Youth Solidarity and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Youth Solidarity and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

Ask any drug reformed-minded civil society organization at the UN and they will tell you the same thing. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is draining. It’s draining for several reasons. It can be emotionally draining to watch the slow churning of the bureaucratic machine as it continues to move while your friends and colleagues continue to be incarcerated and killed by its policy. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs can make you feel as if there is no hope; as member states with flagrant human rights violations accuse more progressive member states of treaty violations for looser drug laws. It’s hard to follow without an intimate knowledge of the UN. Resolutions are debated both in public and in closed door meetings, following the language in the Committee of the Whole (more affectionately known as the CoW) is like staring at 3 teachers with different areas of expertise (none of which are in your field btw) editing your work with a slew of track changes, brackets, and text crossed out, all intermingled together.

Yet there are moments of hope, glimmers and opportunities for new collaborations. Drug policy solidarity is built in the face of what sociologist Max Weber referred to as “the iron cage”: a totalizing system of bureaucracy and hyper-rationalization. Only in the world of drug policy could a country that violates human rights and engages in extrajudicial killings be given an open platform to talk about how it has made communities “drug free”. People walked out during the High-Level Ministerial Segment as a sign that they do not recognize the Venezuelan government. Yet, as far as I am aware no one seemed to care all that much when a country being pursued by the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses speaks of its “total commitment to demolish the drug scourge.”

In the face of this, however, there are resistances, small progressive movements moving like multi-coloured morning glory vines climbing along the cage. The first of the major events was a protest in front of the Philippines booth. People lay down in front of the booth in protest of the whitewashing of massive violence that the Philippines booth represents. As far as I know there have not been any wide-reaching consequences to people involved although it did raise tensions with security that will have to be addressed in the coming months. As member states continue to advocate for the importance of civil society inclusion, we’ll have to ask ourselves, what is meaningful civil society inclusion? Is it simply that civil society can sit, watch and potentially make minor changes to resolutions?

If member states value civil society, at some point the rules will have to change to make space for strategies for engaging member states in the ways that civil society knows best. While I recognize that there is a diverse set of civil society members at CND, I do not believe that even the anti-drug reform civil society organizations believe there is anything civil, about allowing member states to flaunt their human rights violations. If the UN held that all protest was inappropriate then surely member states should have had their passes removed when member states walked out of the representative of Venezuela’s speech. To be clear, I’m not weighing in on the il/legitimacy of the Maduro government. But walking out is a protest!

The other big event that I’d like to highlight is the creation and dissemination of the International Guidelines on Human Rights and Drug Policy, which was released at CND this year. Speakers at this event pointed out the importance of framing drug policy in relation to human rights. A surprisingly novel concept at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, this document should provide civil society organizations with some tools to push receptive governments to begin considering drug use in relation to human rights. The side event for the release of this document is perhaps one of the few times at the UN I have ever felt hope. With supreme court judges, people who use drugs, human rights advocates from Geneva and delegates from member states all on the same panel, it was hard to not feel as if there may be a possibility for hope.

What fills me with hope more than anything else, however, is how youth engagement has swelled over the last year. We had representation from every continent, and our two side events were well attended despite lacking a government co-sponsor. At our side event (Ask 2: shift drug policies towards public health and human rights-based approaches) were delegates from New Zealand, Canada, Serbia, and the United Kingdom. Our colleague from EPSD, Marisa Morales, gave an impassioned speech from the floor of the UN in Spanish this year, highlighting the importance of youth involvement.

This year we experimented with more collaborative forms of online engagement including splitting up the work of writing blog posts, and had a very successful Paradigma meeting. Paradigma is still in the process of deciding what its mission and strategy will be, but we have now set up some practical goals for expanding our collective efforts over the next year so that CND can include an even more diverse group of youth. While there is a lot more to be worked out over the coming year, a lot of the groundwork has been put into place.

Even though the United Nations can often steal your energy away, it’s iron cage often feeling unescapable, I feel recharged by my colleagues – really my friends – who put so much effort and commitment into trying to change the world. The youth movement is always a reminder that when we are included within the activism, organizing, and cultivation of another world, that a different world can actually begin to feel like a possibility.


Written by: Alex Betsos


Updates from Day Three of the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs – SSDP

Original Article posted by SSDP (

SSDP staff and members are in Vienna this week with our youth allies in CSSDP, SSDP Australia, Youth Rise, and YODA attending the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting (“CND”). Yesterday, we shared an update from the second day of CND courtesy of Ailish Brennan of Youth Rise/University College Dublin SSDP. Today, Orsi Feher ’16, SSDP’s European Global Fellow and Treasurer of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs, shares her thoughts on the third day of the meeting. For more details about everything that is discussed this week, check out the CND Blog.

