Fundraising for Cannabis Education!

Fundraising for Cannabis Education!

On October 3rd, CSSDP will be holding its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Edmonton, Alberta, as a part of Stimulus Conference and we’re looking for your help to get us there!

This is really important in the context of legalization, and in supporting the national community of youth in being heard when it comes to drug policy. On Wednesday, October 3rd, three of our board members will be presenting on Sensible Cannabis Education and we’ll be hosting our AGM in person and online right after.

CSSDP’s national board is composed of several volunteer members across Canada who work together remotely, while working closely with their communities and partner organizations to apply harm reduction and foster sensible drug policy and dialogue across the country. Our AGM is a key opportunity for us to meet in person, reflect on the work we have done and plan for what is to come in the following year. It allows members to debrief and propels us into a new year of bettering our communities by fighting for balanced, non-stigmatizing, and evidence-based drug conversations and measures. Helping us get together means supporting our sensible drug policy efforts, and especially our current biggest priority: cannabis education. As profoundly knowledgeable and well-connected young people, we are in the best position to effectively educate and engage in dialogue with other youth about cannabis.

If we want to ensure young people are educated about cannabis, the first step is supporting educators.

We are those educators.

We have the drive. We have the knowledge. We have the networks. We don’t have the money.

If you wish to support us, any donation goes a long way to fund the work we do. You can support us on Patreon with a regular monthly contribution, choose to fund a specific project, or simply etransfer to contact@cssdp.org.

Special donations will always get special recognition (contact us to learn more!) but every single dollar counts and will be put towards sensible drug policy. With at least 6 board members going to the AGM, our goal is to raise enough to cover their travel costs and conference entry, so we can celebrate Sensible Cannabis Education and our AGM together.

We thank you for your support and are looking forward to another year of progress.

Sensibly,

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Kira London-Nadeau

Kira London-Nadeau

Board member

Kira is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Montréal. Her research focuses on the bidirectional effects of cannabis and mental health issues in adolescence, with a focus on sexual and gender minorities. She is also passionate about drug policy, social justice, health, and education.
Kira London-Nadeau poursuit présentement une maîtrise en psychologie à l’université de Montréal. Sa recherche est centrée sur les effets bidirectionnels du cannabis et des symptômes de psychopathologie à l’adolescence, avec une attention particulière portée aux minorités d’orientations sexuelles et aux minorités de genre. Elle est aussi passionnée des politiques en substances illicites, de la justice sociale, de la santé et de l’éducation.

Ottawa’s Move for Harm Reduction via Vending Machines

Ottawa’s Move for Harm Reduction via Vending Machines

It has been reported that Ottawa has installed new machines. The vending machines are for needles and crack pipes. These are sterile devices for use to reduce the probability of non-sterile ones being used. This is intended to reduce the number of infections related to drug use.

Harm reduction dispensing unit outside Somerset West Community Health Centre (Source: Somerset West Community Health Centre)

The new machines are located at the Ottawa Public Health centers, who offer safe needle exchanges now.
The kits will contain a tie, three syringes, and alcohol swabs. The machines will make 24/7 service a reality for the community, for access to the needles, pipes, and so on.
Why these services 24/7 through vending machines in Ottawa? The main intention comes from the reduction of Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV.

 

The users of the vending machines will need tokens, which can be acquired through the center’s staff. It is important to note that this is not a full-scale initiative at the present time because these cost $20,000 to $25,000. Las Vegas and Vancouver are hosts to similar programs of action.

The empirical support is in favor of harm reduction. So, the move towards the vending machines for around-the-clock services devoted to its movement will reduce the number of infectious diseases in the addict community, which would have otherwise been higher without the harm reduction philosophy in practice.

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.

Youth and International Overdose Awareness Day

Youth and International Overdose Awareness Day

Thousands of Canadians needlessly die of drug overdose every year, and every year, the number grows. From 2000 to 2010, prescription opioid usage in Canada grew more than 200%. In 2002, the Health Officers’ Council of BC reported that there were 958 overdose deaths in Canada. In 2016, an estimated 2,458 Canadians died of opioid overdoses. This year, British Columbia alone is likely to have more than 1,400 overdose deaths, while in Ontario, two people die of opioid overdoses every day. Canadians are the second largest consumer of prescription opioids, second only to our neighbours, the United States. And without awareness and appropriate harm reduction, the overdose crisis will be magnified year after year.

Raising Awareness and Remembering

International Overdose Awareness Day was born on August 31st, 2001 – a day dedicated to commemorating friends, family and partners that have been lost to overdose. By honouring those lost to drug-related deaths, we share our stories and can create a community of support that will help improve the lives of people who use drugs. Anybody can help raise awareness by participating in any of the 48 International Overdose Awareness Day events across Canada. Some of our board members will be attending events in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario (find them on our facebook page).

Today, we should also reflect why students and youth should care about sensible drug policy, and how we can make a difference in our communities.

Barriers to Harm Reduction for Young People

Last year in BC, 1 in 5 people who were lost to overdose were under the age of 30. Youth encounter many opportunities to engage in substance use. Fentanyl has been found in certain non-opioid drugs that are often used in social settings (e.g. cocaine), which presents a risk to young people who may use these drugs without knowledge of their composition and without having built up a tolerance to opioids.

While important life-saving interventions like naloxone have been made more widely available in recent years, youth may experience barriers to accessing these services. They may not know about naloxone or where to get it, or they may not want to access it for fear of being stigmatized for their drug use. This has been reported at some campuses, where, in order to get a naloxone kit and training, a student needs to identify as an illicit drug user. Understandably, students might fear academic or other repercussions if they admit to campus administration that they use drugs.

Truly Protecting the Youth  

CSSDP has been working with our chapters on naloxone training for students and youth in different cities across Canada. UBC Okanagan chapter held weekly drop-in sessions on campus during the Spring; CSSDP Vancouver recently held a similar session for students in the city.

We are encouraging our chapters to work with their campus administration to ensure that Good Samaritan policies are enacted on campus. (Note: Canada has Good Samaritan policies around calling 9-1-1 for overdoses, but each campus might approach the issue differently with respect to academic consequences.)

We are currently working on a project to map harm reduction service locations in different cities across the country. For now, you can find a list of where you can obtain naloxone for free in Ontario, participate in British Columbia’s Toward the Heart take home naloxone program, at certain locations in Quebec, as well as several other provinces and territories. Another related awareness map is Celebrating Lost Loved Ones, an online memorial of more than 1000 stories of loved ones lost to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Public Health and Human Rights First

Many people use drugs for many different reasons. Criminalizing people for their drug use only serves to further stigmatize and marginalize people, which can lead to additional social harms, especially for those already self-medicating or suffering from physical or mental health issues. We can no longer ignore that our current approach to drugs (i.e. drug prohibition) has failed to achieve its goal of preventing drug use. Right now, we are dealing with an opioid crisis that has been made far worse by a contaminated drug supply.

As long as we continue with drug prohibition, we will continue to see a toxic drug supply. While we are happy that the government has begun taking steps away from drug prohibition by developing framework for regulating cannabis, we think it’s time to consider alternative approaches to prohibition for all illicit drugs.

As we stand with thousands upon thousands of people worldwide that are affected by countless preventable overdose deaths each year, we are reminded why we advocate every day for evidence-based drug policies that improve the lives of people who use drugs in Canada.

We encourage you to attend an overdose awareness day event near you! Join us in our efforts to raise awareness, promote harm reduction and change ineffective Canadian laws with a more sensible, evidence-based approach to drug policy by attending a local chapter meeting or starting a CSSDP chapter on your campus!

Stephanie Lake

Stephanie Lake

Co-Secretary

Stephanie is a doctoral student in population and public health at the University of British Columbia, where she is currently undertaking research to better understand the links between cannabis, opioids, and drug-related morbidity.
Find out more.

With or without the blessing

With or without the blessing

Harm reduction workers celebrating their temporary agreement with local law enforcement for the opening of the pop-up safe injection site at Moss Park in Toronto. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Toronto opened the 1st pop-up safe injection site.

The city of Toronto has not ‘blessed’ the project. However, activists for the site are excited about it, and “hope authorities won’t shut them down” (Nasser, 2017).

For one of the underserved sectors of the Toronto community, the Toronto Harm Reduction Alliance will open on Saturday. Harm reduction workers and activists, and advocates, have been making calls for something like this for some time (Rieti, 2017).

