Drug Checking Workshop

Drug Checking Workshop

Canada is currently facing one of the largest drug adulteration epidemics in the country’s history, mainly via street level trafficking of drugs. Drug dealers and suppliers are cutting their drugs with myriads of random chemicals and powders that look similar to the drug they are selling in order to turn more of a profit while giving out less of the actual drug. Due to this, for the sake of harm reduction and safety, it has become more important than ever for drug users to take it upon themselves to attempt to find out exactly what it is they purchased rather than believing whatever the source says it is. A simple way to do this is to purchase a simple drug testing kit.

Drug Testing Kits

Drug testing kits come in many shapes and sizes, but the most simple, portable, and easily accessible ones comes in the form of an empty plastic cylinder, an eyedropper with a chemical reagent, and the corresponding color wheel to the reagent.

Depending on the substance, different reagents will be needed in order to identify what MAY be in the sample being tested. IMPORTANT: These drug testing kits are not infallible and only inform the user of what could be within a given tested sample (i.e. the test only tells you what it finds in the sample you chose to use, there could be other adulterants within the bag that simply was used for the test). That being said, it is important to do multiple tests with the same primary reagent, along with other reagents that also work for the substance in need of testing. One can never test enough!

A Short How-To Walkthrough

These test kits work for powders, crystals, as well as blotter (common LSD paper).

  1. Take a small sample of the drug in question and place it into the plastic tube (can also use a pure white surface)
  2. Use the eyedropper to drop enough reagent onto the drug to cover it
  3. Shake the plastic cylinder for 30 seconds to one minute (or allow the reagent to mix with the drug on the white surface for the same amount of time)
  4. Compare resulting colour to the color wheel associated with the reagent used.

Ordering test kits

The easiest source to get reliable, standardized testing kits from are the Bunk Police. They offer a wide variety of testing kits for all common drugs along with a video catalog of what reactions should look like using each reagent with each substance.

Please see a more in-depth guide to drug checking here.

Avery Sapoznikow

Avery Sapoznikow

Outreach Chair

Avery is in his final year working towards his Bachelors Degree in Psychology (Hons.) at the University of British Columbia Okanagan. Currently, he is the vice president of CSSDP Okanagan and hopes to continue his studies in Clinical Psychology with a research program surrounding cannabis and psychedelics. Read more here.

Voices: Stephanie Lake on getting involved in CSSDP, punitive approaches to drug policy and harm reduction resources

Voices: Stephanie Lake on getting involved in CSSDP, punitive approaches to drug policy and harm reduction resources

How did you get an interest in Canadian drug policy?

I became interested in Canadian drug policy while I was studying health sciences at the University of Ottawa. I wrote a paper on supervised injection sites for a sociology of health course, and throughout my literature review, I found myself getting increasingly frustrated at the state of our prohibitive and punitive drug policies which all seemed to be based on ideology rather than evidence. This frustration left me feeling determined to contribute to change in drug policy through health research and advocacy.  

What is your position in the chapter and responsibilities?

I am currently working with a small group of students to revive CSSDP’s Vancouver chapter. I fell into this role when I came across the CSSDP Vancouver facebook group, and noticed a post from a former CSSDP board member asking if anyone wanted to try and get the chapter going again. I decided to give it a try, and I’m really happy that I did. Right now, since we are a relatively small core group of 3-4 students; we all share the responsibility of chairing meetings, organizing events, and growing the chapter. Our chapter is organizing its first event (naloxone training for students and youth in Vancouver). I have also recently joined the national board, where I will be focusing on student outreach and conference planning.

Any areas for improvement for CSSDP?

I have only been involved with CSSDP for a few months, so it is a bit early to say for sure. I am hoping to see communication between what’s going on nationally and what’s going on with individual chapters. It would be great to be part of a movement with all other chapters across the country. I am happy that the organization is supportive of engagement in both higher-level policy issues as well as individual-level interventions. For example, here in Vancouver we are facing an immediate crisis of fentanyl-related overdoses. Although this crisis warrants many higher-level policy discussions about the harms of prohibition and the benefits of harm reduction, the most immediate steps we can take to respond to this crisis is through making sure that students and youth have access to naloxone and know how to use it. I’m glad that naloxone training is within the scope of activities mandated by CSSDP.

What is your perspective on the more punitive approaches to drug policy and the harm reduction approach?

