3 ways to use the new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy

3 ways to use the new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy

by CSSDP National Office
photo credit: CBC News
You may have already got wind of the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s new report: The war on drugs and HIV/AIDS: how the criminalization of drug use fuels the global pandemic

If this is the first you’re hearing of it, here’s a super brief overview:

Global Commission Report 101

The report:

Describes how the global war on drugs is driving the HIV pandemic among people who use drugs and their sexual partners.

Condemns the drug war as a failure.
Recommends immediate, major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime specifically to halt the spread of HIV infection, along with other drug war harms.

Here’s why it’s notable:

The Commission’s first report, released in June 2011, generated unprecedented media coverage and catalyzed international debate about the urgent need for fundamental reforms of the global drug prohibition regime.

The Global Commission is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes – including alternatives to incarceration, greater emphasis on public health approaches to drug use, decriminalization, and experiments in legal regulation.

You can find today’s press release here, and a link to the full report here.

Where CSSDP comes in
At CSSDP, we believe that drug use should be addressed as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, to that end, we support drug policies that reduce and prevent harm from drug use… and it’s not every day that we get a panel of ex-presidents and other world leaders writing a report to prove our point for us.

We’re excited to start using this report in our outreach efforts and have put together a brief list of suggestions for how we/you may include it in outreach.

1. Send a note to your local MP, MLA, or city council.
2. Use it as an excuse to do community outreach.
3. Write a letter to the editor.

Take a look and let us know what you think. If you have suggestions for some more creative outreach ideas, we would love to hear them. You can

1. leave a comment,
2. tweet us at @cssdp, or
3. post on our Facebook Page.

What you can do.

1. Send a note to your local MP, MLA, or city council – fine, the Prime Minister! – to let them know the report/you exist.

A brief note is all it takes to remind your elected representatives that their constituents care about evidence-based drug policy reform. Below is an example of some of the things you may want to include – feel free to borrow from it, or check out Apathy is Boring for some tips on how to write your own.

Salutation & introduction: I hope this finds you well. My name is (name) and I am (member/chapter leader) of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (chapter) and one of your constituents in (riding/area).
Why you are writing: I’m writing today to bring your attention to a recent report issued by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, one of the most distinguished groups of world leaders to jointly recognized the adverse health and social consequences of drug prohibition and to call for reform based on the best available health and scientific evidence.
The report and regionally relevant supplemental information, if available: I have enclosed the report as an attachment here and included a link to an overview of the report that appeared today in the (local newspaper).
Why you care about the report, in your own words: As a proud advocate for drug policies that protect community health and safety, especially with respect to youth, I am encouraged by the Global Commission’s definitive call for the decriminalization of drug users and emphasis on a public health approach to regulating drug use.
What response you would like, if any: As a policymaker and a (parent? lawyer? doctor?) I am sure you have thoughts on the topic of this report! I am not familiar with your position on the topic of illicit drug policy reform and I would be much obliged if you would be so kind as to share it with me. By the same token, if you would like to learn more about the CSSDP I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience.
Friendly closing: Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration. Respectfully yours, (your name)

2. Use it as an excuse to do community outreach – to individuals and to organizations.

A report like this is a great excuse to convene a community discussion and to make some connections along the way.

Especially if your chapter is interested in diversifying your supporter base, diverse panels often attract – surprise!– a diverse audience. Given this report’s emphasis on policy, health, and law enforcement you may consider hosting:

  • an elected official;
  • a health researcher, healthcare provider, or healthcare official (e.g. medical health officers);
  • a representative from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; and/or
  • someone who is put at risk of criminalization or adverse health outcomes by traditional drug policies (e.g. youth, people who use drugs, someone who became HIV positive as a result of drug use, etc.).

Needless to say, an event like this is a great excuse to reach out to organizations working in various areas of public health or policymakers who are passionate public health advocates.

Some suggestions:
  • Consider joining forces with an AIDS, harm reduction, or mental health organization in your area to work with you as a co-host (let’s be honest, event promotion is always easier when you’re pulling on two networks). 
  • If you want suggestions re: who to approach in your area, feel free to contact the CSSDP national office by email (contact@cssdp.org) or Twitter for suggestions and/or an introduction. 
  • As always, when you approach speakers, it’s helpful to have approximate dates, times, and themes picked out in advance so that they can commit to you or offer someone else who may be more appropriate/available right away.
3. Write a letter to the editor – it never goes out of style.
The more letters editorial board receives on the topic, the more compelled they will be to publish at least one of them. So put your voice in writing, keeping the following in mind:

Whatever you do – good luck! Let us know what you do or organize and what the response is like. And remember, the national CSSDP office is here to help – let us know how we can help you plan, promote, or celebrate any of your efforts.

What young people are saying about drug legalization

What young people are saying about drug legalization

by Karl Smyth

Philip DeFranco is a vlogger on YouTube with over 2 million subscribers, and his videos often get over 500,000 views. He recently did a video mentioning the fact that Mexico’s former PM, Vincente Fox, is publicizing his support for drug legalization. After reviewing the story, Phil asks his audience (which is primarily youths) to comment about their views regarding legalizing any drugs. These comments are telling of the opinions people have about this issue and why they think so. As a youth organization, CSSDP can benefit from this type of survey info, so below are a bunch of the edited comments pulled from the site.

Jump to 1:30 in the video to see the drug legalization story.


NO ONE SHOULS LEGALIZE METH, COCAINE OR HEROIN.I can say from firsthand experience because a family member of mine got into meth, and a couple of weeks after being caught and made to serve time in the military in order to evade prison time, she threatended to kill several people. Drugs such as those are dangerous, and turn normal human beings into murderous monsters.


Prohibition does not work. Never has, never will.

If you’re truly concerned about harder drugs, why not propose just decriminalisation?


The only drug that should be legalized is marijuana. It does not produce addiction in most cases and its harmfulness to the body is even less than tobacco. The only reason it is illegal is because of ANYONE can produce it and is therefore more difficult to tax and control. Legalizing it would make a huge dent on the cartels.


All drugs should be legalized and be taxed and sold and quality controlled.

There should be exact instructions on how to use them in the packages including telling to take ammount x-y for minimum-maximum effect and ammount z that will kill you.