A new day dawned at the UN in Vienna with a new addition from the SSDP family to the board of the Vienna NGO Committee on Drugs (VNGOC). Founder of SSDP Australia and current chair of the board, Penny Hill, has been elected to serve as Deputy Secretary joining SSDP International’s Europe Global Fellow, Orsi Fehér ’16, in our efforts to increase the visibility of youth in the global drug policy discussion.

While some of us were in informal dialogues in the morning, the plenary session proceeded to discuss the agenda item on the Implementation of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action of 2009 and the follow up to UNGASS 2016. The debate didn’t really see anything new or exciting emerge until our very own Marisa Morales ‘15, SSDP’s Latin America Global Fellow, took the floor for her fiery intervention. Marisa set the scene by acknowledging the unique situation young people face when it comes to drug-related issues and went on to explain that the harm caused by drug prohibition is worse than the harm caused by drugs themselves. She talked about how harm reduction measures should be embraced by Member States so access to evidence-based education and health services without fear of punishment can create a culture of safety around drug use. She then brought into context how such a culture is necessary for member states and UN agencies to successfully implement the ideas discussed in the UNGASS outcome document. She introduced the three asks of the Paradigma coalition and ended her statement by inviting everyone to our youth side event to get more familiar with the work of Paradigma members and its relevancy to global drug policy processes.

The informal dialogue was organized by the VNGOC to give an opportunity for NGOs to engage with the UNODC and the INCB and to their credit, besides the prepared Q&A, they made time to respond to spontaneous questions. The first session with Mr. Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, was about as low energy as one would expect a discussion with a 71-year-old Russian diplomat about drugs. He boasted the Listen First project that is aimed at the “most precious asset” of humanity, children, and youth, and which some of our SSDPers were not welcome to contribute to. The only relevant moment to highlight is the question from our friends at ICEERS about indigenous peoples, especially women, who have been historically vulnerable to drug control policies. The answer of Mr. Fedotov lacked any compassion or actual content, to be honest, but he did command NGOs working on supporting these communities and stressed the importance of Bangkok and Nelson Mandela rules and how they work towards promoting these among member states.

The INCB dialogue was slightly more interesting, especially against the backdrop of the escalated discussion about the board’s role in international drug policy with member states chiming in sternly. Mr. Sumyai took us on a ride; the president has talked about the accusations of overstepping their treaty mandate and how they need to be careful respecting where the WHO comes in, yet went on to cast judgment on the mode of administration when it comes to Cannabis as to what qualifies as medical and what does not. Then he responded to a question about improving women’s access to treatment with a very patriarchal sentiment about women’s main task in life being the taking care of families. To our delight, he also served some info that will keep Paradigma busy this year: INCB announced their plans to continue to host civil society hearings in 2019 and their particular interest in youth organizations, especially on the grassroots level. We know through unofficial channels that they were very impressed with SSDP representative Elli Jenner from Austria at their last hearing which dealt with the issue of Cannabis and was the first event of its kind for decades.

After lunch, we made our way to our first side event this week titled Global Youth Perspectives on Shifting Drug Policies which featured Ailish Brennan ’18 from Youth RISE & University College Dublin SSDP as moderator, Patricia Chulver ’17 from SSDP Bolivia, Stefan Pejic from ReGeneration in Serbia, Daniel Nii Ankrah from YouthRise in Ghana, and Alex Betsos from CSSDP as speakers. The panelists talked about a wide range of issues that relate to the shifting of drug policies towards public health and human rights-based approaches; from the review of punitive laws and aligning supply reduction efforts with human rights to harm reduction and their personal experiences in working with affected populations. The room was so packed that at one point, Alex had to manage the crowd to avoid the harms of less-than-sufficient ventilation at the venue. Following the panel, the audience took the opportunity to ask questions and highlight their experiences relating to those on the panel resulting in a lively conversation that went well beyond the usual time limits of these events, signifying a highly successful side event – business as usual, huh?

In less interesting news, the discussion on inter-agency cooperation saw member states boasting their regional leadership and the EU playing good cop, pushing for the full implementation of the UNGASS outcome document and increased coordination among entities and consultations with NGOs. Turkey, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, Ukraine, Iceland, Moldova, Armenia, San Marino, and Georgia have also lined up behind this joint European statement.

After the commission and our youth delegation concluded our work for the day, we reunited at Vienna’s Sigmund Freud University where the local SSDP chapter organized an event on Psychedelic Healing. It was an emotional and surprisingly interactive session with Ismail L Ali ’15, policy advisor of MAPS and chair of SSDP’S board of directors, moderating a discussion with Keren Tzarfaty, Ph.D.,M.F.T., co-founder of the Hakomi Institute of Israel and MAPS Trainer, and Paula Graciela Kahn, MAPS’s migrant justice advocate.