I think most people know by now that the war on drugs is a failure. Punitive approaches to drug policy just don’t work, and they don’t protect the health and human rights of people who use drugs. Substance use has been around as long as humans have walked the earth, so it is unrealistic to think that we can just abolish such a deeply rooted human behaviour through punitive measures. Instead, we should be supporting the health of people who use drugs through minimizing the potential harms associated with drug use. When we do this, we reduce stigma that is so often linked to drug use, connect people who use drugs to health and social resources, and ultimately protect the health of the entire population.

What are the consequences on individuals with drug misuse if the punitive issues are employed?

Since the war on drugs began in the 1970’s the number of individuals in the US who have been incarcerated for drug law violations has gone up more than 10-fold. In other parts of the world, including the Philippines and Vietnam, drug-related offences can even result in the death penalty. These harsh responses to drug use mean that people who use drugs are often pushed underground, where they become disconnected with potentially life-saving health and social supports. Incarceration has been linked to HIV infection (people do use drugs in jails, but they don’t have access to clean needles/pipes because this would require admitting that drugs get into jails), poor HIV treatment access and sub-optimal treatment outcomes, inadequate access to evidence-based addiction treatment (e.g. opioid substitution treatment), etc. Also, once someone goes to jail for drugs, it becomes hard to break the cycle. Many individuals will struggle to find steady employment or decent housing, and risk returning to drug dealing or related illicit activities to support themselves or their families.

How does this cascade into larger society?

It is incredibly expensive to incarcerate individuals for drug use, and at the rate we’re going, it also isn’t sustainable. I think the biggest way punitive approaches to drug use can cascade into larger society is through divesting funds from other approaches that could have a positive effect on society. For example, roughly 73% of the previous Canadian federal government’s drug strategy expenditures were dedicated to enforcement, while research, prevention, treatment, and harm reduction were left to share the remaining 27% of funds. When we put so much time and energy into reactionary measures, we are unlikely to address the root causes of the “problem.”  

Who are some researchers in the harm reduction movement who are reliable sources of information?

When I first became interested in drug policy and harm reduction, I was inspired by the team of investigators at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS who were heavily involved in the evaluation of Insite (Vancouver’s supervised injection site). This includes Dr. Thomas Kerr, Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Mark Tyndall, Dr. Brandon Marshall, Dr. M-J Milloy, and Dr. Julio Montaner, and many others. I have also spent a lot of time reading Dr. Don Des Jarlais’ research – he was one of the harm reduction pioneers in response to the HIV crisis in New York City in the 90’s. My PhD supervisor, Dr. Jane Buxton, does some amazing work coordinating BC’s harm reduction programming as head of harm reduction at the BC Centre for Disease Control. Tim Rhodes has also done an amazing job conceptualizing a health framework (the Risk Environment) for drug-related health outcomes among people who use drugs. Instead of focusing on individual behaviours, this framework sees drug-related harm as a result of interacting social, physical, policy, and economic states on macro- and micro-levels.  

What about organizations?

Vancouver has many user-led community organizations (e.g. Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users; Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society; BC Association for People on Methadone) who offer a great resource about on-the-ground experience with drug policy and harm reduction in Vancouver. In terms of larger national organizations, I often check out what’s going on with the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, the Canadian Harm Reduction Network, and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Any new thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

I’m very happy that I took the chance to be involved with CSSDP, and I’m really excited to see where this work takes me. My own research focuses on the health implications of cannabis legalization for people who use drugs, particularly in the context of the current opioid crisis. It is a really exciting time to be involved in drug policy in Canada!

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.
CSSDP 2017 AGM: Naloxone, Medical Coverage, Cannabis Education

CSSDP 2017 AGM: Naloxone, Medical Coverage, Cannabis Education

The Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy Annual General Meeting is just around the corner! We did a lot over the past year – from participating in Support Don’t Punish and Overdose Day last summer, to facilitating Youth Speak, a youth roundtable on cannabis legalization and helping with the sold-out 9/20 conference in Toronto, from developing grassroots workshops and organizing panels on local levels across Canada to participating in global initiatives with our international partners – and we expect to do even more this coming year.

Join us for the Annual General Meeting this Monday, June 24, 2017 at 5:30 PST/8:30 EST. We’ll be using a tool called Zoom to connect via video conference or you can call in by phone from anywhere – sign-up via this form to get the invite straight to your inbox on Monday morning! If you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to email us.  

Get together, get pizza!