Not for weed ofc because its impossible to kill yourself with weed no matter how hard you try, unless you burry yourself under a ton of weed.


legalizing drugs will not get rid of gangs they will just move on to other unlawful things


its sad to say but the president of mexico is right, since the birth of man there has been a demand for drugs and thus there is a high production of it. we’ve been spending billions upon billions of dollars each year trying to stop it and we havn’t even came close to winning the war on drugs. we lost hundreds of years ago. there will always be a demand for drugs for as long as humans live, and until then, we could either keep spending billions of dollars each year wwith no effect, or legalize.


The people who want to do the hard drugs will find a way to do the hard drugs. Buying drugs on the black market means that the government is not getting any taxes on it. Many people who do have a problem with drugs do not seek help out of fear of punishment. If it is all legalized the government will have a new revenue stream, and those in trouble can seek the help they need. Legalize it.


Most here probably agree we should legalize weed. Other drugs people are more scared of, some of this is warranted, some isn’t. Heroin is not something to worry about. It’s addictive, like nicotine, but it’s an opiate, so it doesn’t make people belligerent. It really ought to be legal and given under prescriptions. Cocaine is different-it is a powerful stimulant and wrong dosing (like any drug) can cause serious problems and erratic behavior. It could still be legalized, but tightly controlled.


Not sure legalizing all drugs is a great idea, but I do believe in the legalization of marijuana. That itself is a long ways away.


not all drugs should be legal, however most should. i think heroin should remain illigal, as then less people would under-estimate how addictive it is, so not try it. how ever, with ever other illigal drug, im all for legalisation,


I say let the stupids kill themselves

if they want to do drugs, fine! let them.

they’ll most likely die from it…

less stupid people, less stupid stuff happens, world is a better place


1. legalize drugs and tax.

2. if you do drugs, you dont get government aid (yeah you have to make choices. just can you can do drugs doesnt mean you should or that because you have the right to you are owed the ability to. ex. drinking, if you do it appropriately good job, if you stupid, thats your own shit, dont look to me for help.)

3. problem solved.


i don’t believe in it… we are democratic, tax money is collective money. sometimes we decide that even though something causes damage, its worth it… like with alcohol.. when someone consciously harms himself, in a manor that is not recognized by the majority, it’s an anti-democratic act…

however the law as of now is hypocritical, we have drugs like weed that are less harmful than tobacco and alcohol which are legal. since proabition of light drugs fund organized crime i say legalize it.


I strongly believe that the war on drugs is COMPLETELY lost. I have been smoking Marijuana for 4 years now, and I find that it is in fact easier to find and purchase marijuana (an illegal substance) than Alcohol (a legal substance) as an 18 year old. The billions of dollars and the countless lives that the US has wasted on this subject have not helped. They are better off legalizing, taxing, and enforcing the same laws as tobacco and alcohol. annd so I can enjoy my 420 in peace this friday 🙂


In PuertoRico the drug war has effected us more than 18 deaths every weekend! Legalize drugs!


Grew up around drugs and even though they were illegal, my childhood was still screwed. They should all be legal, look at Portugal, they are doing better, even if it is only a little. And people don’t be hypocrites. If you are for weed, alcohol, and cigarettes. How can you be against coke, LSD, and heroine. For those that take Oxycontin, it is pretty much heroine.


i actually i’m opposed to legalisation because the strict curbs on drugs suddenly being lifted will cause large scale addiction. releasing the floodgates will not help. plus drugs like cocaine r too harmful to even THINK of legalising. marijuana maybe but heroin? NO.


Definitely legalize not all drugs, but at least mj. I mean if alcohol and tobacco are legal, then why not marijuana?


Bad drugs are bad

Click here to read thousands more comments.

Video: what Portugal does about drugs

Video: what Portugal does about drugs

by David Hewson

Recently, the government of Portugal revealed that 10 years after it had decriminalized all drugs in 2001, drug abuse had reduced by half. It was a heartening validation for those of us against the drug war, and the news got plenty of press coverage, including an article in Forbes.

But how exactly does this system work? If drugs aren't fully legalized, but drug users aren't criminals, then what is the government's role, exactly?

This video clip should answer some of these questions. The speaker, Nuno Capaz, works for one of the governments drug commissions, and he talks (in very candid terms) about how things work.

Here's the link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20469537/highlight/244293

Some of my favourite quotes from his 20-min presentation:

On how the government decided on decriminalization:
“Quite frankly, for me, one of the reasons our drug policy actually works, is that the government decided to take all the expert's recommendations and pass them into law…they said, 'if these guys are the experts, we're not gonna say they're wrong and to do other things that they don't say to do.'”

On funding addiction treatment programs:
“The government pays at least 80-100% of the treatment programs…and it's still cheaper than jail. It might not work, but at least we know that in jail, it won't work at all. At least in treatment they have a chance.”

On the inherent problems with the criminal system:
“Normally, a court tends to be a coercive structure. And normally, drug users don't tend to do well with coercive structures.”

On the importance of being fast:
“We do a lot of networking…if we have a drug addict that wants to go to treatment, we can refer them that day…if we say you can go there 15 days from now, he will not stop using drugs for those 15 days, and it won't work.”

On use vs. abuse:
“A huge majority of users do not have a problem with using. It's pretty much like alcohol. A lot of people here  today drink alcohol regularly, and most of you don't have a problem with it.”

On their approach to their work:
“We are not there to give more problems to drug users…we try to give them solutions to solve their problems.”

I thought the guy made a lot of sense. What do you think?

Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 3

Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 3

by David Hewson

Responses to our survey have been flowing in, and they've been fantastic! Each response provides a unique look at one of our attendees, their background and what they're hoping to do at the conference – so thanks to everyone who's participated so far. In case you're haven't seen the other attendee profiles yet, here's Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

If you haven't already filled out our survey, please do! We'll post your profiles on the blog, like we did with these ones.
Here's the link:


Michaela Montaner
Twitter: @mmontaner

Speaker – “Coalition Building” workshop (Sunday, March 4)
CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in) 

International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP.org)

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended? 
First time! 

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about? 

I've supported reform for as long as I can remember! My dad is an HIV/AIDS researcher so as a kid I already had a good sense that Canadian drug policy wasn't protecting community health and safety. That said, it was probably when the Harper Conservatives started undermining Vancouver's supervised injection site that I became motivated to apply my experience as an organizer/communicator and actually do something about it. 