Day Two of the 62nd Commission of Narcotic Drugs • Youth RISE

Original Article published by Youth Rise ( )

Written by Ailish Brennan

The second day of the 62nd Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs may have been lighter in content in the form of interesting and progressive side events but was certainly not without noteworthy occurrences. As the two major youth-led drug policy reform side events drew closer, with both taking place at the 2:20PM time slot on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, people’s minds were at times focussed elsewhere.

 In the early morning slot, Harm Reduction International, in conjunction with a number of government delegations and Amnesty International, organized a side event entitled “The death penalty for drug related offence: The impact on women and vulnerable groups”. The event was attended by key delegates from the respective governments, including Great Britain, and Paradigma ally Chloe Swarbrick of New Zealand.

 It is truly inspiring to see such an event sponsored and attended by high level policy makers, especially with the focus on the impact on the gendered aspect of the death penalty and the impact on marginalized groups. These voices are often systematically excluded at these events.

 The event placed a focus on the 35 countries which retain the death penalty for drug offences, directly contravening international law. The focus throughout remained on how people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the enforcement of the death penalty. Foreign nationals, women, people from lower-socio economic backgrounds, people of colour, as well as the people at the intersection of some or all of these subgroups, are most likely to be affected by the use of the death penalty. The most disadvantaged members of our society are significantly less likely to be given a fair trial due to racial prejudices, or their inability to speak the local language of the country in which they have been arrested.

 With the prevalence of foreign nationals being sentenced to the death penalty, eleven foreign nationals have been executed this year already in Saudi Arabia, including three on New Years Day. In Malaysia meanwhile, foreign nationals are half as likely to have their sentence revised down from the death penalty as Malaysians. It is hard to imagine that the sentencing in Saudi Arabia was much more fair or transparent than the bias seen in Malaysian courts.

 Other more youth-based side events were also taking place throughout the day, although these were somewhat less progressive. The Government of Pakistan organized a side event on their incredibly ground-breaking plan to implement education programs in schools promoting abstinence from drugs. This side event was, thankfully, very poorly attended, mostly by other drug free world focussed organizations and delegations. I would like to hope that this is because even the majority of prohibitionists can see the futility in further expanding the implementation of these programs in their current form.

 In the final side event slot of the day an event was organized by the government of Great Britain, attempting to discuss their tackling of the recent surge in violent knife crimes, and how these are related to drug use. They decided to conflate the increased use of crack cocaine with the upsurge in knife crimes. However, when pressed about whether they had conducted research into the well-documented effects austerity has had on social problems in the United Kingdom, they were unable to say they had because it is “easier” to conduct the research they had decided to do.

 On top of this question about austerity, Great Britain was thankfully pestered by a number of progressive civil society organizations on their presentations. The above question was asked by myself, and was accompanied by Eva Cesarova, also of Youth RISE, enquiring about whether they have considered decriminalising drugs as a means of impacting the level of violent crime associated with drugs. On top of this, Clare Mawditt of the Women’s Harm Reduction International Network, pointed them towards recent reports indicating the benefits of stimulant legalisation and regulation. Both of these questions were met with varying degrees of silence.

 In the Plenary throughout the early parts of the day, some of the most mundane yet efficient events at CND occurred, with numerous fentanyl and cannabinoid derivatives being scheduled. The speed with which the scheduling of most substances occurs is breathtaking relative to the rest of the events if CND. I never would have guessed that CND delegates had the ability to be productive! The one piece of note was the postponement of the decision on scheduling of cannabis until March 2020, when delegations will have had enough time to consider such a potentially radical decision. Truthfully this amounts to little more than kicking the can down the road, and it remains to be seen how much further it can be delayed.

 While today, as with much of CND, has been filled with negativity throughout the main sessions of the day, tucked away in a quiet corner, away from the main diplomacy, the Vienna NGO Committee held their annual voting for board members. In a fantastic win for the wider drug policy reform movement, Jamie Bridge of IDPC was elected to Chairperson and Penny Hill, currently of Harm Reduction Australia and formerly of Youth RISE and SSDP Australia, was elected as Deputy Secretary! It is wonderful to see headway being made in the non-governmental sections of CND at the very least.

 It is results like this that begin to show the true scale to which the wider drug policy control system is falling behind civil society in terms of following evidence, health, and human rights based approaches.

