An Interview with Dessy Pavlova, Chair of the Board for CSSDP

An Interview with Dessy Pavlova, Chair of the Board for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In brief, how did you get involved and get an interest in Canadian drug policy?

Dessy Pavlova: When I was in high school, I went to an alternative school. It was a school where people using drugs went to become educated. It was for people who could not function in a regular school environment, whether possession or skipping classes.

I was out of the hospital for a back operation. There were a few people with chronic disabilities or mental health issues. It was a cool school. We had time to socialize with other students there. We were free to stay all day. So, I would stay all day.

I met people with drug problems through TRIP Toronto. I did not get too involved with them because I was not going to events. There thing is outreach events. Through them, I found CSSDP.

I was about 18. When I graduated from the high school, I went to York University. I started the York chapter there. It was not successful, but it segued into being more involved over the years.

In 2015, I attended a CSSDP conference. I helped before the conference too. At the conference, we voted in a new board of directors. I am on the board of directors now. I have been active ever since.

Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come along with this station or position?

Pavlova: I am the chair. I have been treasurer and vice chair. I am the outreach chair, too. With vice chair, I was the support the other members in the board, especially the chairs. Sub-committee chairs need help. I was there to make sure things are streamlined.

In case the chairs can not do something, I will take the leadership role. As outreach chair, I coordinate the website and events with both the board and chapters. Anytime there are events. We are putting new features such as the calendar on the website.

It is exciting because it will be a way to put chapters across Canada in one place. You can see the event, buy tickets to the event, and help bring everybody together. I see that as my main role, bringing everybody together and then streamlining communication and collaboration efforts.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?

Pavlova: If we were to reduce it to one, it would be harm reduction, but connected to sensible drug policy too. It is not about reducing harm alone. It is about putting out the education for people to make informed decisions.

I found that successful. Education goes farther than politicians and older adults give credit.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

Pavlova: I hope we become more recognized and involved with the government. We are a good means for them to reach youth.

“Just Say, ‘No!’” does not work. I am glad. They are working with us, e.g. workshops and roundtables. They will be more in touch youth and help solve some of these social problems.

Jacobsen: The two major philosophies to implement in society at large are the punitive or zero tolerance approaches and the harm reduction approaches. What is preferable to you, and why?

Pavlova: The harm reduction approach is more effective. You see this. In anything that we have been told not to do and punished for, e.g. if you look at safe sex, we are told to not have sex as teenagers. The truth: I do not know a single teenager who does not have sex.

Now, the ones practicing harm reduction would have safe sex. They become educated. It is the same situation. If you bar a child from doing something, they rebel.

Jacobsen: In addition, there are family and child protective services. There are means through which negative family impacts on a child and on youth can be dealt with apart from outright punishment approaches.

Pavlova: Punishment approaches in general cause more harm by separating a child from their parent than educating both parent and child on potential harms and how to reduce them. The separation of families is not the way to do it.

Cannabis is not considered the neighbourhood menace. People did not want to sign the names on the chapter list because they were scared since they smoked pot that cops would somehow get their hands on the list.

Now, we are coming to the point where we accept it is not that great of a harm and lesser than putting people in jail. I have seen parent with very sick children go to jail, who are currently in jail, because they provided medicine to their kids. Cannabis is only one. The conversation starts here.

Jacobsen: We were talking about marijuana and harm reduction philosophies in practice in Canada, especially since CSSDP mostly advocates for harm reduction philosophies, mentoring youth, and educating youth and the public at large on these issues.

We have an inverted pyramid of harm and legality/illegality or licit/illicit drugs or substances. For instance, the common examples are cigarettes and alcohol are legal, but have huge costs to individuals, families, communities, and society at large.

Whereas, you have things like marijuana. It seems, according to the evidence, far less harmful. Yet, we place alcohol and cigarettes near the bottom of the non-harm pyramid, and they are legal, but marijuana is illegal is considered relatively harmless.

