harm reduction information on how to screen for potentially dangerous drugs. Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) advocated for factual drug education, so we’ve dubbed this video with some of the many new psychoactive substances discovered in Canadian MDMA through EcstacyData.org. The UNODC has tracked 348 new psychoactive substances between 2009-2013, thus reinforcing the need for drug checking services to screen out potential adulterants. Finally, we’ve edited the video credits to encourage young people to test their MDMA and created a list of Harm Reduction Resources. There have been a number of deaths across Canada related to adulterants, so it’s time to take action! Share this video, remix it yourself, download CSSDP’s Drug Checking Brief and be sure to buy a testing kit at www.dancesafe.org!
Download the Press Release: https://cssdp.org/uploads/2015/01/CookinWithMollyPressRelease.pdf
Download CSSDP’s Policy Brief on Drug Checking: https://cssdp.org/DrugCheckingBrief.pdf
Download the TPS Video to Remix: https://cssdp.org/Remix/
UNODC 2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment: http://www.unodc.org/documents/scientific/2014_Global_Synthetic_Drugs_Assessment_web.pdf
The recent drug-related death of a young woman in Australia, combined with news of increasing MDMA purity levels in the UK highlight the need for pill and drug testing to be more widespread at festivals and club venues to reduce the harms associated with drug use.
In a recent article for The Conversation, Professor Alison Ritter, a drug policy specialist at UNSW Australia, outlined six reasons why Australia should pursue a harm minimization strategy of testing pills and other party drugs in order to ensure people know what they are taking is safe. Among the arguments put forward are that such initiatives have been shown to impact on the black market — ensuring that dangerous substances are taken off following warnings to users — and had a positive effect on users’ consumption habits in some cases. Furthermore, it increases our understanding about exactly what substances are on the drug scene.
Ritter’s proposal couldn’t have come at a more pertinent time, published in the immediate aftermath of the death of a 19-year-old girl at a festival in Australia from a suspected ecstasy overdose. As Ritter states:
Of course, critics will argue the [pill testing] measure will “send the wrong message”. But the messages we’re currently sending are that we don’t want informed consumers and we don’t want to reduce harm from illicit drug use.
Pill testing is not a particularly novel idea, having been rolled out through a number of local initiatives across European countries including Spain, Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. Additionally, there are similar ways of drug checking in the USA, Canada and Colombia. However, by no means is the practice widespread despite its obvious benefits of harm minimization.
In Amsterdam, some form of drug checking scheme has been around since the early 1990s, with The Independent reporting in 1995 on the organization “Safe House” which had been running since the late 1980s, testing pills for party-goers on site at events. Today there seems to be less of a presence actually at events but people can still send drugs off for analysis in the Netherlands, with the results available within 2 weeks.
Boom Festival in Portugal is a more recent example of this form of risk management. Kosmicare has been at Boom since 2002 providing a similar service of advice on the dangers of drug taking and drug checking facilities. These include harm reduction techniques, risk minimization, support during bad or intense experiences, facilitation work, and a team of 30 multi-lingual volunteers including psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health assistants and medics. So far there has never been a report of a drug-related death at the festival.
As far as the possibilities for anything like this in the UK, most efforts have been restricted to amnesty bins, a scheme seen at festivals and one trialed at Manchester’s Warehouse Project following the drug-related death of a man in September 2013. Unlike on the spot pill testing, amnesty drugs means those deposited in a designated bin, or confiscated by security. In the case of the Warehouse Project, these are subsequently tested, and if a worrying substance is found, warnings are put out on social media and on screens at the venue for potential users.
As a result of testing conducted on amnestied drugs from UK festivals this summer, experts such as Professor Fiona Measham have discovered that the purity of MDMA in the country has risen threefold compared to a few years ago, something which may explain the uptick in ecstasy overdoses between 2010 and 2013, reported The Guardian. Evidence like this arguably makes the case for on the spot testing and warnings even stronger.
Of course, as Professor Ritter notes, implementing such initiatives is by no means a panacea; people will continue to take drugs without seeking out advice on what they are, or indeed how best to take them. However, putting in place measures — providing information on purity levels, drug composition, dose recommendations — that can help people significantly mitigate the harms associated with use can only be beneficial. Recreational drug taking is a part of the club and festival scene, a fact that isn’t about to change anytime soon.