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.