This is something that plays out in many domains and substances. What is the source of this misconception at large?

Pavlova: It is largely political. Those of us that have studied the history of drugs that cannabis along with opium were made illegal mostly due to racism through propaganda. As soon as we make something legal, the harms associated drop.

To me, it is amazing cannabis is becoming legal. I never thought about this as a possibility in my lifetime. I really didn’t. Being a medical patient, it is amazing to me. It brings opportunities.

So, it is about how things are portrayed. Once something becomes legal, it’s state in the eyes of the general public changes rather than because of the evidence.

Jacobsen: Based on your better knowledge of the history of drugs, you mentioned racism as a major factor. Not only certain drugs being illegal, even though they have more benefits than harms. What people and drugs were associated with racism and the illegality of drugs?

Pavlova: Now, I can’t say for all drugs, but when opium was a problem, specifically in Vancouver. It was associated with Chinese immigrants. Basically, we had immigrants coming to the country. Due to lack of work and structure of society, they were indulging in a lot of drugs. It was not them alone. Even now, Rastafarian people use cannabis, on a regular basis.

(Laugh)

It is white people who have made a medicinal community, where the value of that is even being brought to light. It has been 20 years of white people fighting to get it legal to show its medicinal value.

Same with opium. There are medicinal benefits to this, but the racism continues. That iss why it is such a problem. As we legalize, we need to keep that in mind because not allowing the people that have used such a substance culturally to be a part of it because of its previous criminal charges or not accessible financially is a problem.

It continues the racist cycle. We have the opportunity here to stop it.

Jacobsen: Two things related to one root. One is inertia to the past, which has impacts in the present. The other is the interactions in daily life with those that use it recreationally or therapeutically – how we behave, act, and so on, with them as well – will have impacts in the future in the way the inertia of the past is influencing us now.

It is a future-oriented responsibility. Any thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Pavlova: We have come a long way with drug policy. We have a lot of work to do. Even though cannabis is my own activist thing as a medicinal patient, this is not where the conversation ends. There are societal problems. We try to blame it on drug use.

The truth is that it is not because of drug use or irresponsible drug use. It is a symptom of a wider issue. The number one thing we can do to mitigate that symptom or alleviate that symptom is educate.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Dessy.

An Interview with Daniel Greig, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

An Interview with Daniel Greig, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get and interest in Canadian drug policy?

Daniel Greig: My interest is predominantly in the realm of psychedelics. I have, first and foremost, an academic and ethical interest in studying these because they have [a] potential for healing people [that] current medications don’t. So, we should be studying these substances.

I am in Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy on the side [as part of this project]. That’s how I got involved.

Jacobsen: If this is on the side, and now more in the main for you, what are your main set of responsibilities?

Greig: My main responsibility is research on psychedelics.

Jacobsen: What does the main research state on the therapeutic effects of psychedelics?

Greig: For psilocybin, there are a whole bunch of studies. There was one that has earned a lot of press. It finds lasting personality change from the transcendental/mystical experiences.

There s a measurable difference in people’s personalities in the domain of openness after a single use of the substance. The paper that this is in mentions the only comparable finding was 3 months spent meditating in the mountains.

That was the only comparable experimental manipulation to produce a measurable change in personality. It is good compared to other medications, which don’t show [nearly as profound] changes in people’s personality or behaviour.

There are [palliative] medications [that focuses on symptoms]. Psychedelics are not used [in this way and] produce measurable differences, rather than [effectively making people] ‘drugged up’ all of the time. That’s a good thing. People can [heal and] get off them.

Jacobsen: That makes me think. First, that’s remarkable. Second, many Canadians and more Americans don’t believe in evolutionary theory. Of course, evolution happened to produce us. An argument could be made that mind-altering substances could have a co-evolution with human beings.

Maybe, 10,000 years ago with the foundation of the agricultural revolution, even further with the Aboriginal Dreamtime narratives from 40,000 years ‘popping up’.

