Alex Betsos

Saturday began with passion and intensity, the same that made Friday night exciting. CSSDP opened the conference with a territory acknowledgment and opening prayer by Wanda Whitebird, Womens Outreach Worker for the Ontario Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy, who is a member of the Bear Clan, from the Mi’kMag Nation. Wanda drummed in the conference, welcoming us to the land and pointing out the importance of the conversations and movements beginning today. Wanda’s opening remarks were followed by a brilliant and heart wrenching personal story by Kali from the Eva’s Initiative Spot program. Kali brought us through his story of the impact drugs had on his personal life, and the steps he took to better it. CSSDP then brought out a memorial to all the friends, family, and loved ones that had been lost by the war on drugs. We had a minute of silence to mourn and remember those who could not be here, because their lives ended unfairly. Afterwards CSSDP introduced our timeline of drug policy, which details the historical past of drug policy, and potential future projects. The timeline laid bare, the common emotion through the room was that drug prohibition needs to end – for those we lost and will lose – and that we must be aware of the necessary steps that will bring us forward, that will create a rising revolution.  A new board of directors would be elected that night, and CSSDP’s board would remember those left behind.

Dr. Carl Hart

After the opening remarks had been made, Dr. Carl Hart began where he left off the night before; discussing the importance of a holistic and scientific approach to drug policy. While Dr. Hart argued against anecdotal evidence, he used his own personal story to back up the evidence he wanted to demonstrate. If there was one thing to take away from Dr. Hart’s speech, it was that to be an effective member of the drug policy community, or any community, we need an in-depth understanding of interpreting data, and to be critically informed about the substances we talk about. As well, Dr. Hart reinforced that the drug policy reform movement is so much more than just legalizing one drug, and that it is based in social justice and civil rights.  It’s important for drug policy reform activists to make the links between racism and the drug war to be allies in this fight.

Youth Involvement in the UN

The Open Society Foundations (OSF) sponsored panel on the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) furthered the importance of practical movements towards changing international policy. The panel, moderated by Donald MacPherson of CPDC, featured Scott Bernstein of OSF, Heather Haase from the New York NGO Committee on Drugs, Ayesha Mian from SSDP UK and CSSDP’s very own Nazlee Maghsoudi. Bernstein explained the bureaucratic elements of the UN’s complicated drug policy organizations. Particularly, he called out the International Narcotic Control Board’s historic support of countries that were violating human rights by executing drug users. Haase explained her role in the NYNGOC, and how by moving the conference away from Vienna, it allowed the participation of many whose voices had been excluded from previous discussions. She even responded succinctly to a question from myself, on including Latin American and African countries participating in the discussions. The producing countries of the drug war have largely been rising against the current regime, and their voices on the world stage are needed now more than ever. Mian and Maghsoudi copresented the role of youth at the panel, and the power that organizations like CSSDP and SSDP could make, with the power of our young social base. The talk ended conservative but positive. We could change the war on drugs, but it requires caution, planning and a negotiation for a better world. No one had any allusions that UNGASS 2016 would be a major game changer.

Safer Nightlife

When lunch broke out, the large group split into three different rooms, with the main room being livestreamed. I moved into the nightlife harm reduction panel, with Brun Gonzalez from Espolea Lori Kufner from TRIP Project, Julie-Soleil Meeson, of GRIP, David Stuart from GUM/HIV and ChemSex, and Munroe Craig from Karmik (a harm reduction group we co-run with another former CSSDP member). Gonzalez’s powerpoint was beautiful, displaying Mexican music festivals, and the literature created by Espolea was mind blowing! Every drug information piece was beautifully illustrated and colour coded, with a charm seen in not many places. Gonzalez focused on another method for drug testing that Espolea used which differed significantly from the other organizations. Each harm reduction organization complemented the others brilliantly. Craig introduced a holistic strategy to harm reduction, including culturally sensitive practices such as smudging at events. Karmik wanted to make people feel welcome and safe. Kufner’s panel took the direction of research and evidence, the things that a harm reduction group relies on – knowledge of the community, an ear to those who listen. Soleil brought a more international perspective, despite being from Montreal. Her talk focused on some of the work other organizations in Europe had done, as well as GRIP’s work, featuring models for the future. Stuart’s conversation took a completely different approach than the others. Probably the funniest panelist I watched, with lines like “gay men, having sex, have fun.” He discussed how after years of stigma, gay men were looking for human connection through their sexuality, and finding it in problematic relationships with substances.

The last workshop I attended was drug related emergencies with Greg Khaymov and Cameron Reid from Parkdale CHC, Kris Guthrie from The Works, and Michael Vipperman. It was one of the few talks where it seemed like the audience had as good of a grasp on the content as everyone else. When you are talking about overdose, a well-educated populace is definitely a positive thing! Khaymov and Reid discussed the drug combinations that would lead to an OD. The audience was really engaged, asking various questions from the experts on the panel, breaking down the usual structure of speeches. Guthrie’s talk centered on the importance of naloxone, an opiate antagonist that temporarily blocks the effects of opiates and therefore, opiate overdose. While I had heard of naloxone before, and how it was difficult for friends and family of opiate users to have access to, I had no idea that its effects only lasted 60- 90 minutes, meaning that regardless, a hospital trip would be required. The panel took a turn in an interesting direction with Vipperman’s talk about manufacturing the best psychedelic experience possible. Built off the work of famous psychedelic psychiatrist Stanislov Grof, Vipperman ran through facilitating people through intense psychedelic experiences, and addressed a biological importance to having your consciousness expanded!

New CSSDP National Board celebrating the most successful conference yet!

The annual general meeting was full of energy and excitement, as members of CSSDP’s board explained the voting system and the role that people would play should they be elected. 7 seats were available on the board, 4 regular positions and 3 alternates. The board took turns explaining what it was like to be on the board, illustrating the experience we have working with each other, namely, a beautiful mess. To be honest I felt out of place as each new potential board member came up to talk. Some of them were far more qualified than I was, and it made me wonder whether I would have been elected had I tried to run this year. We had PhD candidates and activists, a good balance of the theoretical with the practical. After all the votes were tabulated, the new board members were chosen. In no particular order, those who were elected to the board as voting members: Nick Cristiano, Christopher Ducas, Chris Carroll, and Gonzo Nieto. The three non-voting members who were elected to the board were: Dessy Pavlova, Steff Pinch and Ella Quarrey. With a newly filled board, and a conference that has been nothing less than exciting, a new chapter begins for CSSDP.