Today was a very exciting day at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND). Not only did we present on the SSDP International Panel, titled “Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalisation has Failed,” but we also participated in a press briefing with Russell Brand and asked him what he thought about the legalization and regulation of cannabis and other drugs. It has been a busy week at the CND, and you can find a great video summary by the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, featuring some of our favourite drug policy reformers and some key moments:
Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalization has Failed
The first presenter at our side event was Damon Barrett from Harm Reduction International. He highlighted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child actually contains references to “protecting” children from drugs, yet criminalizing children for anything, as you would an adult is not appropriate. Is criminalization an appropriate legislative response to protecting children from drugs? What do we use to measure if criminalization has benefited children? Damon offered up four main questions to consider:
- Has criminalization worked to reduce initiation? Even if it has, was there a less restrictive means at doing the same thing?
- Has it protected children whose parents use drugs?
- Has it helped to protect children from drug use in the community?
- Has it helped to protect children involved in the supply chain (from production to sales)?
From a child rights perspective, those questions have to be answered. “We have to protect children” is used on both sides of debate. We must run the policy through a child rights analysis.
Students for Sensible Drug Policy Ireland was next to weigh in on the panel, sharing a quantitative survey with eleven questions to understand drug use amongst youth. Their survey found that 92% of students have used legal or illegal drugs in the past and 65% have done so in the past week. 91% of participants know the legal status of the drugs they are using and 25% of participants have listed themselves as using illegal drugs. 10% came into contact with the law as a result of drug use, yet 78% of students that came into contact with the law did not change their drug use. Of the students surveyed, 44% of students think some drugs should be regulated like alcohol.
We had our opportunity to speak next. After giving a brief description of CSSDP, we emphasized that there is diversity in the students and youth involved with CSSDP throughout Canada, and we were happy to be able to share the I Am Campaign video by this month’s featured Chapter CSSDP Durham. We then outlined three concerns by youth involved in the drug policy reform movement in Canada:
1. Loss of Lives Due to Resistance of Evidence-Based Harm Reduction Strategies
- We are personally affected by the loss of lives amongst youth drug users.
- In 2007, the federal Conservative government initiated the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS). Priority areas of NADS include prevention, treatment, and enforcement. Note that this does not include harm reduction. In 2008, the leadership of NADS was removed from Health Canada and relocated to the Justice Department.
- Federal government has fought against InSite, a safer injection site in Vancouver. In 2011, a landmark decision was made by the Supreme Court of Canada to keep InSite open despite the Harper Government’s objections. The recent Respect For Communities Act is another effort to shut down InSite, as the Harper Government is making it more difficult for the clinics to open elsewhere in the country.
- Julio Montaner, the director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said, “the evidence to date suggests that we lost the war…Because the reality is that InSite is open. But there has been not a single [additional] site opened across this country.”
2. Canada Has Relinquished its Traditional Leadership Role in Drug Policy
- Canada’s statement during the High-Level Segment did not include any mention of human rights, harm reduction, the use of the death penalty in drug strategies, or reducing the spread of blood-borne infections.
- Medical marihuana laws have regressed, as the Harper Government has privatized the program, taking away patients right to grow and raising the price.
3. Significantly Greater Focus on Prevention than Treatment for Youth… And No Targeted Harm Reduction
- There are discrepancies regarding Canadian drug policy funding, both in regards to the total amount and the distribution of funding between prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement. An independent audit conducted by researchers for the International Journal of Drug Policy and a National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS) Evaluation – Final Report present different amounts and percentages. This is troubling for youth, as we would like greater transparency and accountability.
- In an attempt to better understand the portion of the NADS budget that was allocated to activities targeted towards youth, as well as the division of such activities between prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and enforcement, an analysis of information provided in the National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS) Evaluation – Final Report was conducted.
- It was found that 98.2% of spending targeted at youth in the NADS seemingly goes towards prevention activities, and the remaining 1.8% goes towards treatment activities. This distribution of funds is troubling. On the ground, we feel the real effects of inadequate treatment funding targeted for youth.
- Use of prevention funding is also troubling, as prevention activities are not presented through a neutral lens (examples include two websites, namely www.xperiment.ca and www.not4me.ca). CSSDP has launched campaigns in the past to combat this (www.not4me.org) by providing evidence-based information to allow youth to make informed decisions about drug use.
Watch CSSDP’s presentation!
After our panel, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the press briefing with Russell Brand, and actually ask a question! Before the briefing, he had the chance to speak with many delegates including member states and NGOs. Russell Brand mania swept the UN, as he continued to bash the war on drugs and advocate for the human rights of drug users. While Russell Brand is in recovery and believes in abstinence-based education, he acknowledges that it is not a reality for everyone and that some people can use substances recreationally and still live functional lives without harming society.
According to Brand, no one is helped by drugs being illegal, unless there is a conspiracy to continue to marginalize communities who are already oppressed. If the point is not oppression than there is no reason to continue this cycle of criminalization and death. Shortly after Russell’s spiel, an NGO representative from Moldova gave a statement on the situation in Crimea and how it will negatively affect people who use drugs. There are over 800 methadone users in Crimea who will have their prescriptions canceled, and it’s important that there is a UN stance on this issue. While Russell Brand is not a big fan of methadone, he did acknowledge that people can benefit from methadone as part of a journey to recovery.
According to Brand, if people want to take drugs, that’s their business, and recovery is a solution for those who have problems. We shouldn’t “quibble”, but stand together to end the war on drugs. It is important that people who use drugs have options and the right to choose the lifestyle that suits them, whether it is continuing to use drugs, practicing harm reduction and/or being in recovery. The consequences of the drug war are deadly, including mass murder in Mexico and people being hung in Pakistan and Malaysia for drug-related offences. Towards the end of the briefing, two members of the Canadian NGO delegation had the opportunity to ask questions. Canadian Drug Policy Coalition Director Donald MacPherson asked about Brand’s support for InSite, and CSSDP Outreach Director Lisa Campbell asked about ending the war on drugs. Russell Brand says he has nothing but respect for Liz Evans and her harm reduction program at InSite, which is a low-entry point model and was devastated to hear that the management was forced to step down.
CSSDP then asked him what he thinks about legalization and regulation of cannabis? Can we take a similar approach to other drugs? Watch his response below, and other key moments from the discussion:
Nazlee continued guest blogging for the CND Blog hosted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) today. She covered the side event we participated in and the Plenary’s tenth meeting, during which UNODC chairs discussed Item 9 a) b) and c), and opened the floor to discussion from member states. The following member states made statements during the Plenary: EU, Portugal, Thailand, China, Kazakhstan, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, India, U.S., Norway, and Canada. On the NGO side, Red Cross and the International Harm Reduction Association made statements. All of her posts are now available on the CND blog and have been linked for the convenience of our readers here. As is the tone of the CND Blog, Nazlee’s posts reported on exactly what was said in these sessions without adding personal reflection.