At the AGM, you’ll learn about what CSSDP has planned for the rest of 2017 and how you can get involved on an individual level and as a part of your local chapter. Contact us if you’re not currently a part of a chapter and still want to be involved, or check out your chapter’s page here.

We’re offering $25 pizza vouchers for CSSDP chapters that get together for the AGM — send us a picture of your team together participating in the AGM and a picture of your receipt in order to take advantage of this once-a-year opportunity! Please note, we only have one voucher for each chapter, so make sure to coordinate. We suggest meeting at a library, school, or a quiet coffee shop. We’ll have several more opportunities like this in the next year so if you can’t take advantage of this one, make sure to connect with your chapter, sign up to our newsletter, and stay tuned!

CSSDP’s 2017 goals

The National Board put our heads together to come up with 3 smart, achievable goals that we, as a national organization, can work towards together with CSSDP Chapters across Canada this year.

1. Naloxone training & good samaritan policies on campus

Naloxone (Narcan) is an injectable opioid antagonist drug that can be safely administered to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. Despite that substance use, including illicit drug use, is part of post-secondary student culture, student populations have been largely overlooked in many efforts across the country to expand access to naloxone. CSSDP is working towards changing that. Learn how your chapter can work towards these policies on your campus too.

2. Medical cannabis coverage in student health plans

Since cannabis does not have a Drug Identification Number (DIN), it isn’t covered under typical drug spending on insurance plans. These out-of-pocket costs are a significant barrier for cannabis patients who are already struggling with mounting student debt. We’ll talk about some steps to help you advocate for your university’s student health plan to include coverage of medical cannabis for students authorized under the ACMPR.

3. Comprehensive and evidence-based cannabis education

One of the main takeaways from our youth roundtable, Youth Speak: Cannabis Legalization in the 21st Century, was the need for realistic (i.e. non-exaggerated), science-based and non-judgmental educational messaging around cannabis use, including strategies for safer cannabis consumption. We are collaborating with Canopy Growth and Parents Action on Drugs (PAD) Ontario to develop evidence-based educational tools for youth and parents in Canada. You’ll learn what we’re doing, and what steps you can take to help.

What will your Chapter do this year?

We’ll be announcing not one but two contests at the end of the Annual General Meeting. If you can’t be there, you still get to participate — but those who join us will hear the details first, and get a heads start!

Here’s a clue: another one of our goals is to beef up the resources section on the website and build up a storage bank of ready-to-go events. There will be both individual and chapter prizes, so we hope you’ll attend to get the scoop sooner than most.

Remember to fill out this form to join us for the 2017 Annual General Meeting (we’ll send you an email with log in details!), and share our poster to inspire others to get together and talk about sensible drug policy in Canada and what this year will bring for CSSDP.

Dessy Pavlova

Dessy Pavlova

Chair

A professional writing and English graduate, aspiring project manager and sensible drug policy advocate, Dessy works for Lift and does research, outreach, writing and web development.
Find out more.

Send us an email:

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An Interview with Antonio Cillero, Volunteer for CSSDP

An Interview with Antonio Cillero, Volunteer for CSSDP

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

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

Antonio Cillero: I attended the conference at the University of Toronto in 2015. It seemed interesting. I wanted to see what they were doing.

Jacobsen: What chapter are you involved in now?

Cillero: The University of Toronto chapter now, I know the students. I graduated (from Queen;s University, not UofT), but work with them.

Jacobsen: What activities are you involved in the Toronto area for drug policy?

Cillero: Psychedelic storytelling, we have been planning things around it in addition to naloxone training.

Jacobsen: British Columbia, where I live, has a fentanyl crisis. Is it similar in Toronto?

Cillero: Yes, 3 injection sites will begin here. One in the Downtown area, one in Queen Street West and one in the Leslieville area. There is concern about overdosing here too.

Jacobsen: What would you consider the main principle or value of CSSDP?

Cillero: I think the main goal of our organization is to inform people about drugs, but from an evidence-based perspective rather than the old Ronald Reagan view.

Jacobsen: That leads to harm reduction and punitive strategies. Punitive has been longer-term. Harm reduction is newer to the public. What is more effective?

Cillero: In my opinion, it is the harm reduction approach. I am for the principle of cognitive liberty. Any adult should be able to alter their own consciousness and manage their own health. Anybody should be free to do what they want with their mind and their body, and that includes using drugs. Drug abuse and addiction should be seen as a healthcare issues rather than a law enforcement issues.