Could there be a decent argument made from the obvious showcase of changes equivalent to three months of meditation with psilocybin, and that we’re almost ‘wired up’ for these experiences?

Greig: Definitely, the psychedelic experiences are as much a part of the properties of the brain and [our] physiology as [they are of] the drug. People have engaged in ritualistic alterations of consciousness, which have produced similar hallucinations and benefits.

People used psychedelics back in the day. As far as that having some purposeful connection, or humans being wired to take them, you get into a [difficult philosophical problem that isn’t really necessary to consider]. Maybe, it is an interface for human consciousness with the planet, which is a legitimate theory [presented] for co-evolution.

It might be an entailment of [developing] theories, [but] I don’t think that it’s relevant, for or against, the uses of these things in general. The bottom line, they [may] have wonderful effects for the mind.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle or value of CSSDP?

Greig: I will talk about psychedelics first and then the [organization]. It is a new field. There will be more people doing the research in the future. [CSSDP] is good for networking students. It is good for building these longer-lasting networks of [similarly interested] people.

There are a lot of people in the organization like Evan Loster, Gonzo Nieto, Andras Lenart, and Michelle Thiessen. [who are] all interested in psychedelics. It is a good network. We have been able to connect and contribute ideas to each other.

[It is also beneficial to facilitate the advocacy of] youth voice[s] [on issues that effect them]. They are listened to the least.

[When it comes to drug policy], people [often] say, “What about the kids, man?!” Who isn’t for the kids? Advocacy for the youth is another important aspect.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

Greig: I hope it continues to grow. That more networks happen[ing] with other drug policy groups. [Like] MAPS [a growing number of] harm reduction groups. I hope the branches extend [and] I hope [that] facilitate[s] quicker reform for drug policy [as much is desperately needed]

Jacobsen: Two main philosophies, as theory and practice, come into the conversation, typically. One is punitive or zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction. What is a preferable approach to you, and why?

Greig: Harm reduction, it makes the most sense. Drug use is a “victimless crime.” It doesn’t [intrinsically] hurt anybody or anything. It is only a crime by virtue by being criminal to begin with. There is no independent justification for this to continue being a crime and [for] ‘drug addicts’ to be criminals.

It is arbitrary how different substances are perceived. Addiction rates [are] not high enough to warrant criminalization. Just because somebody [has] a [controlled] substance on them, it doesn’t’ make sense to ruin their lives, put them in jail, and limit their travel at a later time.

There are [often] moral judgments used to talk about drugs and drug use. I don’t consider [this] a [relevant] reflection of people’s characters, [especially not one that could reasonably be used] to justify criminalization. On the other hand, a lot of the harms with drug use are because of them being illegal.

Jacobsen: We have a notion about legality and harmfulness of drugs. The pyramid is inverted. Cigarettes and alcohol are considered benign. Whereas, things like LSD, psilocybin, mushrooms, and marijuana, are less harmful to individuals and collectives, economically and for health.

Any thoughts on the source of this and its continued maintenance as a generalized mythology?

Greig: Largely, society is automatic. It is difficult to change automatic tendencies. It is something people are socialized into – these attitudes, even if they don’t make [rational] sense.

Some substances are talked about, but many are ‘hushed’ in a way. [Changing general attitudes about the relative harms and benefits of drugs that can be used recreationally] is going to be a longer process that will, hopefully, happen in the future. There is a lot of interesting research. There’s a research named Dr. David Nutt,

He was fired [as] one of the [UK] public health ministers by saying, “MDMA was less harmful than horseback riding.” That is, you were less likely to be harmed through horseback riding rather than taking MDMA. [Given that this is a statement made by a researcher based on comparisons of scientific research, it can only reflect an irrational attitude towards the issues of drug legislation that is going to take a little more than science itself to correct. But legislation can be where it starts!]

Jacobsen: Is that statement factually true?

