Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get involved and get an interest in Canadian drug policy?
Lauren Lehman: Last year, I took a course in health geography. I enjoyed it. It was interesting. I thought about doing a masters in it. In class, we talked about harm reduction. We talked about safe injection sites in Vancouver. They are working well.
It is a good idea to reduce health risks. It reduces HIV/AIDs prevalence in a neighbourhood. It does not increase crime rates. There are misconceptions around it. When I heard about the organization, it seemed cool.
They were offering a volunteer position at the University of Ottawa. It seemed like a good way to gain experience through my studies.
Jacobsen: What tasks will you be taking on since you recently started?
Lehman: I will be meeting with Nick Cristiano. He will outline a research focused role. He asked for someone interested in communications, research, or event management. I had an interest in the research aspect. They were talking about drug awareness in education.
Jacobsen: With the upcoming research focus, there are two strategies, usually. One is punitive, or punishment, oriented, which is often called zero tolerance. On the other hand, there’s another, which has prevention and minimization of harm in it, called harm reduction.
What is the preferable strategy or model to you, and why?
Lehman: I advocate harm reduction. Honestly, it is the only real way. If you do punishment measure to try and reduce drug use or drug trafficking, it is a broken system. It is seen in the War on Drugs. It is not a good system at all.
It punishes people who are at the low end and in need of help and public health. Drug use is not a criminal issue. It is a public health issue. It does not address the underlying root causes and issues for these problems.
Harm reduction is the preferable approach. It is a preventative approach rather than reactionary.
Jacobsen: Many others have noted the non-partisan nature of CSSDP, the harm reduction advocacy for drugs, drug use, and drug policy in Canada. As a new member, what attracted you to CSSDP when you first saw it?
Lehman: I thought the work was important. I am very passionate about harm reduction. It is the way to go for public health and addressing these issues. I was on board with the mandate. I found the research interesting.
Jacobsen: Looking at the organization and the general movement (around and in the culture), what do you hope this goes in the future?
Lehman: I would hope this expands more. I hadn’t heard about it until I went to University of Ottawa. I hope people hear more about it. They have some amazing points. They don’t take a stance on whether drugs are good or bad.
It is not a judgmental organization. It is not like a lot of advocacy organizations, where there is a judgment base for them. People can get more on board with the non-judgemental stance, and the evidence-based focus and movement.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Lauren.