Day One Updates from the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs – SSDP

Original article published by SSDP ( )

SSDP staff and members are in Vienna this week with our youth allies in CSSDP, SSDP Australia, Youth Rise, and YODA attending the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting (“CND”). Yesterday, we shared an update from last week’s High-Level Ministerial Segment. Today, SSDP’s International Program Manager, Jake Agliata ’11, summarizes the key events which took place during the first day of CND. For more details about everything that is discussed this week, check out the CND Blog.

With the High-Level Ministerial Segment (HLMS) in the rearview mirror, it was business as usual at the United Nations on Monday as the 62nd Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting kicked off in Vienna. It’s hard to say how much the HLMS will have an impact on this week’s proceedings. On one hand, the segment was mostly a procedural repeat of things which we already knew and statements which were planned weeks in advance. On the other hand, the fractured consensus of the global drug control system was on full display as it becomes more and more clear how much disagreement there is between member states regarding approaches to drug policy. We saw both of these factors come into play on Monday.

Before the start of the week, SSDP and our global youth allies in the Paradigma coalition held a strategy session on Saturday to discuss our future as a coalition, plans for the week, and for an exciting meeting with New Zealand MP Chlöe Swarbrick. Paradigma was formed in 2017 after a global youth convening in Bangkok and has since existed as an informal coalition among the youth-led organizations who attend CND each year advocating for the youth voice in global drug policy. Seeking to refine what the coalition is and what it does, we spent some time getting organized and drafting some concrete action items to improve the efficiency of our work. Afterward, we discussed some strategies for getting our Global Youth Asks document into the hands of country delegations this week and included in the overall conversation. Our goal is to promote the document during side events, drop hard copies off all over the UN, and use our existing contacts in country delegations to help us deliver our asks to those who may be interested in hearing what a diverse group of young people have to say about global drug policy. The meeting with Chlöe was perhaps the highlight of Saturday, as she answered many of our questions regarding her efforts to transform drug policy in New Zealand. Chlöe is only 24 years old and had a lot of insights to offer our group about how we can best leverage our platform as impacted young people to create change at the international level. We were thrilled to have such a promising young politician join us for an incredible discussion.

Monday started off with a stark reminder that although civil society may be welcome in the United Nations, we still have to behave and play by the rules or risk being put in a time out. Following last week’s spontaneous die-in at the Philippines booth protesting their delegation’s sugar coating of Duterte’s violent drug crackdown as demand reduction measures, UN security was on high alert for other shenanigans which may upset the comfortable bubble of the UN. In the morning, a large group of civil society members met outside the main UN building to take a photo for the Support Don’t Punish campaign. UN security immediately shut it down because participants were holding up Support Don’t Punish signs, claiming no one was allowed to display any signs with unapproved messaging at the UN. This action was completely unrelated to the Philippines protest on Saturday and could hardly be considered disruptive, considering it was just a group of people taking a photo outside the UN like hundreds of people do every week. If displaying a sign with a message as simple and agreeable as “Support Don’t Punish” really violates UN protocols, the UNODC may need to reevaluate their policies.

Moving on to the actual proceedings, most of the day’s discussion in the Plenary room concerned agenda item 9: implementation of the international drug control treaties, particularly regular reviews of scheduling. The two most notable discussions concerned the possible scheduling of tramadol and the new recommendations by the WHO and INCB on cannabis. The WHO recommended Tramadol, a synthetic opioid pain medication, not be scheduled for now, but put under surveillance. China took exception to the WHO’s recommendation and stated their support for scheduling tramadol under the international treaty framework. Egypt and Cameroon supported China’s comments, noting their own national efforts to ban Tramadol within their own borders. Sudan, meanwhile, concurred with the WHO’s recommendation of putting it on surveillance but holding off on scheduling. Regarding cannabis, the INCB noted concern with the potential of poorly regulated cannabis programs to cause harm on communities and lead to an increase in non-medical use among young people. They also stated their position that regulation of cannabis for recreational purposes is in violation of the drug control treaties, subtly calling out Canada. China again strongly concurred with this point and reiterated their support for keeping cannabis in the highest level of scheduling, despite recent reviews by the WHO and recommendations to consider rescheduling. Indonesia and Japan agreed with China, stating their belief that cannabis has adverse effects on health and development. Sudan took it a step further and claimed the new trend of regulating cannabis is behind 80% of crimes related to drug abuse. Not surprisingly, they offered no evidence to support this claim. On the other side, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Netherlands expressed support for further access to research into cannabis as a medicine and showed support for the WHO’s recommendations. Notably, South Korea stated their growing support for medical cannabis amidst growing calls to consider its use among their citizens.