Greig: There’s a small chance of injury in either case. Horseback riding [apparently] has a higher one than MDMA.

Jacobsen: Wow. If we take into account many of the partnerships and events thrown by CSSDP, what do you consider the utility of them to the general movement of non-partisan advocacy for harm reduction policies and youth mentorship regarding drug policy in Canada?

Greig: We do a lot of events. For [example] the conferences coming up, for 9/20, the International Day of Mushroom Awareness is good for networking people and having them in one place, especially those with similar ends.

They can collaborate, go into the world, and utilize these events. We have [more] proactive things like [the] cannabis roundtable for youth voices. It required producing an outcome document an presenting it [to the cannabis legalization task force].

We have a number of petitions. We have lots of different [avenues for creating] changes.

Jacobsen: The much older and the much younger face in different ways, but a rooted and similar problem, which is ageism. CSSDP is a youth run and oriented organization. It might come across that young based ageism. I suspect. Does this reflect personal experience for you – reaching out to other organizations, doing news media contacts, and so on?

Greig: Not too much personally, it might be the position for me. For cannabis, there have been people doing that for a much longer time. On that note, I haven’t gotten into the drug policy [too much, I’m more involved in the] the academic, stuff.

Jacobsen: The position, your status, will buffer it. For those that don’t, it won’t. And that’s a problem, but, maybe, not as heavy a problem as might be assumed (by me). Are there any recommended researchers by you?

Greig: Yes, definitely! Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is doing the research out of the Imperial College, London. He is doing brain imaging or neuroimaging research. It has been acquiring a lot of press. His studies are interesting to read.

He works with Dr. Karl Friston. He writes about the free energy principle, which is a generalized theory of how the brain performs unconscious inference. It is a mathematical system of looking at the brain in a probabilistic way to see how it makes sense of the world. It is independently interesting, if you have an interest in those areas.

Dr. Dan Merkur, he was a professor at the University of Toronto. He wrote books about psychedelics, Gnosticism, and so on. He is not talked about much in psychedelic circles.

His research seems extra relevant to me. I think it can facilitate ideas about the psychedelic state.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Daniel.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
An Interview with Kyle Lumsden, Secretary for CSSDP

An Interview with Kyle Lumsden, Secretary for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you become involved in Canadian drug policy?

Kyle Lumsden: For a 3rd year public policy class, I wrote a paper on INSITE and injection sites as cost effective tax payer policy. I got my ‘feet wet’ in 2014. So, I wrote this big research paper. I became convinced through learning about drug policy issues.

There is a show called The Wire. The show got me into drug prohibition and policy at a young age. The Wire is about selling drugs in the city of Baltimore. It got me thinking about the legality of drugs. It has been more of an academic issue.

Last May, I was looking to volunteer places. I went to the U of T volunteer directory groups. CSSDP was there. I was invited to the Support Don’t Punish event. I started with a blog post on drug policy and bill C-2. I started that way. I met Dan last September. I helped him run the 9/20, mushroom event. We co-authored an article on psychedelics for mental health.

I am interested in topics such as mushrooms, LSD, Ayahuasca, MDMA, ketamine, and so on. It is for treating mental health problems. It is an area of interest because things like depression and PTSD are hard to treat.

These are novel and interesting methods to treat them. I am in the process of finishing an article on alcohol-based harm reduction, which is an area of personal interest in harm reduction because alcohol has harmed people in my life. I wrote an article on alcohol harm in Canada and public opinion in Canada for a political science class.

Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come with being the chapter co-leader for the University of Toronto position for CSSDP?

Lumsden: I am on the national board. I am the secretary of the national board. I am the representative to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Each of those have their own things. I have to take minutes of the board meetings.

Now, I will be organizing the agenda for each board meeting. For the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, it is an organization-think tank for drug policy reform. I have to attend a monthly meeting with Donald MacPherson in a steering committee for drug policy.

On the board, I have to attend the monthly meetings. I am on the outreach committee for organizing events. I do whatever they ask of me.

Jacobsen: What do you think is the core principle of the CSSDP?

Lumsden: It is harm reduction and grassroots activism. It is engaging young people. Harm reduction is interesting. I started university at 25. I taught overseas. I am 29 now. I can stay in CSSDP until May, when I turn 30. Also, I graduate in a couple of months. My time with CSSDP is coming to a close.

Jacobsen: With respect to harm reduction philosophy as a model and strategy, what do you consider its core outlook on drugs and drug policy?

Lumsden: It is probably to help people where they stand and to acknowledge individuals do harmful activities and substances rather than moral condemnation and criminal punishment to help them not make the situation worse. It is more pragmatic and realistic; not based on ideology or idealism.

Jacobsen: The opposing position as a philosophy tends to be a punitive or zero tolerance approach. What do you think of its general philosophy?

Lumsden: It is misguided. I am more to the center from most of the people in the CSSDP in terms of political views. My major is in criminology. I have done research in Toronto. I interviewed many police officers. I asked them many questions.

I do not get mad at people that think an arrest is acceptable for drug use, but it is misguided and based on the idea that punishment will change the behavior. Everyone was raised with this view.

It is based on the misguided idea that prisons and punishment reform people, but people do drugs in prison. The time of release from prison is the greatest likelihood of overdose death. Drug crimes are the great forms of recidivism.

When I started the research, it was about the laws fulfilling the intended claims. This philosophy of punishment in general does not work for substances.

Jacobsen: Do you consider the preventative part of harm reduction philosophy or the treatment part more important?

Lumsden: I think the second part. Treatment and rehabilitation are more important than prevention. Prevention is difficult, especially with ‘forbidden fruit.’ I do not know how you can stop teens from smoking pot or becoming ‘blackout’ drunk. It is human nature.

People are born. They take substances. Prevention is important. Substance use does not need to be prevented or treated all of the time. Only 20% of people that try drugs become addicted to them. 80% do not acquire problematic addictions.

Even if they do a line of cocaine, they are not by necessity addicted. If they do it on New Years, does that mean they have that type of addiction? Maybe or maybe not; the focus on prevention and treatment can ignore the fact that it does not need to be prevented or treated. Of course, there are cases where that is needed too.

Jacobsen: Harm reduction philosophy is not only a theory, but a practice, too. You mentioned INSITE before. It is one practical example. What practical example across Canada seems like a good success story of harm reduction philosophy in practice?

Lumsden: INSITE is one. Recently, legalization of heroine-assisted treatment for opiate addicts was announced. The previous system was the methadone clinics. It is a synthetic opioid. It is addictive and can be problematic.

Also, the advice of ‘cold turkey’ or abstinence only for people with alcohol or opioid dependency can be dangerous for them. It needs to be a ‘weaning off’ system with opiates or alcohol.

The second one is part of NARCAN-naloxone training. Basically, the overdose reversal drug that can be used now. It can be acquired with prescription in pharmacies in Ontario. It is an example of a harm reduction philosophy in practice.

It has been a good shift for harm reduction because it is more widespread to save people’s lives in the case of an overdose. Even though, we do not like the fact they have an overdose.

Jacobsen: In part one, you mentioned working abroad. Did you notice any differences in responses to drug and drug use compared to Canada?

Lumsden: I was in Turkey, which is a Muslim country. It is punitive. I was in China too. It has some of the most draconian drug laws. I did not talk about this subject too much. I am confident both of these places are more conservative.

It is more influenced by traditional values and family values. There is more shame, especially in China. If you were known to be some sort of undesirable in trait – fat or do drugs, you are shamed. It is entrenched and deep.

In the West, and Canada especially, even places like the Czech Republic, we are more liberal and with talking about drugs.

Jacobsen: Are there differences in the types of drugs and the ratio of their use?

Lumsden: Yes, it is interesting because drug consumption is dictated by culture. When I was doing this research project on alcohol consumption and harm, every single Muslim country has the smallest alcohol harm on the planet.

Russia is very high. Social norms, stigma, history of consumption, and so on, shape consumption rates. In Turkey, people drink less because it is Muslim-majority. People do not accept alcohol in social settings.

In China, people smoke a lot. Cigarettes are cheap. I saw smoking a lot. In Canada, we smoke as a cultural thing.

Jacobsen: You note cigarettes. It is one of the most harmful products around. Both are legal. Do you have considerations on the inverted pyramid on the harmfulness of drugs and legality of drugs?

Lumsden: I do. Economists and the World Health Organization release reports on the global and specific country for the harm of drugs. Alcohol and cigarettes are number one and two. They are followed by marijuana, LSD, and so on.

Tobacco costs Canada about $17 billion per year. Alcohol costs Canada about $14.5 billion per year. Tobacco kills almost 7 million people worldwide. Alcohol kills almost 2.5 million worldwide.

The other substances are not comparable. If you put tobacco and alcohol as diseases on paper, people would say, “This is an epidemic.” People love drinking and think it is fine. It is weird. We have this strong affinity, not so much with tobacco.

Tobacco use has been declining for the last 20 years due to policy and social norms. We made cigarettes more expensive, banned smoking in public spaces, and put those disgusting ads on them. It caused a circular effect.

People will judge you if you’re smoking outside some place. It has not happened with alcohol. I am confident that with these harm costs in Canada alcohol will surpass cigarettes. There are more liberalized alcohol sales policies.

It is interesting how the stigma and the policy can work together. Obviously, all of these other drugs – weed, mushrooms, LSD, even cocaine and heroine – are not even close. It has been odd to have this tiered system, where the two most subjectively harmful are the most socially acceptable. However, if people did heroine like the drank, I bet heroine would be much worse.

Jacobsen: CSSDP collaborates with multiple organizations. What are some of the partnerships? What are some of the effects you’ve seen of it?

Lumsden: Other groups include the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. I helped throw a couple of events with the International Centre for Science and Drug Policy. There is a collection of harm reduction agencies. They overlap. They work together. I met a girl who works for a community group in Toronto called the Inner City Family Health Team, which is about alcohol harm reduction for homeless males.

Jacobsen: What about something like the United Nations for drug policy in Canada? Some coordinating umbrella group that every joins and is volunteer, by consent for joining, leaving at any time. Is that a viability for bringing everything under one roof?

Lumsden: I would like it. I would be happy to join it and contribute to it. I do not consider drugs are popular as a topic. Weed is now. People talk about it without fear of stigma. If I start talking about legalization of heroine, people have bad reactions.

If we go to U of T and try to join a group advocating for those things, people are interested in it. However, they do not want to label themselves. People work in drug policy. Usually, I ask them the question.

I want to work in drug policy or the government. I want an interesting academic job. I do not want to be stigmatized and labelled based on the research. It is ridiculous. I have needle phobia. I could not do heroine if I wanted to do it. It is powerful and stigmatizing.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Kyle. 

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
An Interview with Jenna Valleriani, Advisor for CSSDP

An Interview with Jenna Valleriani, Advisor for CSSDP

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In brief, how did you get interested in being involved in drug policy in Canada?

Jenna Valleriani: That is a big question! I am in sociology. I was interested in punishment and prisons, which is a natural extension of the consequences for drug prohibition. I was introduced to the medical cannabis program when a friend had back injury. He started talking about this process, where he earned a medical cannabis license.

It was fascinating from a sociological perspective because it was an underground route of access. It was knowing and talking to the right people. That year, I took a course with Dr. Pat Erickson. She is a drug policy scholar at University of Toronto.

It changed my outlook on what I wanted to study. That course made sense to me. Everything made sense. There is theory behind drug policy. I was fascinated by the history of prohibition in Canada and the social constructions around drugs and drug use.