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

Cillero: Not many people know about CSSDP, we want people to know about what we do and get them involved. There is an general interest about drugs and I would like CSSDP to be part of that conversation and continue to grow.

Jacobsen: We have marijuana legalization in the public now. Are other substances more likely to be talked about now?

Cillero: I would like it. I do not think this will happen in the next 5 or 10 years though. We have discussions about it. Only after clinical research as with cannabis. We have MAPS sponsoring some really interesting studies about MDMA. We have studies being done on psilocybin at John Hopkins University. So it will happen eventually. However, there’s more stigma to those substances than marijuana.

People still believe those substances are harsher. It seems unlikely to me.

Jacobsen: If the discussion doesn’t happen, and if things are regulated, then the discussion will go underground and the sales will go underground.

Cillero: With things like psychedelics, we will not have fear about overdosing on psilocybin or LSD. Substances in the public, even in the cannabis community, have a stigma to them. People who use drugs need to be more empathetic towards each other. Right now, I don’t see it. Heroine is highly stigmatized now. People who use cannabis say, “Cannabis is not like heroine or cocaine.” There is stigma.

Psychedelics might become legal for medicinal use, but not for recreational. There is stigma, fear, and misunderstanding about them.

Jacobsen: What about particular experiments, societal experiments where they legalized one, some, most, or all drugs, in those experiments in general, are the societies’ citizens better or worse off?

Cillero: I believe in Oregon there has been a reduction in crime rate, especially violent crimes, but correlation cannot be linked to causation for this. Once more people have access to cannabis, consumption will likely increase and there might be more cases of problems associated with the use of this substance. Legalization has positive and negative effects. But then those cases will be treated as clinical or health issues, not as criminal problems.

Long-term users would see a benefit of legalization. There might be negative consequences. I am not saying there would not be, but we need to be realistic, like alcohol. It is legal. People use alcohol in different ways. Some people have problems with their use. The government can help those with issues.

Jacobsen: Does that view tie back into your value of “cognitive liberty”?

Cillero: It does. It ties in with cognitive liberty. Adults should be allowed to use these substances if they wish to. If something goes wrong, they should be able to get help. We have health services. If someone is having problems, the health service should help them.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Antonio.

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 Avery Sapoznikow, Vice President at UBCO-CSSDP and Member of the Board of Directors

An Interview with Avery Sapoznikow, Vice President at UBCO-CSSDP and Member of the Board of Directors

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with CSSDP? How did you get an interest in Canadian drug policy?

Avery Sapoznikow: This past year I graduated from the Unviersity of British Columbia Okanagan with an Honours Degree in Psychology. My thesis topic explored the relationship between cannabis use and attention usng self-reports and objective behavioral measures of attention and reaction time. My invovlement with CSSDP began in August 2016 when I joined the Okanagan Chapter of CSSDP (Founded by Michelle Thiessen, current board member and my co-worker in our lab). Soon after becoming inolved with the Okanagan chapter I was informed of a vacancy on the National CSSDP board and I volunteered to get myself even more involved in the fight for sensible drug policy.

 

Jacobsen: What is the lab with Michelle?

Sapoznikow: We’re both involved in the Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use Lab run by Dr. Zach Walsh at UBC Okanagan.

 

Jacobsen: With the UBCO chapter of CSSDP, how many members now?

Sapoznikow: Currently we have around 25 members and 10 active contributing members

 

Jacobsen: What are some activities of the chapter?

Sapoznikow: This past year we created a co-operative program with the nurses on campus around naloxone – they have been running workshops with our support and we have been colalborating with campus health and wellness to train students to use nalaoxone, on a weekly basis. I personally organized and presented a talk on drug checking and gave a live demonstration on how to use common drug testing kits effectively (Using sugar). We also hosted a Cannabis and Mental Health talk by Dr. Walsh and hosted a movie screenign about drug checking as an early event. The biggest thing we accomplished in the past year was beginning the project to implement a Good Samaritan Policy into the UBC Student Code of Conduct.

 

Jacobsen: What is your position and responsibilities in the chapter and nationally?

Sapoznikow: Locally, I am the Vice President of CSSDP Okanagan where I co-chair meetings with the president, organize events, communicate with members, collaborate with other student clubs, and try to make positive change on our campus. Nationally, I am a member of the board of directors and Chair of the Outreach subcommittee, where I particiapte in national board meetings, contribute to national fundraising initiatives, political advocacy, grant applications, and blogs posts. For the Outreach subcommitte, I chair the meetings and, with the help of all the other board members, organize and plan our local, national, political, and business-oriented outreach projects.