In the Committee of the Whole, two resolutions were discussed. The first was introduced by Australia and concerned enhancing forensic detection capability for synthetic drugs through international cooperation. While most of the conversation was around small changes in language, one notable discussion concerned the inclusion of the word stigmatization in the resolution. Always a hot topic at CND, a resolution recognizing stigmatization as a barrier to treatment was passed at last year’s CND amidst a highly controversial debate. Pakistan, Iran, and Russia said that stigma has no place in this resolution or debate, while Japan stated they were unclear about what stigma even meant in this context despite last year’s resolution. Canada and the United States supported Australia with keeping stigmatization in the resolution, though no consensus was reached before the debate moved on. The second resolution debated was introduced by Germany, Peru, and Thailand concerning the promotion of alternative development as a development-oriented drug control strategy. A lot of this discussion was based around realigning the goals of the drug control regime with those of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. There was some debate between the US and Peru around whether the language of the UNGASS outcome document or the HLMS outcome document should be used in the resolution as a baseline for the recommendations of the drug control regime. Most of this discussion was more of a political debate than anything, as noted by Canada late in the discussions. Most notably, countries argued over a line stating the goal of a “society free of drug abuse.” No clear consensus was made on this issue and the discussion was tabled for the next day.

There were a number of interesting side events throughout the day, but one which stood out was called “Addressing Stigma: Continuing the Discussion.” Hosted by Canada, Uruguay, Estonia, and Norway, this event was a follow up from a side event last year discussing stigma as a primary barrier to public health interventions for people who use drugs. Each host country discussed efforts underway in their home jurisdictions to reduce stigmatization of people who use drugs in healthcare services, the media, law enforcement, and the general public. Notably, Uruguay discussed how a central focus of their cannabis regulation law is training teachers and educators how to approach the topic of cannabis use without naming or shaming young people who are curious about the drug. It was refreshing to see the room packed for the event, and although there was not much time for discussion afterward, panelists invited everyone to keep the conversation about stigma alive and well throughout the week.

Overall, it was a slow but nevertheless eventful start to CND. We are eager to kick up our activity levels throughout the week by making an intervention regarding the implementation of the UNGASS outcome document and participating in two side events on Wednesday and Thursday. Stay tuned for more updates from Vienna!

High Level Ministerial Segment Day Two • Youth RISE

Reprinted with permission by Youth Rise (Original Article: )

Written by Morgana Daniele

While the Philippines proceed with extrajudicial killings of people who use drugs, youth activists continue to protest against these atrocities. We, the youth organizations, remonstrate by lying on the floor of the Rotunda – the UN exhibition space – where this year, the Philippines occupy a space where they display posters promoting their brutal and violent approach to the War on Drugs. Welcome to the 2019 Commission on Narcotic Drugs Ministerial Segment.

The UN is a symbol of humanity’s progress, where learning to solve problems and opinion differences can be achieved without waging war. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs is an event which embodies this progress, where the costs of this evolution can be felt almost physically. The costs are represented by President Duterte’s posters in the headquarters of the UN, the very institution which has expressed its “deep concern” over the genocide of people who use drugs in the Philippines. Differences in opinion are illustrated by the different policies and views on drugs by countries such as the Philippines and Canada. The stark differences between the approaches of these two countries while they still maintain their attempts to achieve a consensus gives an insight into how slow the progress tends to be at the UN. That is before even considering the agendas of the many other countries attempting to influence the drug policy control system.

The second and final day of the Ministerial Segment has concluded. So, what has changed after the 193 delegates have delivered their speeches and attended numerous round tables and side events? To evaluate the level of progress would require analysis of all the speeches of delegates over a span of at least a decade. This analysis is beyond the scope of this text. However, we can share some observations.

All countries use buzz words in their speeches. For example, some phrases used by almost all countries to define their approach included “evidence-based”, “effective” and “health-centred”. Whereas their outcomes and results were commonly referred to as “measured” and “evaluated”. Taking off the diplomatic mask, two opposing approaches can be identified. Firstly, the fear of cracks appearing in the consolidated (but outdated) approach. Secondly, securing the right to individualism (whether in direction of brutality or liberalism).

The position of Russia and Singapore demonstrate the fear countries have of cracks appearing in the approach. The speeches of these countries were full of words representing the idealistic view of a drug-free world (“what world do we want? One where people die of drug overdose? Or one free of drugs, where we all thrive?”), as well as focusing on war (“fight”, “win”, “defeat”, “war on drugs”, “war on narcotic evil/tyranny”, “getting rid of this plague”), demonization of drugs (“narcotic hell”, “evil”, “tyranny”, “drugs destroy lives”, “prevention saves from pain”), and control (“implement tough laws”, “keep drugs away”, “it is now a crime in Singapore to allow young people to use”, “it is now a crime to introduce a trafficker to another person”). These countries are clearly in favour of outdated conventions (“conventions must stay as engraved in stone”, “multilateralism is necessary”, “problems cannot be solved unilaterally”, “established consensus”, “we must not waver or lose time renegotiating”, “act within conventions”, “collectively”).