Three people have died, recently, due to overdoses (Glover, 2017). This is seen as a wakeup call by many (The Canadian Press, 2017). With these deaths, and with the ongoing protestations of harm reduction activists, they are taking these issues on for the community on their own. These are unregulated pop-up safe injection sites. The exact site, was not given by harm reduction worker matt Johnson in conversation with CBC News, to protect users and organizers (Nasser, 2017).

Johnson said, “We just can’t wait any longer.… With this many deaths we just can’t afford to.” The advocates for harm reduction consider the harm reduction sites sanctioned, or ‘blessed,’ by the city of Toronto. Advocates for harm reduction have been making calls for the declaration of a public health emergency alongside immediate funding for the 24-hour care for substance users.

Many have praised the city sites. However, these are considered insufficient by the harm reduction advocates. “They were opened to deal with the overdose problem that we had — not the increase that we’re dealing with. So they can’t handle the overflow that we’re seeing now,” Johnson said, citing a rash of drug overdose deaths in the past month that prompted police to issue a public alert.”

Mayor John Tory met with John and other harm reduction advocates for reassurance that the city’s staff and police will not attempt to take down the pop-up harm reduction site and would permit the harm reduction group to stay there.

The assurance was not given to the activists. Chair of the board of health, Joe Mihevc, told CBC News that the city of Toronto has been working to develop more city-sanctioned sites, but that this takes time. Harm reduction activists appear to have been opening up these in the light of the delays.

 

References

Glover, C. (2017, August 11). 3 dead in Durham region from drug overdoses, fentanyl suspected. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/three-dead-durham-overdoses-1.4243468.

Nasser, S. (2017, August 11). Toronto’s 1st pop-up safe-injection site set to open without city’s blessing. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-overdose-prevention-pop-up-site-1.4244301.

Rieti, J. (2017, August 11). Toronto harm reduction advocates pushing for pop-up safe-injection sites. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/push-for-pop-up-injection-sites-1.4243020.

The Canadian Press. (2017, July 31). Spate of drug overdoses in Toronto wakeup call, experts say. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-ovedose-alert-1.4228660.  

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Vancouver Island Opening Consumption Site

Vancouver Island Opening Consumption Site

It has been reported by CTV Vancouver Island that there is an exemption granted to the Vancouver Island Health Authority for the operation of Victoria’s first supervised consumption site.

An injection kit is shown at Insite, a safe injection facility in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

 

The site will open on 941 Pandora Ave. It has been named the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre. The centre will offer integrated health services in addition to addiction treatment programs, a nursing clinic, and mental health counselling.

The projected time for its opening is between the spring or summer of 2018. As the Pandora Community Health and Wellness Centre becomes functional and goes online, the site will provide the services for harm reduction and counselling.

Island Health says the site will need to undergo extensive renovations before it opens sometime in the spring or summer of 2018. In 2016, in British Columbia, 967 citizens died from a drug overdose. Some may see this as a siren call for action through harm reduction.

The site may be one of the steps in the Vancouver Island area to begin working on these issues around overdoses. 156 of the 967 deaths were on Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island Health Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Richard Stanwick, said, “The introduction of supervised consumption services is an important step in saving lives and harm reduction.”

Stanwick emphasized the opioid crisis and its “tremendous toll on the Island,” and so the need to provide more for hr needs of the communities regarding the problem of overdoses.

He mentioned supports and resources regarding this. “The opioid crisis has taken a tremendous toll on the Island and as health care providers, we must offer greater supports and resources to people in the communities we serve.”

2017 has not been much of a brighter series of months because the statistics between January and May, alone, have shown that 96 people have died from a drug overdose on Vancouver Island, which, as everyone familiar with the spectre of death and tragedy of permanent loss, affects the families and communities for years afterwards, typically.

The PHS Community Services Society and the Island Health made the join application for the operation of the supervised consumption site at 844 Johnston Street. Health Canada is reviewing the joint application now. “In total, there are eight overdose prevention sites on Vancouver Island,” CTV Vancouver Island said.

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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.

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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

Dessy has been studying drug policy and the cannabis industry for over a decade. Dessy works with startups and small businesses to develop their brand and digital marketing strategies in and outside of the Canadian cannabis industry and focuses on teaching and sensible drug education.
Find out more.

Got another idea for CSSDP goals? Send us an email!

10 + 5 =

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.
An Interview with Lauren Lehman, Volunteer for CSSDP

An Interview with Lauren Lehman, Volunteer for CSSDP

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

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

Lauren Lehman: Last year, I took a course in health geography. I enjoyed it. It was interesting. I thought about doing a masters in it. In class, we talked about harm reduction. We talked about safe injection sites in Vancouver. They are working well.

It is a good idea to reduce health risks. It reduces HIV/AIDs prevalence in a neighbourhood. It does not increase crime rates. There are misconceptions around it. When I heard about the organization, it seemed cool.

They were offering a volunteer position at the University of Ottawa. It seemed like a good way to gain experience through my studies.

Jacobsen: What tasks will you be taking on since you recently started?

Lehman: I will be meeting with Nick Cristiano. He will outline a research focused role. He asked for someone interested in communications, research, or event management. I had an interest in the research aspect. They were talking about drug awareness in education.

Jacobsen: With the upcoming research focus, there are two strategies, usually. One is punitive, or punishment, oriented, which is often called zero tolerance. On the other hand, there’s another, which has prevention and minimization of harm in it, called harm reduction.

What is the preferable strategy or model to you, and why?

Lehman: I advocate harm reduction. Honestly, it is the only real way. If you do punishment measure to try and reduce drug use or drug trafficking, it is a broken system. It is seen in the War on Drugs. It is not a good system at all.

It punishes people who are at the low end and in need of help and public health. Drug use is not a criminal issue. It is a public health issue. It does not address the underlying root causes and issues for these problems.

Harm reduction is the preferable approach. It is a preventative approach rather than reactionary.

Jacobsen: Many others have noted the non-partisan nature of CSSDP, the harm reduction advocacy for drugs, drug use, and drug policy in Canada. As a new member, what attracted you to CSSDP when you first saw it?

Lehman: I thought the work was important. I am very passionate about harm reduction. It is the way to go for public health and addressing these issues. I was on board with the mandate. I found the research interesting.

Jacobsen: Looking at the organization and the general movement (around and in the culture), what do you hope this goes in the future?

Lehman: I would hope this expands more. I hadn’t heard about it until I went to University of Ottawa. I hope people hear more about it. They have some amazing points. They don’t take a stance on whether drugs are good or bad.

It is not a judgmental organization. It is not like a lot of advocacy organizations, where there is a judgment base for them. People can get more on board with the non-judgemental stance, and the evidence-based focus and movement.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Lauren.

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 Evan Loster, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

An Interview with Evan Loster, Member of the Board of Directors for CSSDP

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get an interest in drug policy in Canada?

Evan Loster: My interest started in university. Ideologies about society changed with inspirations from first year philosophy, psychology, and sociology courses. I was having a conversation about marijuana legalization and psychedelic research. They brought up CSSDP and starting a chapter in Winnipeg. They suggested becoming involved in with the organization. I researched it.

I realized that there was a platform for students to become involved at a political level. My awareness changed from the experience. I did not become part of the board of directors in the first application.

One year later, Gonzo Nieto reached out to me. I applied and was voted on the board. Since then, my interest has been growing. My education and awareness has been growing, too. My awareness of the issues and the drug policies in place affecting human lives.

It is becoming apparent, which contributed to becoming involved politically, scientifically, and emotionally. From personal experience, I had siblings deal with drug addiction. I have volunteered in psychiatric wards too. These life experiences drove interest into consciousness, psychedelics, and drug policy.

Jacobsen: With respect to your current position, what tasks and responsibilities come along with it?

Loster: On the board, you commit as much as you can because it is a volunteer organization. We delegate tasks, organize campaigns, and help start and support chapters. Our chapters are the backbone of the organization, we represent the students in individual institutions across the country.

I chair the political advocacy and special projects committee. We write position statements on policies in place, bills being enacted, supporting initiatives voicing human rights issues around drug policy, and so on. It is what you can commit.

It can be writing blogs, helping with the website, or attending conferences or demonstrations to represent us and our chapters – show our presence.

Jacobsen: Two philosophies enter the discussion across the board. One is punitive or zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction or minimization. Which is preferable to you, and why?

Loster: I believe in harm reduction. It is a human right to experience altered states, whether it is substance induced, a religious experience, or otherwise for the shift in consciousness. It has been part of the human experience for thousands of years. We have a co-evolution with mind-altering substances.