 

Jacobsen: How do you draw people into the chapter?

Sapoznikow: Tabling events and social media have been a huge part of slowly building up the chapter.  I find a lot of peopel are a lot more comfortable being part of dialogue from the comfort of their own homes so they follow us on facebook and get updates that way.

 

Jacobsen: What is the general perspective, for people well-entrenched in the field, on the more punitive approaches to drug policy and the harm reduction approaches?

Sapoznikow: Currently, the punitive approaches have been shown to be an ineffective way to deal with these problems. We need to shift away from punitive measures and criminalization and start thinking of these issues as health issues rather than criminal issues. That’s my perspective.

 

Jacobsen: What are the consequences of punitive actions on individuals with drug misuse?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Sapoznikow: Generally punitive measures such as imprisonment or harsher penalties in other countries do not solve the issue of drug abuse. It simply forces these individuals to be stuck in situations of drug abuse and criminal activity and then inevitable prison time. In the process, any mental health issues occurring, including the substance use disorders themselves, will likely be exacerbated. All around they generally just worsen an already poor situation.

 

Jacobsen: How does this cascade into larger society?

Sapoznikow: Unfortunately due to the conditions of the individuals who usually face these punitive measures, it places them into a cycle of minor drug offense to prison time to lower job availability, and even lower socioeconomic status. It places individuals deeper into this low-SES lifestyle where drug use may increase. This puts these indivdiauls at an even greater risk of harming themselves which could then cascade into how much it affects the people who have to treat them in the healthcare system. That’s just one of many resulting issues from punitive responses to low-impact drug crimes.

 

Jacobsen: What are some organizations involved in the harm reduction movement?

Sapoznikow: Off the top of my head, Drug Policy Alliance, NORML, and our US equivalent group SSDP (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)

Jacobsen: Since you’re newer, you have a fresh perspective on the operations of CSSDP, Any areas for improvement for CSSDP?

Sapoznikow: The strongest aspect of CSSDP has to be the social media reach and well as our political advocacy and collaborative comapigns. We have a fairly large reach on our social media which allows us to spread ideas and useful information to all of our followers surrounding drug policy, harm reduction, and safe drug use.  We also have strong relationships with politicians and are asked to provide input on topics relevant to our scope. An area of improvement for CSSDP would definitely be inter-chapter communication. I think we could become a more unified organization across Canada if we put more time and effort into building chapter to chapter relationships and from there who knows what we could take on as an organization.

 

Jacobsen: Some organizations have a network. Whether it’s a repository for conversation like for a for articles or interviews, all of the organizations in one place. It wouldn’t be tiered, but simply a nexus. Do you think that is a good idea for harm reduction in Canada?

Sapoznikow: Definitely, I think collaborative efforts are key for the spreading of good harm reduction information. If individuals from all around the world, at least one large general area, could have single place to pick each other’s brains and come up with new and innovative ideas we would be lightyears ahead of where we are now. 

Jacobsen: Any new thoughts or feelings in conclusion?

Sapoznikow: CSSDP is a fantastic organization that is trying to make positive change in the areas of drug policy, harm reduction, and drug safety. If you’re interested in getting involved or learning more about any of these topics and more, check out our website for more information. (cssdp.org).

 

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Avery.

 

 

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 Professor Mark Haden

An Interview with Professor Mark Haden

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

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

Professor Mark Haden: I worked in the addiction services for 28 years. I became acutely aware at the beginning of my career that we spend the vast majority of our money not dealing with addiction as a public health problem. We deal with it as a criminal justice problem.

All of the evidence says that doesn’t work. All of the evidence says the health approach to drugs does work. Seeing an approach not work and that is irrational because of the lack of evidence, it didn’t make any sense to me. I have this commitment to speaking the truth.

Jacobsen: If we take into account the two main approaches, one is punitive of punishment-oriented called the zero tolerance approach. The other is harm reduction. What is the preferable one to you, and why?

Haden: It is interesting. There’s no evidence to support a criminal justice response to drugs in our society. Let me clarify, I collect and organize the academic literature around drug policy issues. Since I teach at UBC, they asked me to debate a cop on the issue. They wanted me to debate cannabis legalization/criminalization. I wanted to debate all currently illegal drugs. I wanted everything on the plate. But they put us in the cannabis box.

I did my homework in advance. I found 64 peer-reviewed journal articles, which said, ‘An enforcement-based approach to drug policy and drug issues in society doesn’t work. It’s never worked anywhere on the planet. It doesn’t work in Canada. And it certainly doesn’t work in Vancouver.’

So, all of the research being done says this approach is very, very expensive and produces significant health and social problems for all of us. So, when I put down those 64 peer-reviewed journal articles in front of this cop, I said, “Can you name me one peer-reviewed journal article that says that this is the right way of approaching this problem?”

He said, “No, there isn’t any.” There isn’t any academic, peer-review, evidence-based literature that analyzes the approach. It is absolutely clear that health issues need to be dealt with health tools.

Dealing with health issues as criminal justice issues doesn’t make any sense, it costs us money. It doesn’t do us any good. We need to put our money into the programs that make an impact on the health of our society and the health of the individuals in our society.

We’re putting our money into something that makes our society less healthy.

Jacobsen: From your expert perspective, what do you consider the reason for the disjunction between the research evidence and the public perception?

Haden: The politicians, starting with Richard Nixon and Donald Trump now, have often got themselves elected by making you afraid of a bad guy. Donald Trump’s are ISIS and Mexicans. Richard Nixon’s were drug users.

Politicians often find bad guys. They say they will protect you from this evil, nasty, other ‘them’. We all feel fear. That is a human experience. Politicians use that to get votes. So, that’s a very old technique and being used by many. Stephen Harper used it.

He told us that he would protect us from the nasty drug dealers. So, it is being used from Richard Nixon to Stephen Harper. There is a huge agenda out there to make people afraid. The agenda has nothing to do with protecting people. it has to do with getting people elected.

That’s one reason. There are other reasons as well. The American prison industry is to some extent privatized. Private prisons need to be funded to get the money. How do you get money? You fill the beds. How do you fill the beds?

You need the drug war. The only way guarantee that your beds will be filled is to criminalize drugs. So, this private industry needs criminals in order to survive. As the criminals show up. The industry does well. The industry then has money.

They lobby. Lobby means they surround politicians with money. That becomes a huge process of corruption in our society. Those are two reasons. They are quite different. There’s also the factor of the complexity of the argument.

It’s very easy to throw out a fear-based soundbite. It is not a complex argument. If you say, “Be afraid of bad drug users. Aren’t they bad people? Don’t they need to be criminalized?” It is a very simple argument.

The arguments for a health approach are more complex and nuanced and thoughtful. So, in the media, when simple fear-based soundbites go up against more complex evidence-based health approaches, it is easier to express the fear-based soundbites.

Those are the three reasons for why we have a criminal justice approach to drugs in our society.

Jacobsen: Those most harmed from creation from “bad guys” by politicians tend to be the most vulnerable, downtrodden, and so on, in society, e.g. minorities and the young. What would you recommend in terms of a preventative measure at the national scale, and individuals (daily life)?

Haden: We need to end drug prohibition. Drug prohibition is the problem. That is the problem. We need to be afraid. Absolutely, we need to be afraid of drug prohibition. It hurts us as a society. It hurts us as communities. It hurts us as individuals.

It hurts us as families. It is a damaging force within society. We need to end it. Once we end it, we need to end it, not with a commercialized response, but with a public health response.

Jacobsen: What do you mean by a regulated market for illegal drugs?

Haden: A regulated market would actively control drugs based on the principles of public health and human rights. Prohibition paradoxically stimulates an illegal market that makes concentrated and sometimes toxic, drugs widely available. The goal is to greatly reduce or shut down the illegal market and regulate drugs in a way that reduces harm to individuals, families and our society as a whole. Seeing drug use as primarily a health and social issue rather than a criminal issue allows us to explore a wide range of tools to manage the problems associated with drugs in a more effective way.

Jacobsen: Is there one country or area which is ideal and provides the evidence needed for change?

Haden: No – there are many separate reports, experiences and research which indicates the need for significant change but there is no one country with is free from the domination of the American war on drugs. Some of the evidence for change is the fact that the Netherlands youth use cannabis at approximately half the rate that the youth in the USA use in spite of the fact that the Dutch sell cannabis openly. Another indicator for change is the fact that Portugal decriminalized personal possession of all drugs and this change reduced both health and social problems associated with drugs and drug use rates went down in their country. Research on police crackdowns consistently reports that this intervention does not raise the price of drugs or reduce the availability of drugs. The Senate Committee report in Canada reviewed the international literature and concluded that there is no relationship between severity of legislation and drug use problems. It is clear from the literature the enforcement interventions are ineffective and that a health approach does reduce harms to both individuals and all of society.

Jacobsen: Will our society have to deal with out of control drug use?

Haden: No – market regulations are all about controlling who has access to what drugs, in what contexts. The current system paradoxically encourages out of control use, as the contexts of use are not supervised by those who are trained to reduce harmful behaviour. In the new, post prohibition system, supervised consumption of the more harmful drugs would be the norm.

Jacobsen: What about our international agreements?

Haden: Canada has the opportunity to be a world leader in changing the outdated international agreements. Canadians need to host other like-minded countries to discuss and sign new agreements.

Jacobsen: We have problems with drugs like Valium and Oxycontin and they are legal and prescribed. What can we learn from this?

Haden: Dealers of illegal drugs are hidden and hard to negotiate with. Physicians who provide legal drugs, change prescribing practices in response to evidence and training. Who would you prefer to control drugs: trained doctors or criminals?

Jacobsen: If we shut down (or greatly reduced) the illegal market, would the criminals find other ways of doing crime?

Haden: The federal auditor general said that drug money is the life blood of organized crime. Take away the fuel which drives organized crime and you take away the incentive that brings in new players and keeps existing criminals motivated.

Jacobsen: Would a regulated market “encourage” drug use?

Haden: It is inaccurate and simplistic to say we have just two options: either criminalizing drug users or encouraging drug use. Encouraging drug use would only happen if the free market was the dominant paradigm. Instead public health and human rights should guide the process establishing a regulated market and encouraging drug use is not part of either of these models. The goal of these two models is reduction of harm to all of society and empowerment of the marginalized. We have other significant social problems like women who drink alcohol while pregnant, sexually active teenagers and youth who “huff” gasoline and we never consider criminalizing Page 5 of 9 these behaviours. The lack of criminalization is never seen as encouraging these undesirable behaviours. Public health is seen as being the appropriate approach for all of these problems and we should use this approach for dealing with drug use.

Jacobsen: What about drug use and pregnancy?

Haden: Illegal drug use is only one of many factors that influence maternal outcomes. It is well documented that when pregnant women are offered non-judgemental, comprehensive prenatal and infant follow-up, maternal outcomes improve. In fact, poverty is known to have a negative effect on pregnancy. Myths related to “crack babies” have been widely exaggerated. Abundant research has observed that the legal drug alcohol is clearly more dangerous to infants than illegal drugs.

Jacobsen: Are you proposing a “liberal” approach to our drugs laws?

Haden: No – this change is not about liberal or conservative beliefs as support for change come from all parts of the political spectrum. The opposing poles in this debate are evidence based policies vs ideologically based policies.

Jacobsen: Any recommended authors or organizations for those that might want to learn more and get involved in this?

Haden: I have been writing and publishing. My academic interest is to publish on the issue of a post-prohibition regulation and control of all currently illegal drugs. So, I publish on the issue of what it will look like, what should it look like, after prohibition ends for each of the individual drugs.

So, how we regulate smokable and injectable stimulants, such as crack cocaine, after prohibition ends will be completely different from how we regulate cannabis, which will be completely different than regulation of psychedelics, or opiates.

We as a society need to have an evidence-based, public health, regulations approach to all currently illegal drugs. It will be different, completely different. That’s the subject that we need to have the conversation around. What does regulation look like for cannabis?

That discussion is now happening in Canada. I think cannabis will be first. I think psychedelics will be second because they are not addictive. They aren’t harmful. They aren’t toxic to the body in any way.

All of the harms from psychedelics come from one thing, which is lack of supervision, context, and control. We can regulate that quite easily. That was my recent publication. How do we legalize psychedelics? I am interested in the fentanyl crisis.

The reason everybody is dying because of fentanyl is because it is prohibited. We created this problem. We can solve this problem. Now, luckily, the federal government is saying, “Yes, it looks like physicians will have access to prescription heroin.”

Because heroin addicts like heroin, they don’t like fentanyl. So, if you provide heroin addicts with heroin, the fentanyl crisis will largely go away. It won’t completely go away, but it is certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Professor Haden.

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.