The approach of Vietnam and Bolivia demonstrates the shift in focus to the sovereignty of countries policies. The language that was used included “non-interference”, “sovereignty”, “policies must correspond to the domestic circumstances”, “the drug laws were imposed by the U.S.”, “we decided to develop our own model” and “true, dignified, sovereign manner of drug policy”. However, the approaches that underpin the desire for sovereignty can vary considerably, and this sovereignty is not always a positive thing. While Bolivia comes to CND annually to present their success achieved through coca leaf regulation, which was implemented through a temporary breakaway from international treaties, Vietnam refers to “drug-free Asia”, “harm reduction through law enforcement” and “drug-free region”. The latter position becomes problematic when followed by language such as “tough laws”, “crime”, “abusers” and “rehab-strengthening with implementation of a post-release support and supervision”, used by other Asian countries.

Considering the approaches outlined above, noticeable regional differences remain: i) South America rejects the devastating policies of war on drugs; ii) Asia keeps following the control and violence path, iii) many Western countries talk about a health-centred approach; and iv) Africa seems to be at the crossroads between the two approaches.

Taken together, there were many positives from the 2019 CND Ministerial Segment, which include: i) Civil Society firmly maintaining their position as an equal partner by giving an opening speech and participating in multiple side events; Youth RISE International Coordinator presenting at the side event organised by the Norwegian government; and iii) the director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) speaking in the panel launching UNAIDS international guidelines on human rights and drug policy. These positives illustrate how activists continue to fly the flags high. Let’s hope that humanity remains determined to progress.

Thoughts From Vienna (Commission on Narcotic Drugs 2019)

Written by Alex Betsos

In 2009, The United Nations adopted what is informally called “The 2009 Political Declaration”, or more formally, “the Political Declaration and Plan of Action on International Cooperation towards an Integrated and Balanced Strategy to Counter the World Drug Problem”. 2019 was the date that the UN agreed they would re-examine the declaration, evaluate its effects, its impacts, and member states success in achieving the goals that they had set out.

By most measures, the goals of supply and demand reduction have largely been a failure, and while member states at the UN have passed a new resolution, outlining further goals for the UN, and while this document has been created by consensus, it’s pretty clear to everyone on the ground that no such consensus exists between member states. Some member states continue to support punitive actions, whereas other support a more health-oriented approach. Even the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime – one of the body’s responsible for enforcing the treaties, has now called for decriminalization.

This lack of consensus has been felt on the ground all day. The opening ceremony of the High-Level Ministerial Segment highlighted all of the good work that has occurred in the last 10 years. With pictures and videos of families, smiling and happy, one could almost be forgiven for forgetting that in the Philippines extra-judicial killings have been supported by the government, or that cocaine production has increased in Latin America – despite US/UN backed efforts to eradicate coca – or even that Canada and the US are in the worst overdose crises of their histories.

In terms of successes in the document of the HLM all that exists is this:

We acknowledge that tangible progress has been achieved in the implementation of the commitments made over the past decade in addressing and countering the world drug problem, including with regard to an improved understanding of the problem, the development, elaboration and implementation of national strategies, the enhanced sharing of information, and the enhanced capacity of national competent authorities;

The tangible progress is in their ability to work together.

What is always strange about events like the HLM is that they are often about political goals that are often unrelated to drugs. In a surprising turn of events, a large number of member state delegates walked out of the room during the speech of the member from Venezuela. While the Venezuelan member continued to argue against US involvement in the region in relation to drugs, it was clear to everyone that events here, and even the constant referencing of Maduro, were more so about the events in Venezuela than they were about drugs.

In terms of Canadian issues, it has been clear that several member states have targeted their comments at Canada. With cannabis legalization in full swing, countries like Russia have argued that Canada should not be allowed to attend, and many countries have made comments that sound as if they imagine that Canada has descended into a Hobbesian anarchy since the legalization of cannabis. Canada has fired back,  with messages that have stayed relatively on point with the consensus of other member states that share similar values (known as “friendlies”); namely that they oppose the continued use of the death penalty for people who have committed non-violent drug offences (possibly also a nod to the ongoing situation with Huawei, and the Canadian citizen being threatened with the death penalty), and the use by some member states of extrajudicial killings (ie the Philippines). Canada’s main address to the UN will be tomorrow, and we will see if it includes anything further that is substantive.


Help us get to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs!

Help us get to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs!

