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.