What do you want to accomplish at this conference? 
I want to talk with smart, passionate people about how we can work together with one another and our respective communities to help Canada adopt a public health approach to regulating illicit drugs. 

Anything else to add? 
I love CSSDP. 

Canada needs more community-driven organizations to recognize how their constituents are being adversely affected by Canadian drug policy and to do something about it. I can only imagine how much further along this movement would be if all communities had a CSSDP equivalent facilitating the action and education CSSDP does among students. Keep up the great work. 

Do you have some way for people to follow/get in touch with you before the conference? 
Yes – FacebookTwitter & LinkedIn.

Ben Mossbarger
Twitter: @MossberryJam

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in) 
University of Toronto, CSSDP Board of Directors

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended? 
Toronto 2010 

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about? 

Moving from Victoria, BC to Houston, Texas was a huge culture shock. The entire political climate of Texas was troubling to me, in particular their attitudes towards substance use. When I started undergrad in the US, I immediately gravitated towards my university's chapter of SSDP

What do you want to accomplish at this conference? 
I want to meet all the awesome people who make CSSDP as great as it is! I've been on the board of directors for a little over a year now, and it'll be great to get back in touch with the organization I'm working to keep moving. 

Do you have some way for people to follow/get in touch with you before the conference?
Yes – Facebook & Twitter.

Heiko Decosas
Twitter: @stillhope_media

Speaker – “Create your own media” workshop (Sunday, March 4)

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in) 

Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (drugpolicy.ca)

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?
First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about?

Spectrum of use diagram and Bruce Alexander's Globalization of Addiction analysis…

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?
Network for a unified national response to drug policy reform.

Anything else to add?
Thanks for the work you do:)

Do you have some way for people to follow/get in touch with you before the conference?
Yes – Twitter.
Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 2

Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 2

by David Hewson

It's time for Round 2 of conference attendee profiles! (Here's Round 1, in case you missed it.) In this edition, we've got the full spectrum – a speaker from our Harm Reduction panel, a CSSDP chapter member, and complete first-timer.

If you haven't already filled out our survey, please do! We'll post your profiles on the blog, like we did with these ones.

Here's the link:

Here we go…

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe 

Twitter: @CAANSRedDeer

Speaker – Harm Reduction Panel (Saturday, March 3)

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):

Central Alberta AIDS Network Society (CAANS)

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?

First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?

Not that I know of.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?

Networking and learning

Ryland Steel

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):

Queen's University

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?

First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about? 

Over the course of a year I became incresingly aware of the urgency in drug policy reform. University level education was juxtaposed to my biased upbringing on the harms of drugs and led the way for alternative thinking. Understanding that in some cases the purported harms had been inflated for effect, and that in other cases those harms would be better addressed by health policy versus criminal justice policy, I made conclusions that envisaged a denouncement of drug prohibition.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?

I would like to coordinate with others of like mind on this issue of drug prohibition and discuss both short and long term plans for rectifying decades worth of failed policy. Additionally, I would like to learn more through an interactive experience disparate from the manner in which I have thus far self-educated on the issue.

Anything else to add?

I have never been to a conference like this before and so having the opportunity would be a great joy to me considering all that it has to offer.

Dex Dunford

Twitter: @SofaProfessor

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):

Sofa Professing

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?

First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about?

It's just unjust and a waste of valuable time, money, resources and people to blindly fight a war against drugs like this.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?

Learn some stuff.

Anything else to add?

No bacon on the salad.
How we're promoting the #cssdp12 conference

How we're promoting the #cssdp12 conference

by David Hewson

Promotions brainstorming. Like Leonardo da Vinci's scribblings, except for social media.

First off – anyone catch what I did there?

If you're on Twitter, you'll recognize the hash tag (#) I used in this post's title (actually, you'll probably recognize it even if you're not on Twitter, since the hash tag's gone pretty mainstream eg. Jack Layton using “#FAIL” in the leader's debate during the last federal election.)

Briefly, hash tags / #'s are a way to group together tweets on the same theme, so that everyone can see the latest and greatest of what's happening. In this case, we've created the #cssdp12 hash tag to give you a way to keep up on what's happening with the conference, and because I put it in this post's title, now you know about it…#sneaky, no?

Sneakiness aside, this post is about letting you guys know how we've been promoting the conference so far, and hearing any ideas you might have on the subject.

But first: promotion. When I say that, I mean two things:
1. Letting people know about CSSDP and the conference when they otherwise wouldn't know about them.
2. Finding ways to engage with the people who are already planning on going.

Thing 1 is what normally comes to mind when we think about promotions, but Thing 2 is important too. And since investing in Thing 2 makes the event that much more awesome, it actually makes Thing 1 a whole lot easier.

My point: when you leave us your suggestions (like in the comments below, *hint *hint) remember to think of Thing 2 promotion as well as Thing 1. 

Now that that's out of the way, here's what we've been doing so far:

Personal networks
Nothing beats word of mouth, so we've been making sure that any friends or acquaintances in Calgary or nearby know about the conference, and the latest news. (Nearness is always a relative term in Canada – in this case I think of “nearby” as pretty much all of Western Canada.) Facebook makes this easy, all you have to do is look up “Current City” and see who's where. 

Q – Any other ways to reach out?

We've got a gorgeous poster for the event (see below), and our CSSDP chapter members and volunteers at UCalgary have been making sure it gets seen, by posting it on-campus and off, at cafés and businesses that like us.

Q – Any other places we should put them up?

Everyone and their mom seems to be on Facebook now, so we'd be foolish not to take advantage of 2012's big IPO.

Apart from encouraging people to share news about the conference on their walls, we've been staying active on our CSSDP page and the Facebook event page for the conference, and encouraging speakers and participants to post any questions and news they have. 

Q – Any other ways we should be using Facebook?

Survey / Attendee profiles
While Facebook has helped get some interaction going, we wanted to do more. The answer was a quick survey for those attending the conference, with a few key questions that only take 5-10 minutes to fill out. (If you haven't already taken the survey,  you can do so here.)

See?! Filling out a survey ain't so scary.

What do we do with the surveys? Apart from reading them ourselves, we post these attendee profiles on our blog for everyone to see! (You can see the first bunch of attendee profiles here.)

What this does:

– gets you thinking about what you want to accomplish at the conference.
– starts getting everyone familiar with each other, so that when conference time rolls around we can hit the ground running.
– gives us (the conference planners) ideas and feedback on what you're expecting, so we can make this the best conference we can.