On March 14th, the United Nations will be holding a High-Level Ministerial Segment (HLM) as well as the annual Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). The HLM takes place every 10 years to evaluate the previous UN targets in drug policy. For the past several years, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy have sent students to various UN international drug policy meetings to make sure that Canadian youth are both represented in international drug policy, and so that the information surrounding UN drug policy can be shared with youth around the world. These annual UN meetings are also an opportunity for youth drug policy activists from around the world to get together and organize around bigger drug policy partnerships. Last year, CSSDP played an important role in facilitating the growth of Paradigma, a project designed to help various youth-run drug policy organizations collaborate on drug policy reform.

This year, two CSSDP board members will be attending CND: Heather D’Alessio, who will be on the Canadian delegation and Alex Betsos, who will be working with youth drug policy activists. This year, both have been actively involved in monthly meetings with the Canadian government and with other drug policy organizations in Canada. Heather will be the first youth drug policy activist to be featured on the Canadian delegation. As well, Heather and Alex have spent several months working with their international partners to establish two side events  at CND this year that will feature youth from both the global north and the global south, explaining different facets of drug laws.

 CSSDP is a non-profit organization that operates solely on grants and donations. These funds are directly used to further research, extend visibility and access to CSSDP resources (e.g. the Sensible Cannabis Toolkit), and promote the CSSDP’s message nationally and internationally at conferences, negotiations, and meetings. Please consider contributing in order to allow us to send students like Alex and Heather to events such as CND, allowing them to advocate for students and get them engaged in drug policy. If you’d like to donate, you can do so by following the link below. We welcome and thank you for any contribution you are able to make at this time.


CSSDP Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Campbell, CEO of Lifford Cannabis Solutions

CSSDP Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Campbell, CEO of Lifford Cannabis Solutions


This week we’re featuring our former Outreach Director, Lisa Campbell. One of Lisa’s  favorite memories during her time with CSSDP (2013-2015) was when she presented on drug checking at the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna, Austria. During their stay, the CSSDP blog was so lit that it was banned on the UNODC firewall!

Lisa has been involved in many different aspects of drug policy, for example she was the founder and chairwoman of Women Grow Toronto. She is the founder and CEO at Lifford Cannabis Solutions – a cannabis agency which helps Canadian brands navigate legalization.

Lisa urges youth to get involved in drug policy reform and have their voices heard. We agree! “It’s important for students to share their stories on how drug prohibition impacts their lives. By students getting involved it changes the stereotypes about young people who use drugs!”


Support Sensible Drug Policy


Our chapters and our board of directors work together to represent the voice of students and youth in matters of drug policy on local, national, and international levels. Our members are passionate, engaged, and concerned about the negative impact of drug policies on our communities. Together, we’re making a difference and supporting change towards more sensible drug policies!

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Cannabis? More like can’t-abis—thanks to a Quebec-wide ban on university and public grounds

Cannabis? More like can’t-abis—thanks to a Quebec-wide ban on university and public grounds


Blog post by: Simona Rosenfield

On December 5th, the newly elected Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) party proposed a highly controversial bill that effectively handcuffs cannabis users who don’t own private property. For the most part, discussion about Bill 2 has revolved around the legal age to consume cannabis, as the CAQ intends to raise it from 18 to 21 years old. However, another change was proposed in Bill 2 that undeniably affects and further limits disabled students attending universities across Quebec.

Currently, as outlined in the provincial government’s Cannabis Regulation Act (CRA), cannabis consumption is completely prohibited anywhere on campus grounds. This includes consumption in student residences, designated tobacco smoking areas on campus, and anywhere indoors or outdoors on campus—including medical cannabis users. While smoking tobacco and vaping are permitted on campus, “as long as it occurs at least nine metres from building entrances, windows and air intakes,” no cannabis smoking, vaping, or ingestion is permitted for anyone, even past the nine-metre perimeter, according to the CRA.

These outdated laws reinforce stigma and sustain the by-gone days of prohibition,
ultimately targeting students who are disabled and use cannabis as medication among other vulnerable demographics. They do not need more limitations.

There is a wide body of research that confirms the many ailments cannabis treats—from multiple sclerosis to epilepsy, anxiety to arthritis; cannabis is an essential medicine for many students. Some even have to disrupt their school day by leaving the premises to relieve pain, offset a seizure, or reduce tremors by ingesting cannabis in the street.

Consequences for disobeying this “zero tolerance” policy are steep— with fines up to $2,250 from local police and “disciplinary action” that varies from school to school.

By banning all cannabis use on campus, medical users have been forced to resort to smoking on public sidewalks and streets: an already inadequate solution, lacking in dignity and discretion. By banning public use in streets, the CAQ bill eliminates this last resort that medical users have in emergency situations.

