The Sensible BC effort aims to redirect policing funds from needlessly prohibiting marijuana and prosecuting users. After 2013’s failed attempt for a referendum, where 200,000 signatures were collected but fell short of the minimum requirements, this years brings renewed effort. In the past, some supporters were afraid that information would be released to the government and refused to sign up, despite their cannabis use which had an impact on the number of signatures on the petition for a referendum in 2013. For those a little hesitant to supply any personal information, the Week of Action requires nothing but a phone, and the willingness to tell your story (and a blocked caller ID for the very wary).
Will this campaign change Health Minister Rona Ambrose’s mind? Founder Dana Larsen says that it’s not likely, however, “it is a show of strength for our movement. It gives people a place to focus their unhappiness and makes a point to her and her staff.” Wondering how to get politicians talking about sensible drug policy? Pick up the phone, and talk! Get involved with Sensible BC and help the Health Minister understand why marijuana and drug policy reform is beneficial to the health of Canadians.
The irony of having a “high” level debate on drug policy escaped no one, except maybe the member states present at the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday May 7th. The High Level Thematic Debate (HLTD) on the 2016 Special Session on the World Drug Problem was the first of many conversations at the United Nations General Assembly leading up to UNGASS 2016. Yet with long speeches read from carefully crafted written notes, there very little room for debate. Civil society voices were notably absent from the morning dialog, until the afternoon when just two were allowed to address the global assembly. How do we get to a higher level, if the majority of member states seem still stuck on the process of how we should be creating a dialog on drug policy instead of talking about drugs themselves? Some were absent from the debate entirely.
While High Level Thematic Debates are common within the UN, there was a high sense of urgency in the air as the debate took off Thursday morning. During the morning session Yesid Reyes Alvarado, Minister of Justice and Law, Colombia urged the UN General Assembly to decriminalize drug use and not just focus on demand reduction. Mark J. Golding, Minister of Justice of Jamaica also gave powerful statements urging the UN General Assembly to reconsider cannabis within the international treaties and allow member states greater autonomy in scheduling. The European Union, Argentina and New Zealand all included harm reduction in their statements, which was refreshing given the majority of countries do not acknowledge it as an essential public health intervention. Russia also made some hilarious statements about starting a drug policy scientific institute, when there are peer reviewed journals citing the destructive effects of the domestic drug policy which bans Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST), and how it has cost countless lives nationally and now in newly annexed Crimea. Most exciting part of the morning was the panel, “Achievements and challenges by Member States in countering the world drug problem” which included Ruth Dreifuss, Member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy and Former Swiss President and Milton Romani, National Drug Board Secretary, Uruguay among others pushing for change. As well, civil society representative Sandy Mteirek, Advocacy Coordinator at Skoun, Lebanese Addictions Center (pictured above) also gave powerful remarks in the afternoon on the impact of drug policy on people who use drugs in Lebanon. The full statements are available on the CND Blog for further reading.
What was clear from the HLTD was a strong desire that discussing drugs would not just be business as usual, but that a frank honest debate was needed. What transpired was the exact opposite, mostly including recycled statements from the Commission on Narcotic Drugs last March. While we may think of the UN as a well-oiled machine, there are several barriers to having an open honest debate on drugs. One barrier that came up frequently was the lack of funding for civil society engagement, despite all efforts to include them. Even member states were short on resources to prepare, as drugs are not apart of the normal duties of Permanent Missions based in New York. It is frustrating to see the UN in action, as young people expect that policies at the UN level should be less dictated by politics (i.e. we don’t vote for our diplomats), but more on evidence-based policy. Despite the rhetoric of “evidence-based” drug policy, there was little mention of harm reduction despite being International Harm Reduction Day last Thursday. UN member states are tied to their governments in power, so as much as they try to stick to the evidence, they’re limited as to what they can say on behalf of whatever government is in power at the time.
Canada is a perfect example of that, as the rhetoric of the Harper Government once again prevailed in their statements albeit diplomatically. While the speech was not too different than CND, there were a few points worth noting. Once again Canada acknowledged the prevalence of New Psychoactive Substances, and the importance of drug monitoring systems to track and produce alerts to the public. While Canada was focused on protecting youth, their strategy of investing millions in Public Service Announcements (which aren’t evidence based) is ironic, especially with such little funding available for youth treatment or harm reduction services. Finally, Canada stressed that legalization and decriminalization efforts underestimated organized crime, once again a statement lacking supportive evidence.
It’s clear that while some progress is being made on the global level, we have a lot of work to do before we get to a frank honest debate based on evidence. One can hope for several scientific panels from the various UN bodies at UNGASS 2016 next spring, including the World Health Organization and UNAIDS whose voices have often been side lined at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna. Despite the tension present, it’s clear that the UN General Assembly in New York is a much more neutral space for debating drug policy then the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna. While it will take a lot of diplomacy to get the UN to reconsider how drugs are controlled on an international level, this is certainly a start in the right direction.
On International Harm Reduction Day the UN General Assembly High-Level Thematic Debate on Drugs begins an international dialog leading up to UNGASS 2016. While most member states can agree that the so-called war on drugs is not achieving its original goals, as civil society gathers to witness the dialog from the peanut gallery there is little hope that harm reduction will be a substantive part of the dialog leading up to UNGASS 2016. That being said, yesterday’s Civil Society Hearing had a huge focus on harm reduction, which brought the knowledge from the front lines of the war on drugs to the halls of the United Nations.
The hearing started off with Shoshana Brown, Director of Health and Support Services for the Washington Corner Heights Corner Project. Shoshana stressed to the audience the importance of harm reduction services in meeting clients where they’re at and connecting them with other support services. Elena Goti, Representative to the UN Organizations in Vienna, Dianova International discussed prevention programming to not just look at drugs but also address the social determinants of health, with a focus on alternative development including food security and social enterprise activities to empower impoverished communities. Olga Guzman Vergara, Advocacy Director, Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights illustrated the situation of the War on Drugs in Mexico, including tens of thousands of lives lost and disappeared.
Next up was Nazlee Maghsoudi, former Chair of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy and newly appointed Knowledge Translation Manager at the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy. Representing the interests of youth, Nazlee laid out the concerns of young people who use drugs in her presentation, specifically focusing on Article 33 of the Convention on the Rights of a Child. According to Article 33, “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties.” In her statement Nazlee argued that prohibition has not only failed to protect children and youth from using substances, but has actually resulted in increased availability, higher purity and lower prices of substances. Watch Nazlee’s full statement below as she calls for decriminalization of young people who use drugs, as well as harm reduction services without age restrictions.
Finally, Farah Diaz-Tello, Senior Staff Attorney, National Advocates for Pregnant Women described the abysmal human rights situation for women who use drugs in the United States who are threatened with forced treatment programs and prison for “chemical endangerment of a child”. Diaz-Tello stressed that the crack baby myths of the 80s infiltrate into political hysteria, resulting in elected officials pushing legislation based on fear instead of evidence. All panelists agreed that a human rights approach to drug policy is essential, as criminalizing people who use drugs reduces in poor health outcomes. It was an incredibly powerful panel, and it’s unfortunate that more member states were not there to witness to the experiences of civil society.
Today the High Level Thematic Debate is in session, with many civil society representatives preparing to give statements to bring these voices to the United Nations General Assembly. Many Member States especially from Latin America have already been pushing for a sensible dialog on drug policy which includes public health and human rights. Outside the United Nations in response to the recent executions by Indonesia for drug trafficking a protest was organized to honour International Harm Reduction Day. CSSDP will be reporting back on the High Level Thematic Debate on Drugs in full, so tune in for more reports from the United Nations General Assembly.
CSSDP will be attending the UN General Assembly for the first time for a high-level thematic debate towards the UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS), scheduled for April 2016.
UNGASS is only a year away, and represents a potential turning point for global drug policy reform. The last UNGASS was in 1998, and the upcoming meeting was pushed to occur sooner than later by Latin American presidents pushing for reform in an effort to create dialog on the war on drugs. The idea of achieving a drug-free world is antiquated and even the most conservative member states like Canada admit failure in doing so.
As the war on drugs crumbles from the inside, many countries continue to be disproportionally impacted by its violence. The irony of the U.S. taking some of the first steps towards cannabis legalization is incredibly symbolic on a global scale. While most decisions on global drug policy are made at the UNODC Headquarters annually in Vienna at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, these upcoming meetings are an opportunity to think outside the box of “drugs and crime” and reflect on other outcomes of progressive drug policy such as health and human rights.
UNGASS is not just a chance for member states to engage in dialog, it’s also an opportunity for the various bodies and “organs” of the UN to digest this terrible situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. We can all agree that the war on drugs is a failure, and some member states are starting to listen! That’s an incredible opportunity for civil society to engage in dialog, and we’re starting to do just that. CSSDP has met with the Canadian Delegation at CND to voice the concerns of Canadian youth and we’ll be doing that again alongside the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Not only are we meeting with our government to discuss our concerns, we’ll be representing youth globally at the Civil Society Hearing! Nazlee Maghsoudi will be representing both Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy as well as the International Centre for Science and Drug Policy in her new role as “Knowledge Translation Manager” this afternoon. Tomorrow begins the debate itself, which we will be covering through our blog series. Coincidentally tomorrow is also International Harm Reduction Day, so we hope that it will be a topic of debate!
Please check this blog daily to stay up to date on what is happening in New York, and make sure to follow CSSDP on Facebook and Twitter for frequent updates!
Spirits were high at the 17th Global Marijuana March in Queens Park in Toronto. The gathering marks an end to the “High Holidays”, which unofficially began on April 20th at Dundas Square for 420. This year’s march was a first for me and in spite of the underlying political tension that unfolded, the overall atmosphere was one of celebration. Acoustic guitars and bongos were abundant, though certainly not in numbers comparable to the elaborate marijuana mechanisms that smoked, vaporized and tailored optimal digestion of THC in every conceivable way. Cannabis was sold openly throughout Queens Park North in a variety of forms, from edibles to dabs. Marijuana themed superheroes were common, with a special appearance by “Peter Parkour” who showed up at the CSSDP table to discuss one of the ever-present topics of the day: decriminalization vs. legalization.
Though there was more or less consensus on the simple fact that current marijuana policy in Canada is inadequate and harmful, the views on how to make reform happen and what it would look like when accomplished were diverse. Advocates of decriminalization are quick to claim that prices would rise unreasonably if cannabis were to become legal, while the positive effects of full regulation, such as preventing easy access of psychoactive substances to developing brains was a convincing stance taken by many a legalization enthusiast. Undoubtedly, either option is better than the present state of affairs. While the legal nuance of cannabis policy was a topic of casual conversation, differences in how to go about effectively implementing changes of any kind turned out to be the source of a much more apparent and literal divide.
Marc Emery returned to Toronto as the Grand Marshall of the Global Marijuana March, accompanied by Jodie Emery to speak to the present and future state of cannabis culture and activism. Though there were many that were excited for the return of the Emerys, their presence was a point of contention. Some claimed that Marc Emery has outgrown his title as “Prince of Pot” after controversial statements at this year’s 420 Vancouver celebration about youth and cannabis, as well racist remarks at the annual conference hosted by CSSDP.
Making such claims as having smoked with “hundreds of minors” at a political rally is probably not the most effective way to advocate for cannabis legalization. There were also claims made by Hashmob that Marc and Jodie Emery were “fooled into acting as rally cops”, keeping the march moving quickly and efficiently and thereby minimizing impacts of the activists’ efforts. The end result was effectively two separate Global Marijuana Marches, which elicited such sentiments as “you march, we protest”. One group marched behind the parade float blasting hip hop, while the other chanted loudly in order to make their presence known by disrupting intersections for as long as possible. While slowing the march worked for those who couldn’t catch up with the float, other disabled marchers complained that they had to be on their feet for too long. While Jodie Emery danced with other women leaders behind the float, Marc Emery was notably absent as the Grand Marshall as he posed for photos behind the hashmob instead of protesting.
It is unfortunate that such a divide had to occur as it reflects poorly on cannabis culture and could easily serve to harm the cause in the long run. Without working together it might prove difficult to achieve evidence-based drug policy that focuses on minimizing existing harms and maximizing potential benefits. If you’re interested in learning further about the events at the march, you can get a fairly good idea of the background controversy through Jodie Emery and Matt Mernagh’s exchanges on Facebook and Twitter. Though the march began with close calls and near arrests, as it returned to Queens Park when 4:20pm rolled around it was hard to notice anything short of cannabis camaraderie. Activists and entrepreneurs from all walks of weed were spreading their message, which was inevitably some variation on the message. Lets change policy!
The turn out at the CSSDP Toronto table was impressive! Transform Drug Policy Foundation donated “How to Regulate Cannabis: A Practical Guide” which is a useful and well received resource. We were lucky to share a table with NORML Canada, who are currently campaigning in support of the Liberals after their recent promise to legalize and regulate cannabis. Part of NORML’S current campaign tactic includes sending thousands of postcards to Stephen Harper from marijuana users demanding the end of marijuana prohibition, which resulted in quite a bit of entertainment throughout the day!
While there is certainly much work to be done in the fight against marijuana prohibition and the Global Marijuana March was an inspiring occasion to attend, there is still much room for positive growth both in policy reform, as well as the cannabis community. Interestingly, a very possible legislative threat to Ontario cannabis culture comes not from the cannabis legalization debate itself, but from the realm of e-cigarettes. Bill 45, which has an unnecessarily extensive reach on the regulation of vaporizers of all kind threatens not only the sale of all vaporizers online, but the display of such products in stores as well. It could also be applied to target and shutdown vapor lounges and social clubs with the overall impact of eliminating jobs and businesses. This is an important piece of legislation that should certainly not be without opposition as it would serve only to set back any attempts towards a sensible policy on cannabis and the surrounding culture. Now more than ever it’s time for the movement to work together to push legalization forward, as we’re at a critical point. Though tensions were high at the Global Marijuana March, hopes were as well! Instead of fostering division, hopefully in the coming years the march will be a day to celebrate the successful efforts made in support of the 2.3 million cannabis users in Canada. While it’s not quite time to parade yet, if we work to create an inclusive cannabis culture where all voices are valued we can achieve change together.