This is a continuation of our conference roundup – click here for Part 1.

Saturday, March 3 – mid-afternoon
Refreshed from a break, conference attendees split up for the afternoon’s breakout sessions.
The first workshop, “Peer Outreach”, was led by Ashley Schwanke, a member of CSSDP’s new Edmonton chapter and a staff member with the Streetworks harm reduction group. It was live-tweeted by Elaine Hyshka:

As with so many of the weekend’s presentations, the shadow of Bill C-10 loomed over the topic of peer outreach. According to Ashley, more funding is needed for harm reduction and similar initiatives, and the new crime bill’s focus on mandatory minimum sentences and other measures is a step in the wrong direction.
The second workshop discussed the North American Opiate Medical Initiative (NAOMI), a clinical trial on heroin-assisted drug therapy, and the NAOMI Patients Association (NPA), a group of former NAOMI patients in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside that emerged after the study was completed.
Workshop leaders Dave Murray and Diane Tobin, members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), laid out the background of the NAOMI study, which studied heroin-assisted addiction treatment and other treatment alternatives, and how it has affected participants’ lives. The study did have some benefits for participants: many found the program worked much better for them than other programs, such as methadone-assisted treatment. But there were serious problems as well, including the issues of
1. consent (how do researchers truly obtain consent from participants when they control something that is central to participants lives – namely, heroin?), and
2. access to heroin once the study was over (participants were denied further access to heroin, forcing them to return to their often-chaotic pre-NAOMI lives).
In response, Dave Murray created the NPA, a space for former members of the study to meet, support each other, and speak out on these issues. An NPA report, published in March 2012, has finally provided a voice for participants’ experiences, and recommendations for how future research should be conducted. The NPA has noted that history may soon repeat itself, since NAOMI’s follow-up research project, the Study to Access Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) has not addressed many of the NAOMI’s problems.
Following the breakout sessions, CSSDP members met for our yearly Annual General Meeting (AGM), where new board members are elected and major issues discussed.

The meeting saw one of the largest candidate turnouts in CSSDP history! In the end, 4 new board members were elected, with another 3 elected as alternates (to replace any members who resign throughout the year). Our new members are all very impressive, and are already contributing to the organization in important ways.

Capping off a long day, conference attendees joined forces with Calgary 420, a local cannabis activist group, to hold a vigil for prohibition’s victims at Calgary City Hall. The group observed a minute of silence for those whose lives have been lost or damaged by destructive drug policies, and heard from speakers looking inspire a spirit of optimism and hope for the future.
It was a good day for press. In addition to our online presence (the livestream and all the live-tweeting), we got the attention of major broadcasters. CBC Calgary published an article on the conference online, and CBC Radio interviewed Executive Director Caleb Chepesuik and Carlos Negraeff, head of our Calgary chapter.
We also got a major appearance on Global Television, where speakers Scott Bernstein and Donald MacPherson gave their opinions on Bill C-10. The video is available here (our clip appearing at the 6:45 minute point).
Sunday, March 4

The last day of the conference started with our student poster presentation, a chance for our members who are studying a topic related to drug policy to share their research, and for everyone else to get a chance to pepper them with questions about it.


Sunday’s opening panel explored different issues related to Cannabis Reform.

The first speaker, Dan Werb, shared his ICSDP research on the economics of cannabis – focusing especially what the price of cannabis might be if the drug were to become decriminalized or legalized.

The topic is of great interest in drug policy discussions, since prices have a major impact on how drugs are consumed – especially among young people, whose protection is a major justification for the drug war. But while most agree that consumers in an illegal market pay a “prohibition tax”, it’s far from certain what post-prohibition prices would be, or what tools policy makers could use to best influence on consumers’ decision-making.

The second panellist, Keith Fagin, spoke about his experience as a cannabis activist with Calgary 420. In recent years, he’s become convinced that no matter how frustrated you get, focusing on being respectful is one of the most effective ways to promote change. By being assertive but gracious, you can win respect and help overcome prejudices, like the “lazy pot user” stereotype.

The third speaker, Lisa Kirkman, shared her personal experience as a marijuana activist and victim of prohibition. Being a marijuana activist and a good mother are often seen as mutually exclusive, and while in the United States Lisa actually had her son taken from her, as she was considered unfit to raise him due to her drug-related work. While she had been victimized by drug prohibition, however, she also talked about the opportunities for women, and the role they can play in creating change.

The panel over, attendees split up into another workshop session.

The first workshop was led by Michaela Montaner, drawing on her experience with the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) to talk about Coalition Building. Once again, Elaine Hyshka was live-tweeting – Michaela later said that she “perfectly distilled” the session:


The second workshop was led by Heiko Decosas, of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC). Called “Create your own media:, Heiko shared his lessons learned, focusing on the importance of narratives and storytelling in connecting with your audience.

Another break, and then the fourth and final breakout workshops of the conference.

The first of the last was led by Shauna MacEachern, CSSDP’s Outreach Director. Titled “Just say know! Honest drug education”, she addressed ways to teach the facts about drugs, in an educational environment that is usually very reluctant to do just that.

The last of the last was led by Greg Khaymov, from the TRIP! Project in Toronto. TRIP! has never been shy about going where the drug users are to provide them with the information and tools they need to be as safe as possible. Greg’s workshop, “Safer Drug Use”, drew upon this experience to provide nuts-and-bolts suggestions for making drug use, well, safer.

The workshops done, it was time for our final presentation: “Harm Reduction as a Generational Struggle”, by Barbara Ross of Alberta Health Services, and CSSDP’s Alex Rowan. Closing off the conference, they traced the development of harm reduction, from its rocky beginnings, to its current growing acceptance, to where we might go with it in the future.

Final thoughts

This year’s conference took place during a deflating time for Canadian drug policy reformers, as our country passed Bill C-10 and adopted the mandatory minimum sentences that have been such a failure in the United States. Going beyond C-10, there is a general feeling that as a country, we are sliding backwards in drug reform while the rest of the world (especially Latin America) is on the verge of making some major changes.

At the same time, there is a profound sense of optimism in our organization. Our vision hasn’t changed – we’re still working to build a Canada where drugs are seen as a health issue, and where young people can get the best drug education we can give them. But there’s a feeling of growth, too – lessons learned in how we got here; new members, ideas and possibilities; and a distinct sense that while things may be difficult for the next little while, the “Berlin Wall of Prohibition” (as Donald MacPherson calls it) is starting to crumble, and we just need to keep chipping away at it.

We hope you think so too.