In brief, how did you get interested in being involved in drug policy in Canada?
My interest in drug policy started out as a fascination with drugs when I was in high school. I was really interested in all aspects of drugs: their medicinal value, their historical significance, their cultural impact. I’ve always felt they played a large role in the human experience, having been a large influence in the lives of many of my favourite artists, musicians, authors, and even scientists and entrepreneurs. Couple that fascination with my own mental health hurdles, and add the reckless abandon of adolescence, and long story short, I was hospitalized for what the doctors called a drug-induced psychosis (frankly, I don’t think it was induced by the drugs as much as the stresses of becoming an adult, my reluctance to act with any sense of personal responsibility, and the resulting existential crisis that propelled me into ‘adulthood’).
In hospital, I’d plenty of time to reflect on my situation. It was a really difficult time, and all I could really think about was how bad I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through what I had experienced. So I began to evaluate the policies that were in place to supposedly protect our youth. Considering so many punitive, prohibitive drug laws are in place on the very basis of protecting children, I was pretty upset about how much they failed to protect me, a vulnerable young person living in a border-town with a heavy flow of illicit drugs being smuggled in and out along the St. Lawrence River. Upon further introspection, I began to see how much of a role drugs played in my own life, and the lives of those around me. From there, my interest in drug policy just took off.
How much knowledge did you have beforehand about medical and psychological effects of drugs?
Most of the knowledge I’d obtained prior to joining the board was more or less anecdotal, coming from my own experiences. Some of the earliest advice I remember my grandma teaching me was not to pick up dirty needles on the street. My first boyfriend (if even, we were only in elementary) had not only lost his brother to an overdose, but found his body. It messed him up for a long time. I’ve had family members struggle with addictions to (legal) prescription opiates, and I’ve seen my uncle use cannabis (an ‘illicit’ substance) to aid in his recovery from an aggressive form of brain cancer. I also struggled with drug misuse in high school. I had friends who were more than willing to share, and many a time I was that ‘generous’ friend. I’ve spent a lot of time lamenting poor decisions I’ve made in high school but frankly I didn’t really know any better and it taught me a lot. I’d always been motivated about trying to educate myself, but being young and naïve at the time I may not have been quite as keen about verifying my sources and statistics as I am now. Especially now that I’m representing the organization, I’m very particular about where I obtain my information from and what sorts of statistics I used to inform my opinions.
How did you get involved in CSSDP?
Out of my perpetual curiosity with drugs I’d found CSSDP on Facebook sometime during my high school years, but it wasn’t until I started post-secondary that I contacted the Outreach Coordinator about starting up a chapter at my school, applied to represent them at some international conferences, and ultimately ended up running for the board. Needless to say it was a match made in socio-political activist heaven.
What do you consider the core principle of CSSDP?
In the most concise terms, I think the core principle of CSSDP is about supplementing evidence and knowledge in the place of stigma and misinformation to create a humanistic approach to drug policy. What we’re really advocating for here is human rights and public health, which you’d think would be at the center of any effective drug policy (spoiler alert: the current policies aren’t effective). Unfortunately there’s a lot of external interest, political and economic, that are corrupting the majority of policies relating to drugs (in my opinion anyway). It’s created a largely misguided and misinformed public perception of drugs and drug use. Removing the stigma is a key factor in addressing these issues. Social taboos make it a sensitive topic but that only causes the problems to fester.
Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?
In the far future I hope to have eliminated the need for CSSDP by helping to establish effective and sensible drug policies in Canada. Realistically though, there’s a constantly changing landscape of drugs so I don’t know if that will happen, especially on an international level. Different people using different substances in different settings creates this hugely elaborate web of social, political, and economic issues and it’s quite nuanced. In the immediate future I just hope to see more interest in CSSDP, because where it stands it seems to be a relatively niche interest. My only friends who are interested in these issues are in CSSDP, but all of my friends do drugs in some capacity. I hope to see more people make the connection as to how these policies are effecting them and why they should care.