A few other great things, from a promotions standpoint:
– we get fresh material for our blog (more on this later), but we don't have to create it.
you are more likely to spread material that you created further and wider among your social networks than the most compelling material we could ever write. Awesome.

Q – Have you filled out the survey? How were the questions – too many, too few?
Any ideas for how we could use surveys in the future?

The CSSDP Blog
As I mentioned above, our attendee profiles give us fresh content for our blog. But why does fresh content matter – or why even blog in the first place?

Because blogging is fantastic. For many reasons:

1. Writing forces us to sort out our thoughts, so that you, the reader, can see them and respond. This doesn't mean we have to have everything figured out. In fact, displaying a work-in-progress encourages collaboration, because the reader knows it's not too late for feedback (like in the comments below – *hint *hint).
2. Blogging warms you up to some of the ideas and initiatives we're working on. For example, this conference, we want to:
a) promote Twitter and other Internet tools, and 
b) create some really good video content. 

See? Now you know this. More info coming soon – stay tuned to this blog.

3. Our blog gives us material to put in our email newsletters, post on Facebook, and tweet about – don't want that #cssdp12 hash tag going stale!

4. Blogging shows you what we're excited about, and why you should be excited about it too. And in your excitement, you can reply with your thoughts and opinions (like in the comments below – *hint *hint). In other words, our blog helps create and strengthen the ties that bind us as an organization.

And keep in mind – we're not just blogging about the conference. We still have quality posts on drug-related issues, like Alex's reflections from her trip to the Netherlands and Alyssa's critique of Bill C-10, with more posts like them in the works.

Q – Any other ways we should be using our blog? What do you like about what we're doing? How could we improve?

And if it wasn't obvious enough: in the comments section, please let us know any questions, ideas or suggestions you have, or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter (or my CSSDP Twitter account). 

Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 1

Guess who's coming to the conference? Vol. 1

by David Hewson

Our annual conference is the one weekend each year that Canadians interested in drug policy are all in the same place. It's a huge country and bringing everyone together is expensive, so we want to make the most of this opportunity. 

To do this, we created a short (5-10min) survey with a few key questions. We then asked some of the first people who registered for the conference to fill it out, and we'll show you their responses below.

Our goal:
– get you thinking about what you want to accomplish at this conference.
– start getting everyone familiar with each other, so that when conference time rolls around we can hit the ground running.
– give us (the conference planners) ideas and feedback on what you're expecting, so we can make this the best conference we can.

Our speakers are particularly interested to know where you're coming from, so if you have questions or ideas for them, put them in the comments. And feel free to get in touch with anyone who's given their contact information.

If you haven't already filled out the survey, please do! We'll post your entries on the blog, like we did with these ones.

Here's the link:

Now that's out of the way, I'd like to introduce our first three contestants. I hope you enjoy reading these as much as I did.

Tyler Chartrand

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):
Okanagan College, Kelowna, BC

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?
First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform? 
How did they come about? 
Bill S10 of 2010 is the reason I got involved. I use Cannabis recreationally and took S10 as a personal assault to me as a citizen/student.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?
Network with like minded individuals/groups to further a growing respectful dialogue of drug policy and the need to move from prohibition to legal regulation. The goal being to have drug policy as a key platform in the next federal election.

Scott Bernstein
Twitter: @redcedarlaw

Speaker – Harm Reduction Panel (Saturday, March 3)

CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):
Pivot Legal Society
Twitter: @pivotlegal

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?
First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about? 
Yes – I worked on the Insite case as a law student and then as a lawyer at all levels of court. I saw the harms associated with the government's anti-evidence approach to drug policy. I decided to dedicate my career to drug policy reform. Being at the Supreme Court of Canada as a new lawyer was a life-changing experience for me.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?
Meet some interesting people, learn some things, have a good time.

Anything else to add?
Very happy to be at the conference and honoured to be asked to speak on the harm-reduction panel.


CSSDP chapter (or other organization you're involved in):

Which CSSDP conferences have you attended?
First time!

Were there any tipping points, or “A-ha!!” moments that got you into drug policy reform?
How did they come about? 
I've always been into drug policy reform, but I got a lot more interested when I began working with youth in the criminal justice system and realized how many youth are sent to prison on drug-related crimes.

What do you want to accomplish at this conference?
I know drug policies need to change, but I don't fully understand what changes are realistic. I want to learn more about how drug policies could be be reformed and what I can do to advocate for change.

Anything else to add?
I'm super excited.

What's Wrong With Bill C-10?

by: Allysa Olding

Parliament is back in session and the MPs and senators have busied themselves in intense debate, reading bills and deciding their validity, proposing amendments or outright dismissing them. As Canadians who are concerned about drug policy, we have a lot to pay attention to this February. One major policy platform being pushed by Conservatives in government which has got everybody talking is the Omnibus Crime Bill C-10 or, as the conservatives are calling it, the “Tough on Crime” Bill.

“Tough on Crime?”

The Bill itself is several major criminal code changes lumped into one, and – according to the Government of Canada website summary – creates dramatic changes to the criminal code which are intended to target organized crimes, gangs, and drug-related offences involving youth and children. “The Safe Streets and Communities Act” proposes several amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act which would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related criminal offences. According to the Act people who produce, sell, or use illicit substances – from recreational use of cannabis, to those with serious and potentially life-threatening narcotic addictions are met with the same response: incarceration. This bill imposes more incarceration for more people, nearly eliminating judicial discretion and undermining a health-focused restorative approach to addiction and substance abuse.

But does this Bill, problematic as it is, achieve its stated goals? Will it reduce crime rates and create “safer streets and communities”? Has it been carefully formulated to combat organized crime and abuse of substances by youth? The bill has been widely criticized by both governmental and non-governmental groups, activists and academics for being unnecessary, inefficient, and economically impractical. Ultimately, the concern for activists interested in Drug Policy is related to the fact that C-10 effectively eliminates a healthcare-focused approach to addiction in lieu of merciless and unnecessary incarceration.

“What's Wrong With Bill C-10”

Well, Lots. But don't take my word for it. There is an expansive and growing body of literature being produced from groups such as Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, The Canadian Bar Association, and CSSDP have launched campaigns against elements of Bill C-10. Cogent arguments against C-10 have been given in the House by many including Glenn Thibeault, Ryan Cleary and Andrew Cash. Academics and Criminologists like Susan C. Boyd, and Paula Mallea have written critical responses to mandatory minimum sentencing in drug policy. I can only hope to graze the surface of the problems with the proposed bill C-10, and I encourage you as an activist to listen to the speeches and read the articles I have hyper-linked here. That being said, here's an introduction to some of the problems with Bill C-10.

Crime rates are actually falling not spiralling out of control as the conservatives pushing Omnibus would have you believe. In her report “Fear Factor: Stephen Harper's Tough on Crime Agenda” published with Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Paula Mallea reminds Canadians that since 1992, crime rates have been steadily declining. In 2008, the crime rate was the lowest it has been in the last 25 years. This statistic is consistent regardless of how it is measured: this includes the traditional Crime statistics gathered from police reports, statistics measuring crime severity and violent crime. Particularly, drug offences are down 6% since 2008, and youth offence rates have remained relatively stable since 1991 despite the fact that fewer youths are being incarcerated under the new Youth Criminal Justice Act. Even though the statistics affirm that the very crimes targeted by the Omnibus Crime Bill are in decline, Conservatives still assert there is a need for policy adjustments to respond to an explosion of crime which cannot be statistically substantiated. It is clear that these declarations are made to induce fear and manipulate public perception – not, as the Conservatives claim, to help improve the safety and security of communities.

Incarcerating offenders doesn't help reduce crime rates, nor do they rehabilitate offenders to reduce recidivism. Mallea points out that “evidence shows that long periods served in prison increase the chance that the offender will offend again … In the end, public security is diminished, rather than increased if we 'throw away the key'” (CCAP, 2011: 12). The old-fashioned assumptions that retribution is the primary or exclusive function of the Criminal Justice System, and that retributive justice is the correct response to behaviour considered socially deviant is simply ideological and does not reflect the reality of the causes for deviant behaviour, nor does it offer an effective solution.

C-10 will continue to overly incarcerate marginalized groups. The changes embodied in C-10 will target groups already over represented in the prison and justice system . As Ryan Cleary described to the house of commons:

“mandatory minimum sentences aren't so much tough on crime, as tough on Canadians suffering from mental illness, addiction and poverty… The bill targets youth for harsher punishment and will put more Aboriginal People[s] in prison.”

People who suffer from addictions, mental illness, and racial discrimination will be further marginalized by the criminal justice system if mandatory minimums are imposed. Additionally the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has spoken against mandatory minimum sentencing for drug use as a dangerous practice which leads to health issues. Criticizing what was formerly Bill S-10, now included in Bill C-10, the HIV/AIDS legal network warns against treating the health problem of drug addiction primarily in terms of its criminal dimensions as deeply problematic. Patricia Allard, Deputy Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, reminded Canadians that:

“evidence shows that imprisoning people who inject drugs fans the flames of Canada's HIV epidemic. The HIV prevalence rate in Canadian prisons is at least 10 times that found in the population as a whole”

Incarcerating more people for longer periods of time will serve to exacerbate already existing health problems. As the Canadian Bar Association points out, the changes in Bill C-10 will continue to further victimize and alienate the most vulnerable populations by replacing conditional sentences for people in remote areas of Canada and relocating them far away from their families:

“People in remote rural and northern communities will be shipped far from their families to serve time. Canada's Aboriginal people already represent up to 80% of inmates in institutions in the prairies, a national embarrassment that Bill C-10 will make worse.”

If these conditional sentences are eliminated, mandatory minimum sentences will tear mothers from their families, nearly 80 percent of incarcerated women are parents to minors. This means women will be deprived of their children, it also means that an unbearable strain will be placed on Children's Aid Services who are already lacking essential funding. Susan C. Boyd, a professor currently working in British Columbia, criticized former Bill C-15 which is now included in C-10 for its harmful effect on women. You can listen to her talk about these effects on women and children by clicking here .

The proposed changes in C-10 take away funding from programs that would produce real change. Most inmates currently institutionalized within the Criminal Justice System suffer from an addiction. Many live with a mental illness. A large portion are First Nations, many are homeless, illiterate, and victims of previous abuse. These social-structural elements influence the rates of offending and correlate with who will or will not be incarcerated. The key to addressing crime rates lies in effectively remedying the structural inequalities. As the Canadian Bar Association states, it has been proven by various studies that the tactics which actually reduce crime are:

“(a)addressing child poverty, (b) providing services for the mentally ill and those afflicted with FASD [fetal alcohol spectrum disorder], (c) diverting young offenders from the adult justice system, and (d) rehabilitating prisoners and helping them to reintegrate into society”

Bill C-10 not only ignores these tactics, but it's fiscal cost, estimated to be nearly five billion dollars, diverts much needed funding away from useful social spending. Perhaps the government should “stop wasting money on cages and start spending it on hospital beds and text books”.

What Can I Do?

Bill C-10 is already in its second reading at the Senate. Immediate action is required to stop this harmful bill from coming into force. For more information on how you can participate in action to stop mandatory minimums for drug-related offences, check out the CSSDP campaign by clicking here: https://cssdp.org//index.php/our-campaigns/no-mandatory-minimums/342-c10-senate

Pass that Dutch…Legislation

by Alex Rowan

This past October, I, like so many travelers before me, travelled to the Netherlands knowing little more about the country than that that I could buy pot or hash from my corner “coffee shop”. I stayed not in Amsterdam itself, but in a nearby town named Hilversum, about 20 minutes by train outside of the city. While the folks I met in Amsterdam couldn’t fathom my decision to sleep away from the action, in retrospect I feel that the decision (which was prompted simply by the lower cost of accommodation) helped me to develop a far more informed view of the country than I would have otherwise. As with so many countries in which one major urban hub is viewed as culturally supreme, to know Amsterdam is to know an incredible metropolis, but is not to know the life of the (for lack of a better term) “average” Dutchman. Throughout the time I spent in Hilversum, I was able to observe the manner in which the liberal drug policies of the country are both influenced by and influence the sensible mindset of the bulk of Dutch people, a mindset which I will forever admire and strive to propagate.

At the center of Dutch drug policy is the very mantra of CSSDP, that to ignore, hide, or simply condemn a prevalent issue in society does nothing to combat it. In fact, the more illicit an activity, the more appealing it is to many, and the less it can be effectively monitored. From what I’ve seen, the studies that have come out of the Netherlands on drug use at home and abroad have in many cases proven to be comprehensive than those of their international counterparts. I feel that the reason for this is because there is a true faith among the people that the government is out to gain knowledge to better improve public health, rather than to wage war. Furthermore, as there is no conclusive evidence to link marijuana use to the use of harder drugs (i.e. the gateway affect), the Dutch government will never assume that a marijuana user is also a hard drug user. In speaking to the Dutch folk I met about their drug use and their run-ins with officials, it became clear that they had always been forthcoming in a way that, as a jaded Canadian youth who has had her share of negative experiences with the cops, I had never even imagined. Again aligned with the mantra of the CSSDP, the Opium Act outlines the view that drug use should always be seen as a health issue first, and a criminal justice issue second. That being said, trafficking of illegal drugs is still a criminal offense, and initiatives are consistently underway to prevent the trafficking of what the Opium Act classifies as ‘hard drugs’, for example heroin and cocaine. What is this Opium Act, you query? Also called the Narcotics Act, it is the most important piece of drug legislation active in the Netherlands, and was first enacted in 1919, following an international conference headed by the USA. With a pivotal change in the policy to make the distinction between hard and soft drugs in 1976, Marijuana use in the Netherlands was decriminalized.

It begs the question: if drug trafficking is still considered illegal, how is that coffee shops exist with little to no governmental interference? The Opium Act includes the following key provisions: no legal action against a coffee shop shall be taken as long as no minors are permitted entrance, no promotion is done for the establishment, sales capped at five grams per person, and no more than 500 grams are on the premises at any given time. Cultivation, while also technically illegal, is dismissed up to five plants, and jail time is extremely rare even in cases of large-scale growth. So just remember smokers, five is the Netherlands’ magic number. While many a conservative politician has tried to prove that the Netherlands’ liberal drug policies have increased Cannabis and other drug use, in fact, as we can well predict, they have had the opposite effect. According to one comparison pieced together by DrugWarFacts.org from the U.S. and Netherlands’ national surveys, the lifetime prevalence of marijuana use in the Netherlands in 2001 was 17%, just under one half of the 36.9% stat for the U.S.
It is important to note that the Netherlands’ liberal drug policy extends beyond recreational use. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia in 2002, provided such cases are put before a review committee by the physician who has deemed the procedure warranted. The Netherlands is also known for pioneering other conscientious public health initiatives such as heroin-assisted treatment, which has had great success in limiting the reliance on heroin and instances of overdose among heroin addicts.

Admittedly, a far greater respect and belief in social pluralism was present within the Netherlands government in 1976 than in the Canadian here and now, fostering the responsiveness to public need necessary for dramatic political change. Yet I remain inspired. Upon leaving the Netherlands, and this was reinforced in Portugal which also has more lax drug legislation, I was inspired to stop being a disenchanted, passive youth, and start truly believing what I wish I’d encouraged myself to believe all along, that a shift to health-oriented drug policy can be a reality. Here goes and cheers, I’m starting with this blog.

To find out more about the Netherlands’ drug policies and their relationship with drug use in the country, here are just a few of the great sites available to us:
http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/371/ille/library/dolin1-e.htm http://drugwarfacts.org http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4607233.stm http://www.amsterdam.info/drugs/ http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/aus/can_ch3_6.htm

Sophie Feltes

The Peaceful Oktoberfesters

The Peaceful Oktoberfesters

by David Hewson

photo credit: Muenchen Kotzt

Hi all, I'm writing this from Germany, where I'm doing an internship at the moment.

One of the most natural, and enjoyable, things to do when travelling is to just stop, look around, and realize that you're in a foreign country. Sometimes the differences are subtle. But in the case of the Munich Oktoberfest, which I was able to visit this year, they're about as subtle as a frying pan to the jaw.

I grew up in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, which has its own Oktoberfest – the world's second-largest, after Munich. But it just can't compare to number 1. Here's why:

1. The sheer scale of the proceeedings: 6.9 MILLION people visited the Munich Oktoberfest this year (still less than the 1981 record of 7.1 million).
2. Beer is consumed exclusively in 1L glasses.
3. There are a bunch of roller coasters and other stomach-turning attractions…right next to the beer tents. Where people have just been drinking 1L glasses of beer. You might think that would be a bad combination, but the people of Munich seem to disagree.

Of course, when 6.9 million people put their efforts towards drinking beer in 1L intervals, there are bound to be consequences. Starting in the late afternoon, you start to see people who have had far too much to drink scattered around outside the tents, resting, recovering, and um…taking care of business. It's not a pretty scene. If you're up for it, click here to get a sense of the mayhem.

Despite all the drunkenness, I couldn't help but think: where's the belligerency? Yes, wherever you looked, there were people in lederhosen and dirndls dropping like flies. But in the 4 days I was there I saw evidence of only one fight – a guy outside a beer tent had a bloody nose and was being restrained by bouncers. That was it. I remember thinking: in Canada, you just couldn't get this many drunken people together, and have so few problems.

Why is this?

One theory is that there is a special spirit to Oktoberfest, one of Gemütlichkeit or togetherness, that sets a friendly tone the proceedings. There might be something to that, but since Oktoberfest I've travelled to many other parts of Germany and found the same lack of belligerency, so that can't explain it completely.

A second explanation is that different types of alcohol lead to different types of drunk – an idea that the show “How I Met Your Mother“ had some fun with recently. As the theory goes, the Oktoberfesters – and Germans in general – tend to drink beer, so they are therefore friendlier.

Maybe there's something to that too. I have a friend whose mother has banned Jack Daniels whiskey from her house, after seeing generations of men in her family become a different kind of angry drunk after they've been drinking it.

A third theory has to do with alcohol policy, where Canada and Germany vary enormously. In Germany, the rules around alcohol are much more relaxed than Canadians are used to. Here are some differences:

– Germans can buy alcohol at grocery stores during the day, and when the stores are closed they can go to the convenience stores at gas stations. You can buy alcohol at any hour of the day.

– There is no set closing time for drinking establishments, although there are some local bylaws, and by 6am the staff usually kick you out because they want to clean up and go home.

– There's also a two-tier drinking age (16 years old for anything less than 13% alcohol, 18 years old for anything more concentrated) designed to encourage young people to start with beer and wine instead of hard liquor, which is easier to sneak around with but also increases the risks of alcohol poisoning. The argument is that this openness towards alcohol leads to Germans, on the whole, developing a more mature relationship with the substance than the more repressed Canadians.

Of course, policy questions like these are the sorts of things that we CSSDP members like to consider. What kind of relationship with drugs is best? What kind of legislation – laws, taxes, social programs, etc – is the right mix?

But here's the tricky part: since policies tend to vary on a country-by-country basis, when we compare different policies, we are also comparing between countries and the cultures that go with them. It's hard to tease the two apart. And that makes things complicated.

At the end of the day, I don't know why Oktoberfest was as (relatively) peaceful as it was. What I do know is this: when it comes to drugs, each culture is unique.

Germany has a long and storied history with alcohol, including the beer purity laws of 1516 and festivals like Oktoberfest – which began when a Bavarian Crown Prince invited everyone to come drink beer with him to celebrate his wedding. Fond memories for the people of Munich, indeed.

Canada has its own narrative, including the whiskey that was used in the fur trades, to Al Capone bootlegging Canadian Club into Chicago, to Bob and Doug McKenzie's stubby bottles. Untwisting the tangled threads of history, culture and drugs is no easy thing to do.

Thoughts from the 3rd Latin American Drug Policy conference

As I sat in the 3rd Latin American Drug Policy conference last week in Mexico City, news emerged about two youths in Nueva Laredo who were brutally murdered because they were believed to have spoken out against narco traffickers online. It was about half way through the conference, creating a strange moment where my excitement about the energy and potential for reform collided with the harsh realities of failed drug policies.
Throughout the conference the urgent need for reform was made clear. Stats and arguments were presented throughout that demonstrated the disastrous effects failed policies were having on communities across Latin America and the world. The criminalization of people through drug laws has devastated communities, leading to such atrocious facts as ‘85% of those imprisoned for drug crimes in Ecuador are women, or that 1/3 of people imprisoned in Argentina are for drug crimes.’ The failure and limitations of supply reduction policies was made clear. Stats were presented on the failure of Plan Colombia, on the failing prices alongside rising potency of illegal drugs, as well as tales of human rights abuses from both organized crime elements and from military and police forces. Across Mexico, the leading cause of death for youths is murder. One panellist described an optimistic scenario in Mexico which saw 55 000 deaths as a result of drug market violence at the end of Felipe Calderone’s current term as president.
During meetings and discussions it became all too clear that while these facts are shocking, these realities cannot be looked at as exceptional. Across the world, drug prohibition is having devastating consequences, with countries sitting at different points in the spectrum of impacts. The issues we address as drug policy reformers must be borderless. While the scales may be different, Canada and Mexico both share needless deaths, human rights abuses, and wasted resources as a result of our countries’ failing drug policies. Both countries are consumers and producers of currently illegal substances, and both countries face similar problems when it comes to accessing treatment, harm reduction services, and honest education about substance use. We must recognize that the violence from drug traffickers and from the state in Mexico is related to the similar violence in communities across Canada.
Just as the prohibition related problems we face are on a shared spectrum, so too are the responses we take. Where injection drug use is a problem, clean needle distribution is a necessity. Where young people are disadvantaged by poor economic opportunity, creative community responses are needed. Where young people are using ‘party drugs’, peer led harm reduction strategies emerge. Where drug market violence threatens community safety, residents find ways to band together to demand changes to policies and practices that perpetuate the status quo.
With this in mind a group of young activists gathered before the conference to connect our movements across borders. I was honoured to be asked to participate in the video we produced for the closing panel of the conference. As we debated what the key messages should be, it became clear that we wanted this video to inspire other young people to action. Across the entire world, young people are organizing and taking action to end the war on drugs. Our video is an attempt to let other young people know that whenever they take action against the injustice of drug prohibition, they are not alone. We are everywhere, and we are together!

Remember that alcohol is a drug too! A CSSDPers perspective on travel to a "dry state"

by Priya Shah

I am about to embark on a journey to India… the place of my ancestors. I am of Indian descent but was born in Canada so I’ve always felt a bit removed from my culture. Doing research and trip-planning has led to some interesting discoveries. I am beginning my trip in Gujarat, suitably because it is where my grandparents are from. But it is also… a dry state! Because I’ll be spending 1-2 months there it’s important for me to get an idea of the current state of affairs; the laws, politics etc. So I’ve been reading up on what a ‘dry’ state means for Gujarat right now, and this is what I’ve learned:

Basically, prohibition in Gujarat has been in effect since 1960 when the state was formed (more than a decade after Independence) and it has created an illicit liquor trade; an industry that generates revenue and employment for thousands of people. The law was mainly put in place as a tribute to Mahatma Ghandi, who hails from Gujarat.

The high demand fuels the smuggling and production. The police and other officials are involved in the trade, which generates the most money around elections because the politicians turn to bootleggers* and form power alliances when they need money to boost their campaigns. This highlights perfectly the degree of corruption among police and government officials in Gujarat. The party members and the electorate drink alcohol discretely, just the same as the majority of working and lower class people, but the outcome of drinking illicit liquor is more fatal for them. This is because the former have access to IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) which is popular and more attainable among the middle and upper class, and the latter are familiar with cheaper types of liquor – responsible for the majority of deaths.

There are a few exceptions to alcohol prohibition in Gujarat, which include:

  • personnel of the armed forces are permitted to buy alcohol 
  • retired personnel are allowed to buy a specific quota per month:
  • “anyone over 40 in Gujarat can apply for a liquor permit on “health grounds”, securing a monthly ration of one bottle of hard liquor or 10 bottles of beer” (Basant Rawat, The Telegraph) 
  • liquor can be purchased for medical reasons, if prescribed by a doctor 
  • foreigners are allowed to acquire a permit and drink liquor 
  • “to encourage corporate houses to hold business conferences in Gujarat instead of going over to nearby Mount Abu (Rajasthan) or Diu, the government allowed group permits so that delegates could drink liquor at hotels” (Rawat) 

However, liquor permits in Gujarat are expensive, and whether the officials like it or not, people prefer to buy from bootleggers! For example, a bottle of whisky costs Rs 1,000 in permit shops, which are located in select hotels. But a bootlegger sells the same brand for Rs 750 (Rawat). This leads to events such as the hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad, Gujarat in July 2009 where over 109 people died. Vinay Dholakia, director of the award-winning Parzania (2005) is making a film that addresses the issue of prohibition in Gujarat. The film covers all related issues from revenues to religion, the politics of prohibition to communalism and the mafia involved. (http://box4.chakpak.com:9080/articles/?p=16470)

In any case, I’ve still got lots to learn and discover by seeing first-hand how people are suffering and dealing with alcohol prohibition in Gujarat. I’ll keep you posted!

*It is believed that the biggest gangsters in Gujarat started their careers as bootleggers, as opposed to gangsters in Mumbai who started with kidnapping and theft.

Here’s more information if you’re interested: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2003-09-23/ahmedabad/27215207_1_new-tourism-policy-foreign-tourists-tcgl


Overdose awareness- our demands

August 31st was overdose awareness day. An event was held on the human rights monument in Ottawa, ON. There were speakers, an exchange of information and a call for action.

here is what I (Alex Rowan) had to say.

Now that we have addressed the issue of overdose in the city of Ottawa, I want to discuss what needs to happen to deal with this devastating trend.
         First, I want to tell you about a medication called naloxone. It is an opioid antagonist which blocks the opioid receptors and quickly reverses life threatening depression of the central nervous system and respiratory system. It is essentially an opiate antidote.  It lasts for about 30-90 minutes, giving the individual time to access emergency medical services. It is a safe medication and will not cause harm if administered to someone who isn’t overdosing. This medication is often used by emergency medical professionals. However, some areas run peer based naloxone distribution and training programs, which have resulted in very positive outcomes and have saved many lives.
Ottawa needs this.
These programs train users how to identify and respond to opiate overdose, including when and how to administer naloxone. This gives people the opportunity to literally save the lives of their peers. Unfortunately, we do not have a way for people to access this drug and learn how to use it. That needs to change.
Our next demand is accurate reporting of overdose related deaths. It is incredibly difficult to find information regarding the number and frequency of overdose deaths. Often the cause of death will not be labeled as an overdose, but instead as a “heart attack” or something else. Though that may look better on an obituary, it makes finding information that much more difficult. It is also harder to develop public health education on overdose prevention and to advocate for programs such as naloxone distribution without this information. This also needs to change.
Our final demand is far more broad, but still crucial. We need to view overdose as a human rights issue. That’s why we chose to hold this event here. People who use drugs deserve better than they’re getting. We need better access to appropriate, evidence based treatment. This includes harm reduction programs like methadone maintenance and safe consumption rooms. We need to improve access to health care services, especially for street involved drug users. We need affordable housing. We need to stop criminalizing people for drug use, as it only makes the problem worse.
I know that’s a lot to ask for, and it will take a lot of work to get to that place. However, our demands for naloxone distribution programs and accurate reporting of OD deaths are a great place to start. These suggestions will both reduce the number of overdose related deaths and give us more accurate information so that we can move forward. We will strive for a community that respects everyone’s right to life and the highest level of health possible. We need to realize that people who overdose are worth keeping alive.  If you only take one thing from this event, I hope that’s it. 

Safer crack use kits

Thank you for visiting CSSDPs new blog. It isn’t all that ornate, but we’re ok with that. We are excited to post more entries from a variety of members.

And now on to a recent issue close to this posters heart.
Some of you might be aware that Safeworks, a harm reduction service provider in Calgary, AB has been ordered by Alberta Health Services (AHS) to discontinue their crack pipe distribution program last week.
After the recent media surge following Vancouver’s implementation of a crack pipe distribution program, writers at the Calgary Sun went to see if Calgary had any similar sort of service.
And they discovered Safeworks, who have been distributing the same supplies since 2008.
Upon discovering this, the sun published two articles condemning the program, claiming it is “enabling” drug users and wasting tax dollars. Shortly after these articles were released, Alberta health services distributed a memo calling for Safeworks to discontinue the distribution of crack pipes.
Later that day, news spread across social media. When I learned of the news I could hardly contain my shock and anger.
And hopefully when you finish reading this, you will understand why.
Many people understand the purpose of needle exchange programs. There is well-established evidence to support the argument that such programs reduce the transmission of blood borne pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitis. It is obvious how sharing needles involves the transfer of bodily fluids, but less so for crack pipes.
The answer? Mouth sores.
Often people who smoke crack will have mouth sores, especially when using non-recommended equipment such as pop cans. Therefore, blood borne pathogens can be transmitted when sharing crack pipes.
The arguments in support of these programs don’t end there. There is also evidence to suggest that having access to clean inhalation equipment reduces the frequency of injection crack use. While smoking crack has obvious risks associated, it is far less harmful than injecting.
So there are just a couple medical arguments….
But to truly understand the significance of this program, we have to go deeper.
Now I’m going to bring you back to last year when I got the opportunity to join the Safeworks van for a night.
I was visiting my family in Calgary, and was excited to be invited on a ride along. I had just began to get involved with drug policy activism, and it was my first time experiencing frontline harm reduction work.
What I saw still inspires me to this day.
We drove around to various areas of the city stopping at points to distribute supplies. As I watched the staff interact with clients, I came to realize that what they were offering was so much more than clean crack pipes.
“Hey Joe, I got you an appointment with a new housing worker”
“Martha, how is your leg healing up?”
They were building relationships with people. They were watching out for people who may have otherwise been forgotten.
The staff did amazing work that night, and will continue to do so today. Only now they’ve lost an integral part of their program.
This week I’ve become overwhelmed by the hatred and ignorance people have been displaying. Reading more Calgary sun articles and the comments included, I have been horrified by how insensitive people can be.
I am also encouraged by those who I have discussed this issue with, and have left the conversation with a new perspective. I was born and raised in Calgary, and I know that most people there are intelligent, compassionate individuals.
So I ask whoever reads this to consider my argument. If you feel comfortable, please contact the CEO of Alberta health services, Alberta justice, and spread the word to those in your community.
Everyone is worth health and happiness.
Alex Rowan

What you can do to support Safeworks:

    • Read and share this post




  • Contact Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Justice department and voice your support for harm reduction and complaints over the cancellation:



Alberta Health Services CEO: E-mail:ahs.corp@albertahealthservices.ca

Phone: 780-342-2000

Toll free: 1-888-342-2471

AHS patient concerns officer: Phone: 1-866-561-7578

Alberta Justice: Phone: 780-427-2711