I began narrowing into an interest in cannabis. I followed the story of a friend trying to gain access. It was about 8 years ago when access to medical cannabis in Canada was not as transparent and talked about as it is now.

I found that interesting. After the course with Pat, it opened a new door for me.

Jacobsen: You have a unique perspective. You are a doctoral candidate in sociology and collaborative addiction studies at the University of Toronto. You research transitions into federal medicinal cannabis programs in Canada, new industries, entrepreneurship, and social movements.

You are on the advising team and an advisor for CSSDP. How important is this advanced education and knowledge in advising people? What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?

Valleriani: With the advisory role, it is about mentoring young people interested in drug policy issues. It is about creating opportunities for involvement. People helped me. I want to offer that as well. An educational background is not necessary to take on a role in CSSDP.

We try to encourage all young people to get involved. We want young people who are interested in drug policy. It could be the perspective a drug user or a researcher. We try to take on the perspectives of the people who lives in everyday youth culture.

I am not sure if it is necessarily based on the education, but it might offer being in touch with changes in drug policy and the research around it. That is, it might help from a policy perspective.

I worked with CSSDP for 5 years. Therefore, I have a deep knowledge of the organization and changes in it. I see how we’ve grown. I served on the board for 3 years. I occupied a few different roles. I was the conference chair in 2015, which was our biggest conference. It sold out in Toronto.

I was on a few different committees. I was a vice-chair. The important part to the advisory role is a good understanding of the organizational structure and aims. Many people will ask if CSSDP is about encouraging drug use or attempting to deter drug use. The answer is neither for us. We are focused on the creation of sound policy around drugs and drug use, and finding ways to promote evidence-based alternatives and solutions.

Jacobsen: What do you consider the core principle of the CSSDP?

Valleriani: For us, it is about youth engagement and empowerment around drug policy issues. We try to facilitate ways for young people getting involved such as starting chapters, dispensing different resources for ongoing policies, finding ways to get young people to conferences, and so on.

For example, for the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) 2016 meeting in New York, New York, we sent 10 youth to participate in the meeting. We want to empower and mobilize young people to become involved in it.

We look at policies around drug use and drug users, and how they treat those that do and don’t use drugs. Good policy is bigger than using drugs – it includes good policy for those that choose to not use drugs.

We take a human rights perspective and believe in harm reduction principles. It underlines everything for us.

Jacobsen: What do you mean by “a human rights perspective” underlying everything that you do?

Valleriani: When we are talking about human rights in drug policy, it is an acknowledgement that drug users have voices too. That young people have voices. They can participate. It takes a holistic approach for people’s rights throughout the whole process.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope the CSSDP goes into the future?

Valleriani: I want to see CSSDP grow. We are gaining more recognition with the government as a youth body, which is in tune with things on-the-ground and how drug policy in Canada affects young people here.

I want to see us grow in our outreach with the government. I would like to see us grow in chapter sizes. Also, we have a national board. I want to see this expansion continue.

I want to see the CSSDP grow in its capacity to take on more young people. I would love to see a mentorship program grow out of it for youth interested in drug policy.

I consider a grassroots approach to how we mobilize young people one of the most important things by us.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Jenna.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Member-at-large

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and with varied research labs and groups, and part-time in landscaping (lifting, mowing, and raking) and gardening (digging, planting, and weeding). He founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He is a Tobis Fellow (2016) at the University of California, Irvine’s (UCI) Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality (Ethics Center). He researches in the Learning Analytics Research Group, works as the Gordon Neighbourhood House Community Journalist/Blogger, researches and writes for the Marijuana Party of Canada, and is a contributor for The Voice Magazine. UCI Ethics Center awarded him with the distinction of Francisco Ayala Scholar (2014) for mentoring, presenting, researching, and writing. If you want to contact Scott, you may inquire or comment through e-mail: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.