Lisa Campbell

On November 1, International Drug Users Day is celebrated around the world hailing the resiliency of people who use drugs against the longstanding war on our lives. While most forms of discrimination have been exposed as social injustices, discrimination against people who use drugs is still seen as justified in the eyes of the law in countries around the world. The War on Drugs has had a horrendous effect globally on human rights, further marginalizing the marginalized and cementing other forms of injustice such as racism and sexism. Yet despite the widespread global discrimination, the community of people who use drugs is stronger than ever in our struggle against injustice. Drug use is a normal part of our society, so let’s make drug policy reform mainstream!

As people who use drugs, we know that societies have always engaged in drug use for a variety of reasons. While mainstream Canadian society discriminates against illicit drug users, the majority of Canadians do use drugs on a daily basis. Drug use is normal in Canadian society, from coffee, to tobacco, to marijuana and other illicit drugs! Canada is among the top ten highest consumers of coffee globally, with the average Canadian drinking 2.8 cups of coffee a day. While smoking has dropped in popularity amongst youth, it is still higher than consumption of Amphetamine-Type-Stimulants such as MDMA:

“In 2012-2013, 4% of students in grades 6 to 12 (approximately 114,000 students) were current cigarette smokers: 2% daily smokers and 2% occasional smokers. The current smoking prevalence (4%) among students in grades 6 to 12 decreased compared to 2010-2011 (6%).”

As a society we consume drugs regularly, but we have developed a successful public health framework to curb the harms of drug use without sacrificing the human rights of people who use drugs. It is time for Canada to apply this framework of controlled access to substances to other drugs such as marijuana and other illicit substances. Unfortunately, while we already have evidence-based tools for curbing drug related harm (such as decriminalization), they are not being implemented. Canadian young people who use drugs are sick of being criminalized, and we stand together in solidarity against repressive laws which waste taxpayer dollars on criminalization. It is time to create a regulatory framework and provide health services to moderate drug related harms.

Today people who use drugs stand together against the War on Drugs which has caused much more harm to youth than drugs themselves.  I write this blog post from the United States, where the War on Drugs has increased prison populations to the point where there are more black men in prison than there were slaves before the Civil War. Not only does criminalization reinforce racism, it also makes the health of people who use drugs a non-issue as they are marked as disposable. More Americans die from accidental overdose than car accidents, and Canada is not too far behind as  the #2 consumer of opiates globally. Personally, I have lost several friends to overdose over the past year, including SSDP alumnus Daniel Jabbour, and Junior who passed away while I was attending the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

We have lost way too many lives in this war in North America, both to the prison industrial complex, to overdose and to violence.  In Mexico alone we know that over 100,000 people have died due to violence related to the War on Drugs. Young people who use drugs already know what we need to do to end this war: decriminalize people who use drugs and implement a public health framework for drug control, including widespread harm reduction and treatment services. Still, the Canadian government is trying to roll back progress by eliminating evidence-based harm reduction services through Bill C-2, while at the same time taking away medical cannabis patients’ right to grow. While the Harper government continues to neglect the lives of young people who use drugs in Canada, our communities remain resilient in our fight to transform drug policy globally.

We have all the tools we need to end this war. It’s time to take action!