For me, I do not think punishment will help people. It will further instill self-hatred. It will further instill the real causation of an addiction. It will promote criminal activity because you’re taking people dealing with an internal battle and throwing non-violent drug offenders into an institution with violent offenders.

It takes away any place to grow. You do not see another way. You come out with this negative view. Unless, of course, you have a rare life experience that changes you. It is subjective to the person. There are many reasons punishment will never work.

We need more empathy for how trauma affects. People are humans. It boils down to treating humans as humans. It does not have to be any more complicated.

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

Loster: It is hard to narrow it down to one thing. It is advocating for human rights and a harm reduction based sensible drug policy. CSSDP’s core principle is to help youth mobilize themselves and provide a platform for them to make a difference.

A lot of people don’t necessarily believe in their government, don’t know how to get involved, and may not got out of their comfort zone to find a way. If we can provide that platform, and bring awareness to it, it allows youth and students to have a voice in that political fashion.

Jacobsen: You affirmed a preference for the harm reduction approach, which involves prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement – as the four major parts of it. If we take into account the more practical, general things of it, at least in Canada, what comes to mind for you with respect to harm reduction, practical examples?

Loster: For me, there’s plenty. The three that come to mind are safe injection sites, naloxone training, and providing that overdose antidote to first responders and the users themselves. If you have a demographic of people who are high opiate users, who would have easily accessible naloxone, the idea is not to encourage use, but to, in essence, save lives.

We’re not suggesting by providing naloxone the encouragement of the use of heroine by them. We are accepting the fact and reducing the risk. We are providing a harm reducing service to eliminate that risk. Secondly, with supervised injection sites, the ideology behind that is not to encourage use, but safe use.

If there’s testing services, it ensures no adulterations of the substances. If clean needles and access, then no transmissions of HIV, STDs, and diseases in genera. These services provide the support of community.

You’re providing support as well. It revolves around reducing harm and providing support. So, you have more positive reinforcement of certain types of behavior to ensure reduction or elimination of mortality.

Every harm reduction principle is related to saving lives. Punishment is more related around, not necessarily saving a life, but reforming a life. An archetype of a productive member of society, according to them.

Harm reduction is more accepting of people and their issues, and working through those problems. One emergent phenomena in Canada, even with the legal barriers, is drug testing at music festivals.

With new adulterants like fentanyl, and other synthetic powerful opiates, those services at music festivals are essential because it brings awareness for people. For instance, Shambhala is a music festival. They did drug testing.

It was a success. There were no overdoses. They had naloxone on site. They didn’t need to use it. There is a drug testing culture. You are informing someone of the substance. Also, you’re informing the entire community the drugs and the effects of the drugs.

MDMA, for example, has a common logo on it. They would put that on a board saying, “Green bubble B pills, all tested high for PMA.” So if you’re walking by the drug testing tank, and if you have those pills, that information can prevent bad use.

You get an alert of a possible substance with an adulterant in it. Another aspect, the provision of the drug testing service. The legality is an issue. The testers can’t touch the substance. You have to follow a strict regimen.

The users need to understand. It is up to them. You can’t say to use or not to use a substance, but must inform. It leaves responsibility to the person, the choice to the person, which is a good thing. It promotes self-independence.

There is a legality issue. If you tell someone, “If you take this pill, it could cause cardiac arrest,” that’s more important than curtailing that because of legality. Until we get past the taboo with harm reduction services, it will become more open, more broad, and realistic.

Harm reduction is education, too, from a youth level. You should start as young as possible. Of course, age appropriate content. For instance, you do not show pictures of overdose people to children. That is a scare tactic. It is not informing.

There are individuals using heroine throughout life. They hold a job. They function throughout life. The services should provide education appropriate to age. People should know what people do rather than the stereotypes. I used a suppressed tablet, thinking this was pure MDMA. I didn’t understand the feeling.

(Laugh)

It was an abundance of energy and feeling in a different state, not being able to sleep. Most likely, those pill were not pure MDMA. At the time of ingesting the pill, I didn’t know it. I thought “A purple pill with a crown on top. Cool!”

So, you didn’t receive education in high that was saying, “These are pressed capsules. Did you know MDMA can’t be made into pressed capsules?” That information could have instilled the unconscious thought into me, “Oh, these are pressed. These aren’t pure MDMA.”

That beginning phase is important. People can make proper decisions. When we limiting people to not being able to make proper decisions, we get into trouble. You are taking away that self-empowerment from them.

You are saying, “You aren’t wise enough. You can’t decide this.” However, if you have the spectrum of information, people will use it. It is much better to have the optimism. People will use it.

If there’s people ignorant of the knowledge gained, that is something needing independent change. It is more a reflection of the personality trait rather than our work. There’s the independent side of the person. There’s intervention from a community perspective.

It is important to have a harm reduction community, which is important for an individual’s self-development. We can promote the behavioural change.

Jacobsen: What events have success?

Loster: In Europe, there are a lot of events. Zendo Project is a major one in the United States. They’ve been at Burning Man. There’s an organization called Dance Safe. That’s what I know. Other have contemplated it, but have stopped because of legal issues.

That’s the biggest issue. You have festival run by boards. The problem is everyone on the board must agree. We need drug testing. Even in my own community, we have something called Folk Fest. I want to bring drug testing to it.

Even talking to the harm reduction community in Winnipeg, there’s this problem having accountability and responsibility in those events. They tried to bring Plan B. One, sexual assault is an ongoing and common issue at these events. Two, the need to have that protection for females is a good thing.

For example, an unsolicited sexual encounter and don’t want to have their baby. Plan B was over-the-counter. They didn’t want to take responsibility for giving that out to people. They will turn down the entire idea.

Since the festival turns down the idea, it doesn’t mean that won’t happen there. Same with the festival. They didn’t want naloxone at the festival without a trained professional. Naloxone is easy. You don’t need to be a trained professional to administer it.

It is as easy as taking saline mixtures up the nose. I hope, in spite of it, some will bring naloxone. It is not to promote drug use, but to help attendees to stay safe. Universities should have access to it.

It is a tough time. You are stressed and depressed in this major time of development. Many will experiment with substances. Opiates are a good substance to reduce pain. They calm you. They bring you down. The issue is this becoming a recurrent obsessive behaviour.

Also, when you think a taken substance is one thing, and it’s not, it can be a big problem. Across the world, there are safe injection sites. Many countries have legalized heroine. Canada too now. Paraguay has decriminalized all drugs.

It is a perfect example. The statistics demonstrate drug related crime has gone down. Overdoses have gone down. HIV/AIDS rates have gone down. Drug use has gone slightly up. The statistics might be deceptive. Have rates gone up or have people admitted it – since the stigma is gone?

Maybe, people admit it. Maybe, people experiment without the dissolution of the stigma. If someone wants to try marijuana or a therapeutic amount of MDMA, that should not be stigmatized. It is awesome to explore yourself.

Jacobsen: There’s an inverted pyramid of drug abuse. An inverted pyramid of harm and legality, tobacco and alcohol are harmful to individuals, families, and societies. Cannabis is in the national discussion now.

It is illegal. Yet, it does not have major harms associated with it, especially compared to tobacco and alcohol. Tobacco and alcohol are legal and harmful. Marijuana or cannabis is virtually non-harmful and illegal. This is repeated across the spectrum.

What seems like the reason behind this?

Loster: I am unconventional. I use Terence McKenna and Bill Hicks for this perspective. Tobacco and alcohol promote productive workers. Same with caffeine. They are the most prized substances in society. You ingest nicotine and caffeine to make you productive. There’s no other reason for it.

It doesn’t bring you down at night. The whole basis is the promotion of cultural values of productivity. You drink alcohol to forget about the shitty work week. So, you have a coping mechanism.

When people stop using these substances, that’s when they stop being able to work at that level. You start depreciating yourself. Your true qualities are showing. Let’s use the opposite side of the spectrum, I like heroine as an example.

There are differences in the addictive qualities of heroine and tobacco. Heroine, you may want to stay home more than go to work. Same with psychedelics. They make you question the cultural patterns.

If everyone tried LSD or psilocybin, people wouldn’t contemplate work for tomorrow. They would look into other values, which the establishment doesn’t want now. I don’t believe in a massive conspiracy. Ideologies have created a giant illusion believed by us.

The ideologies began with a few people. It spread. If you look at a cult, a cult as it first comes out, it has a huge stigma. Everyone thinks it’s bad. If you attach the word to it, it is instantly demonized. Every major belief system started as a cult.

You had a small number of people believing something. It grew. Scientology is ridiculous now. In 1,000 years, if it’s still here, people will think it has some basis in reality because “Why has it been around for so long?”

It boils down to substances most promoted in society are promoting cultural values. Those most penalized are against those values. One of Nixon’s or Reagan’s political advisors targeted specific marginalized groups of people by penalizing the drugs used most by them.

The black community was crack and heroine. Even to today, Jay-Z put out a music video about the war on drugs. He talked about the media promoted crack as a black problem, even though more white people than black people used it.

Legally, blacks got worst charges and indictments for selling crack cocaine because the people using crack were in poverty and in minority neighbourhoods based on the expense. Same with the Far Left movement. They penalized psychedelics because LSD and psilocybin created a counterculture movement.

It was associated with it. It mostly boils down to culture. There are classifications of legality and substances are not based on science, more on how we want people to act and behave. Even altered states of consciousness like schizophrenia is demonized in our society, if you’re a shaman, you are seen as a gift.

Our society doesn’t make schizophrenia mark the archetype of sanity. We demonize and attempt to medicate it.

Jacobsen: The examples of Bill Hicks and Terence McKenna sit alongside Timothy Leary and Baba Ram Dass, or Richard Albert. I like the analysis. It is not a conspiracy theory. It is an analysis of institutions. By “an analysis of institutions,” I mean a critical framework from which to examine society at large.

If you take the American examples that you gave, we have crack cocaine, sellers in the white population or the European Americans in terms of descendants, and the buyers in the black population or the African Americans.

You have the psychedelics with the Far Left, politically. These become the minority, marginalized, demonized groups. In Canada, we had cannabis with Mexicans. We had opium with the Chinese ‘scare’.

These become manifestations of xenophobia. In addition, certain cultural values can be expressed by output of the human organism. For example, we have the examples of tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine.

Each of these activates particular sets of networks in the brain, in the main part of the central nervous system. The values held by the society in terms of what is taken as what you called an “archetype” for the values that the society takes in.

Those values, in a concrete sense, are represented in each person’s neural architecture. When they take a substance, it will activate certain networks more often than not. If caffeine, it’s busy, busy, busy. If alcohol, it’s down, relax, forget.

In other cultures more the fringe, sub-cultures in the society, you can have psychedelics from the Far Left, which are exploratory drugs for the most part. They bring about experiences that are typically called mystical, transcendental, or religious.

We have stories of Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse. Ok, maybe, but that was probably a naturally born expression of a similar neural architecture being activated naturally rather than artificially. That’s what I’m taking from what you’re saying.

Loster: Even to add on the caffeine, anxiety, nicotine basis, we’re a society that utilizes things like Xanax to counter those effects. You can go to your doctor tomorrow and say, “I have too much anxiety,” rather than realize that you take too may stimulants.

You can prescribe a pill to take more stimulants. You are more of a machine rather than a human. You lose the artistic element, which is self-expression. There’s a reason individuals are drawn to natural human expression.

People see someone dancing in the middle of the street and are drawn to it, “Why are they doing that?” You are all the same people. It is weird to see people have that natural expression in modern society.

That’s the difference between the counter-culture and archaic forms of society, and modern society. Substance use comes from the level of comfort individuals have with their neighbours. You might not say, “Hi,” to them.

That’s opposed to the more intimate societies. It is less than the substances, the psychedelics, but a reflection of the cultural values. We can create a psychedelic reality. It is constructed things in that form to create the behaviour.

Those people feel more interested in talking to a stranger about their day. Our society, people will honk, try to drive you off the road, and so on. Maybe, that’s a reflection of individuals being on stimulants rather than being mellow.

It is hard for youth. If you identify with the artistic side, you have everything against you. You have barriers, resistance, and problems to face. It is not impossible. However, it will be hell to get there.

You will have people say, “You’re crazy. Don’t you want to buy a house and have a family?” Your own family too. It is difficult. It is multi-dimensional. We need to get youth to behave independently.

Our youth are good at organizing. We need to organize into a central message and do something about it. The CSSDP is an important framework for it. If we continue to see the organizations, initiatives, and coalitions build and grow, then more momentum will happen for it.

It will continue to grow as long as people stand up. Another way to look at this society is to look at vaping. Analog cigarettes are being taken over by vaping. Millions of people vaporize, even though it’s not legalized.

In Winnipeg, 25 vape stores have opened in recent years.

(Laugh)

Out of nothing, you have an economy, jobs, and millions of people with a healthier manner to ingest nicotine. So, the government hasn’t done anything. It has tried to do it. You can’t vape in public spaces.

You need to make windows frosted. So, children can’t see inside. They haven’t stopped the phenomena. It is an essential point. You see this with dispensaries for marijuana, not closing and continuing to promote their ideology.

That is, they should have a non-discriminatory storefront for people over 19. People will not intervene. It is too much a headache. They will accept the social or cultural change. It is practical for them anymore.

Also, another thing is the number of people retiring in the next couple of years. The majority of the work force is on the verge of retirement. Even the provincial government has trouble finding replacement employees, you used to have 10-20 candidates per job in the government.

Now, you won’t can as many candidates. Many young people don’t want to work in the public sector. It is not a fun place to work. There are no incentives. Do you want to work for low pay with people having a completely different mentality?

With the division and segregation within the government, no organizations work together. They want to attach their name to it. You have the division that creates roadblocks and problems. Everyone needs to have their hands on it.

That’s another step too. For society, everything takes years. The dimension of time does not have to dictate the rate of change for an ideology. As long as you have an consensus of belief, it is a pinnacle moment of drug policy.

Everyone changes to a common belief about drug policy. Everything will change at that time. With the overdoses happening, it is becoming a larger epidemic with 30 overdoses in one weekend or one night.

Everyone uses the same adulterated supply. At that point, society will change. It is a common trend. We need to lose 2,000 or 5,000 lives before changing the policies to help people. As we both know, drug policy hurts the prosecuted and those overdosing.

Also, it has political and economic ramifications. It affects parents and siblings. If you associate with someone using drugs, especially if the drug has legality behind it, it is an issue.

Jacobsen: You described the context for the CSSDP. I want to shift the conversation to other organizations. What other organizations would you recommend individuals look into if they have further interest in getting involved, knowledge – in whatever capacity they can?

Loster: In Canada, I would recommend the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. They are the reason for the CSSDP and its progress. They are the ‘parent’. They have more power, and experience through life and career work. There’s a starting point.

I am a huge fan of MAPS, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Their work is amazing. If I could be involved with them, eventually, that would be part of my dream. The paradigm pushed by them with therapeutic use of psychedelics is important.

There are misconceptions about them used in a recreational way, which is not reflective of the experiences. Some might assume hallucinations. Others see this as a transpersonal change. That’s one major organization, which I love. They formed Zendo Project.

They test harm reduction services for psychedelics. There’s the Open Societies Foundation. There’s the American version of us, Students for Sensible Drug Policy. There are others. There are online campaigns to tell stories and reduce stigma.

It’s a huge step in elimination of the stigma. There are multiple organizations out there. They fight for change. It is a growing movement. As I become more involved in it, I did not realize the number of frameworks and support.

Even through social media, you can tweet, retweet, like, or follow someone, there’s something right away. It is like an organism grows. Its dendrites are growing and making new connections and becoming bigger, and bigger.

Once involved in networks and organizations, it leads to more networks and organizations. It grows. You choose the level of involvement as well.

Jacobsen: There have been attempts to unify the various organizations on a small scale. Medium-term to short-term partnerships for this. What is the importance of partnerships between organizations to make larger changes?

Loster: It is looking at the fact of a single human having a great belief. However, unless compiled with other minds, your belief will only be good to yourself. When you combine organizations, not only does it bridge the gaps in spite of differences, it gives a larger voice.

It gives a larger following. In this sense, rather than 100 minds together, you can have 10,000 minds and opinions. Many more ideas too. It is essential for the change. You need the multidimensional perspective.

It is important for the change for everyone. There will always be differences, especially if you do not include these people. You want to keep people included without marginalizing people. Like the United Nations event, an event with a single mandate unifies everyone.

When on that level, you’re thinking of the entire world. You meet individuals from Guatemala, Columbia, South Africa, the United States, and so on. You learn about damaging organizations like Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

They are a perfect example. They are smart approaches to marijuana, but they are a front for the standard policies – non-evidence-based and punitive policies. They demonize the substance, have irrational claims that the science disputes, and so on.

You can have complete ignorance, too. A country like Malaysia will have policies ‘based on human rights,’ but they support the death penalty. You’re not laughing at the country. It is humorous. How can they say that?

You can have someone from Montreal and Indonesia agree with you. When you come together, your culture does not matter. Your beliefs matter. There’s a human rights lawyer from Indonesia. It is another country with the death penalty for traffickers.

They’ve killed foreigners like Australians. He wanted to talk about drug policy. He was silenced by his own country. He had a position in the roundtable and talked to us. He might risk the entire culture that he’s from. He might not be able to return to the country dependent on the political ideology there.

He’s crying as he’s speaking to us. He’s had friends killed for drug related offenses. We see that first hand. Afterwards, everyone observing from upstairs (those without seats) stood and clapped. We weren’t clapping as individual organizations.

We clapped as individual humans that realized the truth he was speaking as well as giving him acknowledgement of his sacrifice. His pain and suffering. That we’re all there for him. We never met before. We aren’t from the same country or culture, not the same race or gender.

However, with the same belief, we support each other. When organizations come together, they have the same belief. You can see if organizations work together and through their mandate. It is the biggest thing. You have a collective power. The more people, the better the greater the voice.

Jacobsen: With respect to CSSDP, there are ways to get involved with it. What does CSSDP most need from volunteers? How can potential volunteers expedite that to help out?

Loster: CSSDP needs more ground members, more chapters. The board can use for help. However, it doesn’t matter the size of the board without the youth starting to form groups and make changes. If you have a 100 board members dictating tasks, starting campaigns, and so on, without chapters, nothing is happening.

We can start a campaign and post on social media. We don’t get followers or chapters, or momentum in the movement with people. The biggest thing is chapters and youth becoming involved in CSSDP.

Youth advocating for sensible drug policy. That’s the biggest thing. It is start and create a chapter. If you want to get involved with us, you can start a chapter. If there’s a chapter near you, you can start there. There’s nothing limiting the chapters from influencing their own development.

We don’t have huge resources to start a huge event. Imagine a chapter hosting an electronic music festival with the need for drug testing. We would support it. However, we don’t do it. The chapter does it.

There’s nothing limiting a chapter. They can grow and become their own entity. The big thing is chapters becoming bigger and independent for their own community. W can change things at the national level through advocacy.

The changes happen piecemeal with conversation with friends, family, and fellow peers and altering the mind state of politicians. If every community begins to change, the national side will too.

Eventually, you will have the same situation with the states. You have states with a belief pattern, legalizing cannabis. As well, the federal disagreement. Of course, it will become ridiculous. Individual states will legalize and the federal will not. People won’t care.

It is self-empowerment for people. It boils down to people empowering themselves to the point of making change in their own lives. It starts small and becomes large.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Evan.

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 Elazar Ehrentreu, Chapter Leader of CSSDP-Western

An Interview with Elazar Ehrentreu, Chapter Leader of CSSDP-Western

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

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

Elazar Ehrentreu: I became involved after reading the book, Why the Drug War Has Failed, by Judge James Gray. A former judge, Gray provided me with an understanding of how problematic the criminal justice system in the United States has become in lieu of the war on drugs.

People are incarcerated for extensive periods because they used, or supplied, small amounts of drugs. Some are addicts and putting them behind bars can worsen their condition. Incarcerating individuals for non-violent crimes is not only expensive, but ineffective in reducing drug use and harm in society.

A more sensible approach would be decriminalization or legalization – depending on the drug, and focusing on rehabilitation, preventative measures, and harm reduction strategies. Money spent incarcerating people can be used in many helpful ways. For example, it can be to help drug users struggling with addiction overcome it.

Jacobsen: With respect to the CSSDP, what are your tasks and responsibilities?

Ehrentreu: I am the chapter leader for CSSDP at Western working as a team with eight other students. Each have specific responsibilities. At present, our main focus is increasing membership and presence on campus through tabling, social media, and other events including roundtables, film screenings, and presentations.

Jacobsen: What seems like the main or central principle, or value, of CSSDP?

Ehrentreu: The overarching principle of CSSDP is addressing the problematic drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. The first step to address the issue of drug prohibition is by informing and convincing the public about why change is needed. This approach is multifaceted: there is much to learn about the failures of the war on drugs and through which such knowledge can be used to better structure our drug policies.

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

Ehrentreu: I hope CSSDP grows further and see its influence on the Canadian federal government increasing into the future. I look forward to heading a new chapter and have members participate in future CSSDP initiatives, events, and drug policy update as well as encouraging them to become more involved on the national level. While maintaining a grassroots structure, CSSDP’s sphere of influence can be increased to make large changes to drug policy in Canada, which is along with the various other organizations.

Jacobsen: There are two strategies for drugs, drug use, and drug policy in Canada. One is punitive, by which I mean punishment, called the zero tolerance approach or strategy. The other is a harm reduction or harm minimization approach or strategy. What is the preferable methodology to you, and why?

Ehrentreu: The preferable strategy is harm reduction. When you make drugs illegal, it has a minimal effect on deterrence. In addition, while criminalizing drugs keeps drugs out of reach from the public, it creates a black market as the demand for drugs makes its supply a lucrative business.

If drugs were decriminalized or legalized, they would be supplied via open markets or through government programs, which might be taxed. This would channel the profits from criminals to the public. If taxed, it will provide the government a revenue stream to use for harm reduction programs and other preventative measures.

We can think of the ‘drug problem’ this way: it is not a question of how we are to completely end drugs use, rather, it is how we are to ensure the safety of the public and of the people who use drugs.

That is, if one is to use drugs, how can he or she do so as safely as possible? Harm reduction does not question whether or not a person should or should not use a drug, but it respects the choices of the individual.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Elazar.

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 Dr. Tara Marie Watson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

An Interview with Dr. Tara Marie Watson, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How’d you get interested and involved in Canadian drug policy?

Dr. Tara Marie Watson: I have longstanding interests in drug policy in general. I started becoming interested as a graduate student at the Master’s level. I took graduate-level courses, which opened a new personal perspective on drug issues.

Previously, I adopted a psychological lens through which to view drug issues. I took courses that were more about the sociology of drug-related problems. These courses opened up new personal perspectives.

I learned about a number of converging factors, including socio-cultural elements, that form part of drug-related issues and policies. At that point, I became interested in learning more about drug policy – its design, politics, and ways it’s debated. I then did a Ph.D. in criminology.

I have also been involved in the coordination of public health research related to harm reduction. Canada has been a jurisdiction of interest, not only because of living here, but Canada has seen interesting ups-and-downs and stagnation with regards to drug policy.

Jacobsen: In general, there are two streams of thought. Philosophies as theories. Strategies as practice. There’s a punitive or punishment approach called zero tolerance. There’s another called harm reduction. Briefly, you noted expertise in harm reduction. What is the preferable strategy, and why?

Watson: As well, there is a wide spectrum. You have correctly identified two sort of opposite ends of the spectrum. One being punitive, and zero tolerance. The other being harm reduction. There’s a lot that can fall in between these two approaches, including policies and strategies also referred to as harm reduction.

These strategies vary as to the level of meeting people ‘where they’re at’ in terms of their drug use. Some strategies are coercive. Some are harm reduction-oriented. I want to make that clarification. I am on the harm-reduction end of the spectrum. Punitive, zero-tolerance, and law enforcement-oriented approaches to drug use have been abject failures.

Evidence from criminology and sociology associated with the war on drugs document the failures in Canada, the US, and other countries following prohibitionist logic over many decades. Punitive approaches towards drugs do not reduce levels of drug use. These approaches don’t deter people from trying or experimenting with different substances.  They don’t reduce drug-related crime. In particular, they discriminate against segments of the population that are typically marginalized in some way.

For example, people experiencing poverty, homelessness, histories of trauma, and so on. These experiences are important factors in the lives of some people who use drugs. By arresting, charging, and throwing people in jail for crimes like drug possession, we have done nothing to reduce the stigma and discrimination in their lives. We’ve done little to mitigate the health-related problems associated with drug use. Prisons are, in particular, known to be challenging places to offer treatment for drug use.

Jacobsen: To make things explicit, you mentioned “segments of the population.” What are the segments of the population? What are the most damaging effects of bad drug policy?