Ultimately, the CAQ bill leaves medical cannabis users with an impossible decision— take their medicine illegally at school or in public, or take it at home, a dilemma that puts them at a professional and educational disadvantage.

The consequences of Bill 2 would be deep and devastating for students with disabilities enrolled in school. University institutions must be allowed to provide designated cannabis consumption areas so students can consume cannabis safely, discreetly, and with dignity.


We need to listen to informed researchers, physicians, and young adults when writing legislation, and we need laws that support vulnerable members of our society. We need cannabis-on-campus legislation reform that reflects the needs of those it attempts to serve—its student body, and that are based in evidence rather than stigma and antiquated perceptions. With three months of legalization under our belt, we can tell already, this is just the beginning.


A call from the Vancouver Emergency Task Force

A call from the Vancouver Emergency Task Force

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

The emergency task force, comprised of 115 members, from Vancouver has made a call based on the ongoing high number, unusually so, of overdoses within the province. The current estimates for the period of January to September of 2018 is a total of 1,143 British Columbians deceased due to “illicit drug overdoses in the province.

These numbers a staggering, troubling, and tragic. No question about it. The questions following from this, in terms of not repeating the mistakes, are what we’re going to do about this in order to not repeat our collective mistakes of the past, where these mistakes costs the real lives and family members and friends around the province. This shouldn’t be happening, or least at this rate.

That is to say, we can reduce the extent and rate of the deaths within the province. The emergency task force for British Columbia stated that there should be, via a call, an increase in the levels of harm reduction provisions throughout the country.

One vulnerable area with few provisions, and especially given the high risk demographics associated with  post-secondary institutions, would bee the colleges, polytechnics, and research universities within the province.

Something as simple as Naloxone kits on campus can be helpful in the fight for greater levels of lifesaving happening within the province. Of course, these do not amount to cure-alls, nor do any of the other proposed “solutions,” which are, in fact, alleviatory measures for the improve health and wellness of misusers within the province, and, indeed, around the nation.

Throughout the city, an increase in the provisions would be helpful including a second harm reduction site for substance users who can smoke under supervision in addition to having a “mobile option to reach those outside of the Downtown Eastside.”

These are cheap, effective, and reasonable harm reduction methodological implementations with the real possibility for the improved wellbeing outcomes of the individual users and the family and friends who could, potentially as with the other 1,143 others, lose loved ones and confidantes.

As reported, the Globe and Mail stated, “The task force is also recommending an 18-month pilot project that would see overdose prevention sites in at least five private single-room occupancy (SRO) hotels, an expansion of these services in non-profit SROs and a review of overdose risk in both public and private SRO bathrooms.”

Knnedy Stewart, the Mayor of Vancouver, remarked on the fifth year of the overdose crisis with “no sign of slowing down” and, reflecting on the realism of harm reduction noted before, talked about the measures not solving the problem but reducing its severity.

The BC Coroners Service compiled data and then this formulated the basis for the recommendations, in part, and a review of about 900 illicit overdose case investigations discovered 39% were from smoking substance; hence, the safe and supervised smoking can be an important and on point harm reduction in practice measure.

In addition, 86% of the illicit drug overdose deaths happened while inside and in private residences, shelters, and SROs, partly or even significantly related to the stigma associated with substance of drug use and misuse.

There is only one place for supervised smoking at the moment. The Executive Director of the Overdose Prevention Society, Sarah Blyth, moved the operations of the society inside, subsequently similar sites opened around Vancouver.

Ms. Blyth explained, “The overdoses with smoking happen immediately … people just drop… So creating places where people can do all kinds of drugs is important.” The safety and wellbeing of British Columbians is at risk around the province without further and extensive implementation of harm reduction.

Indeed, Vancouver Coastal Health is funding 27 non-profit SROs and the emergency task force suggests or recommends funding 10 more. It’s that severe and should be taken that seriously.

This would require $1 million per annum from the province, which is, probably, minute in comparison to the amount of potential lives lost in the midst of the overdose crisis.

“Another recommendation is to prioritize securing a space for a pilot project led by the BC Centre of Disease Control that would distribute the opioid hydromorphone to people who are at high risk of overdose from illicit opioids,” The Globe and Mail also reports, “Providing a clean supply would be a direct and immediate answer to the fentanyl-contaminated illicit supply that has devastated communities across North America.”

There are many, many other recommendations including low-barrier and quickly accessible opioid agonist therapies in order to protect citizens from dying who may misuse substance.

Overall, the task force aligns with the work of CSSDP here with the inclusion of harm reduction philosophy and methodology as fundamental to tackling the serious public health issue of overdoses.


Woo, A. (2018, December 18). Vancouver overdose emergency task force calls for expanded harm reduction, safe supply. Retrieved from

Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash