Not Just About Cannabis Reform – It’s about Changing the World

Alexander Betsos

For ten years we have lived under Stephen Harper and his abhorrent approach to dealing with drug related issues. For the first time in 10 years the Liberals have Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy have watched with awe, and a bit of fear, as you expressed your positions on drug reform. We also created a ‘report card’ for youth, scoring each of the parties on their approach to drug policy, highlighting that the Liberal’s progressive approach to a legal, regulated cannabis was an impressive step in the right direction. Now that the Liberals have won, it is time to address the wide variety of social problems that have been neglected.

But cannabis reform is not enough. As the famous neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart once said, “It’s not about cannabis reform; it’s about changing the world.” The previous Canadian governments positions on drugs put a lot of people’s lives at risk, and now its time to change it.

Prime Minister Trudeau, you have positioned yourself as the voice of reason, the one who will respond to the science of the day, and bring in key stakeholders, NGO’s and others into the conversation. While you have accepted that the science of cannabis means it is not “infinitely worse” than tobacco, and recognized that illegal markets for cannabis only provide easier access to youth. However, you have not acknowledged the science demonstrating that the drug war is a war on the people both waged inside our country and outside. As young people in Canada know all too well, possession and trafficking charges are detrimental to future successes, even after being expunged, can have lasting effects on our ability to find meaningful work.

Secondly, we can see from research in psychology and sociology that addiction is connected to larger social problems, as broken down by Johann Hari. The basic premise is that those who used substances in ways that tend to be dangerous are missing the social bonding and solidarity of their communities. On top of that, most people do not end up needing to seek treatment for drug or alcohol use. By continuing to have substance use carry penalties, we endanger the long term growth of a lot of individuals who will now not be eligible for a lot of social services.

To this end, we urge you to also consider repealing Bill C-2. By doing so, we can actually begin to help the people who need it most. Bill C-2 was a bill designed to stop another supervised safe injection site, such as Insite in Vancouver, from being created in Canada. Canada’s work in this field, supported by over 60 peer reviewed studies, has been lauded by the international community. However, in more recent years, ideological distaste, rather than pragmatism and science have limited access to safe injection sites in cities outside of Vancouver, creating unequal access for all Canadians to this life saving service.

Coupled with Health Canada’s choice to violate research ethics, and take away access to hydromorphone, which is an opiate similar to heroin but not but not completely illegal in the same way heroin is. The National study SALOME was conducted in order to help people get off of heroin and put their lives back together. By being given access to hydromorphone the participants in the study were able to put their lives back together, something that was torn away from them when they were not allowed to continue to receive hydromorphone. As a student currently looking to do graduate work in the future, I have been taught that as researchers, we have an ethical responsibility when we work with at risk populations to minimize any risks to their safety and wellbeing, and hopefully even make their lives better. By removing the access these people had to hydromorphone, we have violated their rights as research participants, and frankly, as human beings.

Speaking of human rights, the UN, has just argued that criminalizing substance users is a violation of their human rights. The Deputy High Commissioner for UN Human Rights has argued that drugs should be decriminalized “because criminalization of possession and use has been shown to cause significant obstacles to the right to health.” Now with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also promoting decriminalization, although they have been muffled, it seems clearer than ever that Real Change can only occur if we accept the current scientific and ethical concerns involved in our failed war on the people who consume substances. With people dying annually in countries which manufacture the drugs, real change seems to be one that would lead to a Just Society for those who need it most. I believe we can work towards these sensible policies together.

Justin Trudeau, you have said you support harm reduction. This is welcome news, because we need your help. The people who died at Veld Music Festival need your help, the people dying from fentanyl need your help. There are models that already exist; as we have tried to work under the radar for fear of a conservative clampdown on NGO’s. For the children of this generation, and the next; we need to talk.

We just need to be part of the conversation.