Watson: People who have had experiences with significant amounts of discrimination and social marginalization in life often exhibit heavier, more sustained, and problematic forms of drug use. This includes people who are members of racial and ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and those coming from families with ongoing and sustained problematic substance use, as well as histories of trauma.

These groups can be predisposed to more serious forms of drug use such as dependence and addiction. They find themselves more likely to be in conflict with the law compared to more “mainstream” people who may use drugs because of, for example, living on the street and having had many experiences of discrimination. They don’t have as many resources or means of protection when they obtain drugs. In terms of the damaging effects of overly punitive and zero-tolerance drug laws, there are multiple. These effects include ongoing stigmatization and marginalization of the aforementioned groups. Again, these groups tend to be disproportionately affected by drug laws. It is due in part to the discretion in place  of drug enforcement by the police. We know of many issues around this in the criminal justice system.

One of the other effects, in the US especially, is the enforcement of drug laws having resulted in massive incarceration and a prison-industrial complex. There is much sociological research to support this, and some key documentaries explain this phenomenon, such as The House I Live In, too.

The health effects are very damaging. People on the street experiencing homelessness and poverty and involved in taking drugs have to conceal drug use from the authorities. This leads to myriad health-related harms. Everything from having to conceal themselves to take drugs in clandestine locations such as alleyways. They have to throw away drugs and drug-use equipment out of fear. They don’t want to get caught or have their equipment confiscated by police.

One remedy to some of these issues is harm reduction strategies and programs. They can be successful and are in place in Canada, to a degree.

Jacobsen: One of the more important subjects of drug policy comes in the form of volunteering. This comes from three areas. One, that means from those out of high school and with more freedom in undergraduate studies.

Two, those starting the first major research projects, honours theses and Masters theses. Three, those becoming professionals through doctorate level and having expert-level opinions on the subject matter. Any advice for those three demographics?

Watson: That’s an interesting question. I wasn’t expecting one like it. Those with an interest in drug policy should seek out resources. There should be more resources on campuses across Canada. For example, groups like the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy are really important. These groups need to get the word out through campus and social media outreach. It can help reach the students that have interest and don’t know where to look. At the high school and undergraduate levels, you don’t get much tailored, drug-policy education.

I find that people need to be self-interested. Those grassroots, community, and student-oriented groups are really important to get students engaged in Canadian drug policy reform. For those starting at the early levels of research, there needs to be programs on campus that engage students at all levels. That includes graduate students and faculty. There needs to be a place to learn more and get involved. Here at the University of Toronto, there’s a Collaborative Program in Addiction Studies. It offers multi-disciplinary courses on drug-related issues.

Drug policy is just one aspect of this program; it is a  program for those who have general interests in drug-related issues at the University of Toronto. There should be efforts to broaden those types of academic programs and have the advocacy piece to coincide with it.

For those early-career professionals, it is important to stay engaged on social media and seek out different opportunities to become involved in drug policy issues. I do this. For example, I know about and have reached out to the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and campaigns like Support, Don’t Punish. When I see such groups or campaigns, I sign up for newsletters and email lists. I visit the websites to acquire more information. I want to stay involved in the latest news regarding harm reduction in Canada, in particular. I think it’s a good thing to be a part of these groups.

Jacobsen: How can professional academics mentor younger generations?

Watson: It is wonderful for people to seek out such mentorship. There can be more done. Drug policy experts can come to events and speak to students and other people interested in these issues. Groups like the CSSDP do a great job reaching out to speak to experts. It’s like what you’re doing right now. Drug policy experts tend to congregate together and speak to one another. That is great. However, there needs to be more cross-dialogues with other stakeholders who are interested and want to get involved in drug policy.

That includes law enforcement agents and social workers and teachers. You sometimes don’t see these individuals come to certain drug policy events. So, thinking beyond mentorship, there needs to be more outreach to get experts in drug policy speaking to different groups. How do you best do this? That’s a pressing question.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Dr. Watson.

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 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.
An Interview with Heidi Trautmann, Volunteer for CSSDP

An Interview with Heidi Trautmann, Volunteer for CSSDP

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

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Tell us about how you got an interest in Canadian drug policy.

Heidi Trautmann: My sister introduced me to it. She was volunteering. She was on the board. She informed me about the job. Before I applied to the job, I did posters and pictures for her. She thought it would be cool if I worked for CSSDP.

So, I did! I was really lucky to get the job.

Jacobsen: What tasks and responsibilities come along with the position?

Trautmann: One was work for the Support Don’t Punish event. That included videos from the Support Don’t Punish Facebook page and research found on their website. I did event posters such as Mapping the Mind with Mushrooms and the Support Don’t Punish event, and the t-shirt design. I created a drug infographic relating to certain drugs. I am continuing it.

Jacobsen: There are two major strategies. One is zero tolerance. The other is harm reduction. What method seems more reasonable to you?

Trautmann: Harm reduction because you cannot force somebody to give up. If someone is forced with the idea of drugs, they might feel hopeless. Drug use is not a legal issue. It is a health issue, which needs to be tackled in an appropriate way.

Obviously, we do not want people taking harmful drugs. They should not be punished with it. They should be helped to heal rather than surviving in jail.

Jacobsen: With regard to CSSDP, what is its core principle?

Trautmann: It is to spread information about drugs and drug use rather than promote drug use. The purpose of CSSDP is to spread information for individuals without forcing ideals on people rather than what is humane.

Jacobsen: With respect to some of the most vulnerable populations, if we take the homeless, the addicted, and children, and if we take some of the negative impacts seen with them through indirect harms, any recommendations for reduction of harms to those populations?

Trautmann: Volunteering is a good way to reduce harm. People in a higher class than others, more money and privilege, then these individuals could assist in spreading knowledge.

Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future – getting more funding, more people, more skill sets, and so on?

Trautmann: I hope, in Canada, if people hear about CSSDP, they won’t have to ask about it. It should be something known to people. People should have more knowledge on drugs and harm reduction.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Heidi.

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.
Voices: Nick Cristiano on the ‘Grey Area,’ Executive Responsibilities and Sensible Drug Policy

Voices: Nick Cristiano on the ‘Grey Area,’ Executive Responsibilities and Sensible Drug Policy

How did you become interested in drug policy in Canada?

I majored in sociology in school, always having been interested in deviance, I became very interested in drug use. My reason for being interested was seeing it. Also, it was a grey area; it was not clearly wrong. Other crimes seemed less grey to me. I was interested in studying drug use because I found that the laws and stigmas arbitrary.

Murder is clearly wrong. Drug use, you need to know the climate to know why it’s deviant. In my masters, I continued research on drug use. I made a commitment to this path. I am happy. I went further than I originally thought. I became acquainted with both the academic research as well as the stuff happening on the ground. That’s how I became involved with CSSDP. I wanted to move away from studying drug use. I wanted to become involved with an organization where I could build contacts and fight for things important to me.

What tasks and responsibilities come with being an executive board member?

My position on the executive board is a personnel liaison; essentially, I am the human resources person. I make sure everyone is happy and in pursuit of something interesting to them. We want people to tap into their passions.

You want to love what you’re doing for the organization. Otherwise, you’re not going to do it if you don’t enjoy it. As part of the executive board, I am a vote for most major decisions regarding the organization.

What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?

The promotion of sensible drug policy is the core principle here. We want to promote sensible drug policy in communities across Canada. We want to raise awareness and equip people with the resources necessary as activists to speak out against irrational drug policies, mobilize and enact change.

By ‘sensible drug policy,’ we mean policy that is not harmful. By harmful, we refer to prohibition where drugs are forced into an illegal market with unregulated quality. Many problems come with prohibition, which regulation and decriminalization would solve or minimize.

Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

I hope we continue to expand our network. We have a strong presence in Ontario and Quebec. I would love for CSSDP to move into remote communities. Remote communities are important because, despite drug problems existing there, they lack resources for minimizing the potential for drug-related harm, e.g. addiction counseling, harm reduction resources, etc. Therefore, their experience with drug policy is unique and important. They are included in discussions about improving drug policies.  

If we have a strong presence across Canada, a big national network, we can work together towards the improvement of drug policy. With the Liberal proposal for legalization, I hope CSSDP will be involved in bringing the youth voice to the decision-making processes.

Scott Jacobsen

Scott Jacobsen

Board member

Scott Douglas Jacobsen researches and presents independent panels, papers, and posters, and founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Find out more.

Voices: Andras Lenart on Representing CSSDP Locally and Internationally

Voices: Andras Lenart on Representing CSSDP Locally and Internationally

In brief, how did you get involved with Canadian drug policy?

My interest in drug policy stemmed from experiences volunteering at a shelter, where I met many individuals struggling with substance use. Following this, I became interested in the policies surrounding these issues. I saw things could be done to improve policies and the way people were treated. So, I joined CSSDP to collaborate with others on this, and other related issues.

I joined the McGill chapter last September. Andrew and Nancy, two of the McGill chapter members, were starting the McGill chapter and I became involved with it. Then, in December of 2015, I joined the board of directors for the national organization.

What tasks and responsibilities come with being on the board of directors ?

In addition to serving on the board of directors, I am the international representative for the organization. I [communicate with other youth drug policy organizations around the world, such as Students for Sensible Drug Policy. Together, we are planning an NGO training with different drug policy organizations, to take place in Thailand. We would acquire training in drug policy related issues and fundraising strategies.

I am also the chair of the conference planning committee. CSSDP is planning a 2017 conference in May in Montreal, so I am attempting to organize the logistics with some other volunteers and board members of CSSDP. The project is in the early stages and will develop with more work in the future. We need to find speakers and a location, and then plan the logistics for people coming from the United States and elsewhere. We’ll need to advertise the event and get local press for it.

Finally, as a CSSDP board member, I have been a representative of CSSDP at the SSDP conference. I was also a representative for CSSDP for a consultation held by the Canadian government through the Centre on Substance Use and Addiction too. The Canadian Government was attempting to inform Canadian drug policies. In general, my role in CSSDP is to provide representation for the organization itself. I have to find opportunities and guide the future acts of the organization.

What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?

The unique aspect of CSSDP [in contrast to other drug policy organizations] is that most of us are students and we are directly representing the voice of youth. Most drug policy organizations do not have youth as the focus.

Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

There are chapters in universities across Canada. I hope for the organization to spread further and have representation throughout Canada in high schools as well. That is, to have more influence and opportunity in terms of student politics and drug policy, even at a local institutional level.
Here at McGill, we are hoping to have the student body or the student society provide drug-checking services. These harm reduction measures are not on the national or regional level, but it would make a considerable difference in the lives of students attending McGill and provide further impetus for change in other areas of the country.

 

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.
Voices: Heather D’Alessio on Past Experiences and the Future of Drug Policy

Voices: Heather D’Alessio on Past Experiences and the Future of Drug Policy

In brief, how did you get interested in being involved in drug policy in Canada?

My interest in drug policy started out as a fascination with drugs when I was in high school. I was really interested in all aspects of drugs: their medicinal value, their historical significance, their cultural impact. I’ve always felt they played a large role in the human experience, having been a large influence in the lives of many of my favourite artists, musicians, authors, and even scientists and entrepreneurs. Couple that fascination with my own mental health hurdles, and add the reckless abandon of adolescence, and long story short, I was hospitalized for what the doctors called a drug-induced psychosis (frankly, I don’t think it was induced by the drugs as much as the stresses of becoming an adult, my reluctance to act with any sense of personal responsibility, and the resulting existential crisis that propelled me into ‘adulthood’).

In hospital, I’d plenty of time to reflect on my situation. It was a really difficult time, and all I could really think about was how bad I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I had experienced. So I began to evaluate the policies that were in place to supposedly protect our youth. Considering so many punitive, prohibitive drug laws are in place on the very basis of protecting children, I was pretty upset about how much they failed to protect me, a vulnerable young person living in a border-town with a heavy flow of illicit drugs being smuggled in and out along the St. Lawrence River. Upon further introspection, I began to see how much of a role drugs played in my own life, and the lives of those around me. From there, my interest in drug policy just took off.

How much knowledge did you have beforehand about medical and psychological effects of drugs?

Most of the knowledge I’d obtained prior to joining the board was more or less anecdotal, coming from my own experiences. Some of the earliest advice I remember my grandma teaching me was not to pick up dirty needles on the street. My first boyfriend (if even, we were only in elementary) had not only lost his brother to an overdose, but found his body. It messed him up for a long time. I’ve had family members struggle with addictions to (legal) prescription opiates, and I’ve seen my uncle use cannabis (an ‘illicit’ substance) to aid in his recovery from an aggressive form of brain cancer. I also struggled with drug misuse in high school. I had friends who were more than willing to share, and many a time I was that ‘generous’ friend. I’ve spent a lot of time lamenting poor decisions I’ve made in high school but frankly I didn’t really know any better and it taught me a lot. I’d always been motivated about trying to educate myself, but being young and naïve at the time I may not have been quite as keen about verifying my sources and statistics as I am now. Especially now that I’m representing the organization, I’m very particular about where I obtain my information from and what sorts of statistics I used to inform my opinions.

How did you get involved in CSSDP?

Out of my perpetual curiosity with drugs I’d found CSSDP on Facebook sometime during my high school years, but it wasn’t until I started post-secondary that I contacted the Outreach Coordinator about starting up a chapter at my school, applied to represent them at some international conferences, and ultimately ended up running for the board. Needless to say it was a match made in socio-political activist heaven.

What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?

In the most concise terms, I think the core principle of CSSDP is about supplementing evidence and knowledge in the place of stigma and misinformation to create a humanistic approach to drug policy. What we’re really advocating for here is human rights and public health, which you’d think would be at the center of any effective drug policy (spoiler alert: the current policies aren’t effective). Unfortunately there’s a lot of external interest, political and economic, that are corrupting the majority of policies relating to drugs (in my opinion anyway). It’s created a largely misguided and misinformed public perception of drugs and drug use. Removing the stigma is a key factor in addressing these issues. Social taboos make it a sensitive topic but that only causes the problems to fester.

Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?

In the far future I hope to have eliminated the need for CSSDP by helping to establish effective and sensible drug policies in Canada. Realistically though, there’s a constantly changing landscape of drugs so I don’t know if that will happen, especially on an international level. Different people using different substances in different settings creates this hugely elaborate web of social, political, and economic issues and it’s quite nuanced. In the immediate future I just hope to see more interest in CSSDP, because where it stands it seems to be a relatively niche interest. My only friends who are interested in these issues are in CSSDP, but all of my friends do drugs in some capacity. I hope to see more people make the connection as to how these policies are effecting them and why they should care.

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.
Psychological Dependence and Classical Conditioning

Psychological Dependence and Classical Conditioning

Psychological dependence and Classical conditioning:

Salvador Dalí said that everybody should try Hashish, but only once. This sentence summarizes society’s fear towards drugs. People are afraid of drugs, but mostly, we are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid of not being able to control our will and fall into a downward spiral of unlimited pleasure and self-destruction if we dare to do drugs just once.

Most people assume that frequent consumption of a drug can cause dependence, although most of us don’t really understand or even consider why, we just embrace the idea. That’s what we’ve been told by our parents and teachers, and they learnt it from their own parents and teachers without questioning it either, and so on. The perpetuation of this mantra, although very easy and comfortable, is not very smart. It is important to be informed in order to form our own opinions and not be manipulated.

Let’s start with the definition of “drug”. According to the FDA, a drug is:

“[…] (A) articles recognized in the official United States Pharmacopeia or formulary, (B) articles intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease in man or other animals; and (C) articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals”.

Considering that in this article we are going to be talking about psychoactive drugs, we’ll take the last definition. Now, let’s review some of the symptoms of substance dependence. When someone is dependent to a drug:

  • He or she might experience tolerance towards that drug (the dependent individual has to consume higher doses to reach the same effects than before).
  • Withdrawal symptoms might occur if he or she stops using that substance.
  • The individual might be incapable of controlling his or her use of that particular substance.

These symptoms might have a physiological, pharmacological and/or a psychological origin. In the first two cases, the origin resides on the chemical interactions of the drug with the body, primarily the central nervous system. Psychological dependence is the big unknown though. However, according to some studies, psychological dependence might be the result of a form of learning process, similar to that of Classical conditioning.

 

How does Classical conditioning work?

Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian conditioning) is a learning process in which an innate response to a potent stimulus gets associated with a previously neutral stimulus.

A conditioned stimulus (or neutral stimulus) is the one that despite causing a certain response in the studied individual, is neutral to the response that we want to condition. Meanwhile, the innate or unconditioned stimulus is the one that causes the response that we want to condition.

To recap, so far we have:

Conditioned stimulus  – – ->  Neutral response

Unconditioned stimulus  – – ->  Unconditioned response

Now if we simultaneously and systematically present both stimuli (conditioned and unconditioned stimuli) in the presence of the unconditioned response, the conditioned stimulus will eventually trigger both neutral and unconditioned responses. This is phenomenon is called acquisition.

However, if the conditioned stimulus is presented repeatedly in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus, the latter will not trigger the appearance of the conditional response anymore. This phenomenon is known as extinction.

This whole mechanism is easier to understand by using Pavlov’s dog case as an example.

When a dog is presented with food (unconditioned stimulus), it would start salivating (unconditioned response). But if a bell is rang every time that food is presented to the dog (conditioned stimulus), the dog will associate the sound of the bell with the presence of food and every time that it heard the bell ringing, it would salivate, even in the absence of food.

 

Siegel’s experiment

The idea of tolerance and dependence as products of Classical conditioning was first proposed by Ivan Pavlov himself in 1927, although it was not empirically demonstrated until the late 70’s by Professor Shepard Siegel, from McMaster University, in Hamilton (Canada).

When a drug is used (unconditioned stimulus), it affects the structure or a function of a part of the body creating a compensatory response from it in order to restore equilibrium (unconditioned response). However, if that drug is systematically taken alongside the same environmental cues and under the same circumstances, these factors will begin to function as conditioned stimulus which produces the same unconditioned response in the body opposing the effects of the drug.

Most drugs generate a homeostatic disruption of the body in a physiological and psychological level. Siegel found that the body tends to maintain a homeostatic equilibrium in all of its systems, both physiologically and psychologically, by generating a response to the homeostatic disruption produced by the drug. For instance, ethanol has a vasodilator effect and therefore it causes a drop in body temperature. When this happens, the body reacts by trying to restore bodily functions to normal levels and thus it generates a compensatory response, which in the case of ethanol would be increasing body temperature.

This process was also hypothesized by Dr. Richard Solomon in his opponent-process theory (Solomon, 1978). Solomon proved that when an unconditional stimulus that triggers an unconditioned (pleasant or unpleasant) reaction is presented and removed, an opposite state would appear as a result of the compensatory response that the body generates to counteract the initial stimulus. He called this phenomenon ‘’hedonic contrast”. We can find examples of this process in our everyday lives; it’s the pleasure that comes after scratching an itch, the sadness that arises when our ice cream falls off the cone, or the relief that comes when landing safely after a parachute jump.

If the process is repeated systematically, the organism would trigger the compensatory response even in anticipation of the unconditioned stimulus.

This compensatory response can occur before ingestion of the drug. E.g., So when you are planning to go to the bar with friends you may experience a drop in body temp… or someone who has a problem with heroin may begin to go into physiological withdrawal by walking by the corner of their dealer.

According to Siegel’s compensatory response model, the direct effect of a drug on the individual serves as the unconditioned stimulus (UCS), whereas the individual homeostatic regulatory systems attempt to defend itself against the drugs effect and maintain homeostasis is the unconditioned response (UCR). Through repeated drug administration, a stimulus that is often paired with the UCS becomes a conditioned stimulus (CS) and serves as an early warning signal that the homeostatic regulatory system that a UCS is imminent. The regulatory system then prepares itself by eliciting a defensive conditioned response (CR). Through repeated drug administration episodes, the link between the UCS and the CS becomes stronger and eventually the CS can elicit a CR in the absence of the UCS. This CR may then influence the individual’s homeostatic state resulting in the onset of withdrawal symptoms, craving, and likely future drug use (in order to alleviate unwanted withdrawal symptoms).

So, in Pavlovian terms:

Drinking alcohol (unconditioned stimulus) – – -> Increase in body temperature (unconditioned response)

 

In Siegel’s experiment (Crowel, Hinson, & Siegel, 1981), the researchers administered ethanol injections to a group of rats while a particular stimulus was being presented to them (white noise). These injections were alternated with saline injections and a different environment. Rats’ body temperature was continuously monitored in order to check if a compensatory response was being generated.

The first time that rats received ethanol injections in the presence of white noise, a reduction in body temperature was observed. However, the intensity of that temperature drop decreased with subsequent trials despite receiving the same amount of ethanol. Rats were developing a tolerance to the injections of ethanol in the presence of white noise.

In order to determine if a compensatory response was being produced by the environmental cues, saline solution was injected in the presence of white noise, while a control group received saline solution injections in the absence of those environmental cues. The results showed that rats that received saline solution injections in the presence of white noise experienced an increase in body temperature while the rats in the control group did not experience such change. Additionally, Siegel found that the tolerance to ethanol that rats had acquired decreased if rats were injected with ethanol in a different environment. Meaning that if rats received a similar dose of ethanol to that they were used to, but in a different environment, they experienced a drop in body temperature again.

Siegel found that this same effect would occur with opiates, barbiturates and benzodiazepines (Hinson & Siegel, 1983), suggesting that this mechanism was not exclusive to alcohol.

The results of these experiments may seem meaningless, but the implications of Siegel’s discoveries are very important for the understanding and treatment of substance dependence. Siegel’s theories suggest that both dependence and tolerance could have a strong psychological component and therefore, operant drug treatment approaches should incorporate aspects of Classical conditioning in order to address the effect that environmental cues have in the process of acquisition of tolerance and dependence.

 

Siegel also found that tolerance would increase when the user was exposed to the usual drug associated environmental cues, but not when the user was exposed to different conditions. This process was termed “situational specificity of tolerance” (Siegel, Baptista, Kim, McDonald, & Weise-Kelly, 2000).

It is believed that this situational specificity of tolerance could be the cause of the high incidence of opioid overdose among long-term dependent heroin users. To prove his point, Siegel reported the case of a cancer patient who was receiving morphine injection by prescription at home and died of an overdose (Shepard & Ellsworth, 1986). The patient received morphine injections in his bedroom for four weeks, with a gradual increase in dosage level as the patient developed tolerance to the drug. One day, the patient received his scheduled morphine injection in the living room instead of in his bedroom and he suffered a fatal overdose of morphine. Siegel explanation suggested that the bedroom was acting as a form of conditioned stimulus generating a compensatory response on the patient to the effects of morphine. However, when that stimulus was removed, that compensatory response disappeared, producing the fatal overdose.

 

The applications of these theories reach further than just dependence to so called “hard drugs”. Having a coffee after lunch or a cigarette after having sex could become habits hard to change if done systematically under the same environment and under the same circumstances.

Like Aldous Huxley said, “Habit converts luxurious enjoyments into dull and daily necessities”.

 

References:

Crowel, C., Hinson, R., & Siegel, S. (1981). The Role of Conditional Drug Responses in Tolerance to the Hypothermic Effects of Ethanol. Psychopharmacology, 51-54.

Hinson, R., & Siegel, S. (1983). Anticipatory Hyperexcitability and Tolerance to the Narcotizing Effect of Morphine in the Rat. Behavioral Neuroscience, 759-767.

Pavlov, I. P. (1927). Conditioned Reflexes. London: Oxford University Press.

Shepard, S., & Ellsworth, D. W. (1986). Pavlovian Conditioning and Death from Apparent Overdose of Medically Prescribed Morphine: A Case Report. Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, 278-280.

Siegel, S., Baptista, M. A., Kim, J., McDonald, R. V., & Weise-Kelly, L. (2000). Pavlovian Psychopharmacology: The Association Basis of Tolerance. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 276-293.

Solomon, R. L. (1978). The Opponent-Process Theory of Acquired Motivation: The Cost of Pleasure and the Beneficts of Pain. Eastern Psychological Association. American Psychologist.

Siegel, S., Krank, M.D. & Hinson, R. E.  (1987)  Anticipation of pharmacological and nonpharmacological events.  Journal of Drug Issues, 1:83-110. 0.38 Impact Factor

Siegel, S., Hinson, R. E., Krank, M.D. & McCully, J.  (1982) Heroin “overdose” death: The contribution of drug-associated environmental cues.  Science, 216:436-7.  31.48 Impact Factor

 

Michelle Theissen

Michelle Theissen

Vice Chair

An Honours graduate with a Psychology B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Michelle will begin her Masters in Clinical Psychology in fall 2016, continuing her research examining the motivations and outcomes of recreational and therapeutic use of cannabis and psychedelics.
Find out more.

Antonio Cillero

Antonio Cillero

A Queen's University graduate with a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering, Antonio helped translate Alexander Shulgin’s PIHKAL and TIHKAL to Spanish and is head translator at infocannabis.org. Learn more about Antonio.