Tuesday, 26 June 2012

3 ways to use the new report by the Global Commission on Drug Policy

by CSSDP National Office

photo credit: CBC News

You may have already got wind of the Global Commission on Drug Policy’s new report: The war on drugs and HIV/AIDS: how the criminalization of drug use fuels the global pandemic

If this is the first you’re hearing of it, here's a super brief overview:

Global Commission Report 101

The report:
Describes how the global war on drugs is driving the HIV pandemic among people who use drugs and their sexual partners.
Condemns the drug war as a failure.
Recommends immediate, major reforms of the global drug prohibition regime specifically to halt the spread of HIV infection, along with other drug war harms.

Here’s why it’s notable:
The Commission’s first report, released in June 2011, generated unprecedented media coverage and catalyzed international debate about the urgent need for fundamental reforms of the global drug prohibition regime.
The Global Commission is the most distinguished group of high-level leaders to ever call for such far-reaching changes – including alternatives to incarceration, greater emphasis on public health approaches to drug use, decriminalization, and experiments in legal regulation.

You can find today's press release here, and a link to the full report here.

Where CSSDP comes in
At CSSDP, we believe that drug use should be addressed as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue, to that end, we support drug policies that reduce and prevent harm from drug use… and it’s not every day that we get a panel of ex-presidents and other world leaders writing a report to prove our point for us.

We’re excited to start using this report in our outreach efforts and have put together a brief list of suggestions for how we/you may include it in outreach.

1. Send a note to your local MP, MLA, or city council.
2. Use it as an excuse to do community outreach.
3. Write a letter to the editor.

Take a look and let us know what you think. If you have suggestions for some more creative outreach ideas, we would love to hear them. You can

1. leave a comment,
2. tweet us at @cssdp, or
3. post on our Facebook Page.

What you can do.

1. Send a note to your local MP, MLA, or city council – fine, the Prime Minister! – to let them know the report/you exist.

A brief note is all it takes to remind your elected representatives that their constituents care about evidence-based drug policy reform. Below is an example of some of the things you may want to include - feel free to borrow from it, or check out Apathy is Boring for some tips on how to write your own.

Salutation & introduction: I hope this finds you well. My name is (name) and I am (member/chapter leader) of Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (chapter) and one of your constituents in (riding/area).
Why you are writing: I’m writing today to bring your attention to a recent report issued by the Global Commission on Drug Policy, one of the most distinguished groups of world leaders to jointly recognized the adverse health and social consequences of drug prohibition and to call for reform based on the best available health and scientific evidence.
The report and regionally relevant supplemental information, if available: I have enclosed the report as an attachment here and included a link to an overview of the report that appeared today in the (local newspaper).
Why you care about the report, in your own words: As a proud advocate for drug policies that protect community health and safety, especially with respect to youth, I am encouraged by the Global Commission’s definitive call for the decriminalization of drug users and emphasis on a public health approach to regulating drug use.
What response you would like, if any: As a policymaker and a (parent? lawyer? doctor?) I am sure you have thoughts on the topic of this report! I am not familiar with your position on the topic of illicit drug policy reform and I would be much obliged if you would be so kind as to share it with me. By the same token, if you would like to learn more about the CSSDP I would be happy to meet with you at your convenience.
Friendly closing: Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration. Respectfully yours, (your name)

2. Use it as an excuse to do community outreach – to individuals and to organizations.

A report like this is a great excuse to convene a community discussion and to make some connections along the way.

Especially if your chapter is interested in diversifying your supporter base, diverse panels often attract – surprise!– a diverse audience. Given this report’s emphasis on policy, health, and law enforcement you may consider hosting:

  • an elected official;
  • a health researcher, healthcare provider, or healthcare official (e.g. medical health officers);
  • a representative from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition; and/or
  • someone who is put at risk of criminalization or adverse health outcomes by traditional drug policies (e.g. youth, people who use drugs, someone who became HIV positive as a result of drug use, etc.).

Needless to say, an event like this is a great excuse to reach out to organizations working in various areas of public health or policymakers who are passionate public health advocates.

Some suggestions:
  • Consider joining forces with an AIDS, harm reduction, or mental health organization in your area to work with you as a co-host (let’s be honest, event promotion is always easier when you’re pulling on two networks). 
  • If you want suggestions re: who to approach in your area, feel free to contact the CSSDP national office by email ( or Twitter for suggestions and/or an introduction. 
  • As always, when you approach speakers, it’s helpful to have approximate dates, times, and themes picked out in advance so that they can commit to you or offer someone else who may be more appropriate/available right away.

3. Write a letter to the editor – it never goes out of style.
The more letters editorial board receives on the topic, the more compelled they will be to publish at least one of them. So put your voice in writing, keeping the following in mind:

Whatever you do – good luck! Let us know what you do or organize and what the response is like. And remember, the national CSSDP office is here to help – let us know how we can help you plan, promote, or celebrate any of your efforts.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Update from Europe, Part 2: Scotland Naloxone interview

by David Hewson

If you've been following my posts so far, you'll know that I've been travelling in Europe for drug policy reform-related reasons - click here to see Part 1, about my trip to Berlin at the end of May. (Coming soon - Part 3, about my trip to London, England for the SSDP UK conference and other events!)

This post is about the first part of my trip, in April, when I went to Scotland to interview some impressive people working in the Scottish national naloxone programme: Stephen Malloy, the programme's lead trainer, and Kirsten Horsburgh, a nurse and local lead in the programme, who has been teaching people to administer naloxone in emergency situations.

Here's the full interview on YouTube. It's 58 minutes long, so in the video commentary I created a summary showing the different topics we covered, as well as some of the links we mentioned in the discussion.

In the comments, let me know: what do you think about this? Is this the kind of in-depth interview helpful and interesting for you? Anything we should do differently next time?

You can also share your thoughts by email -

Some notes:

How it all happened

Twitter. Amazing, the connections you can make.

At the 55th UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March, delegates passed a resolution supporting naloxone as a way to prevent drug-related deaths. Stephen, Kirsten and I all found ourselves tweeting about this, and I asked them if they'd be willing to do an interview about naloxone. They agreed, and when my travel plans ended up taking me to Scotland, we were able to do it all in person.

For more information on how things got started, check out my earlier blog post announcing the event.

Background work

Techincal details

Technologically, it's not that difficult to do something like this. With an Internet connection, a laptop with a webcam and our own UStream channel - which only took 2 minutes or so to set up - we were able to set up a livestream for viewers around the world. We then simultaneously shot the interview with a handheld camera  (thanks to Austin, one of Stephen's colleagues at the Scottish Drugs Forum), and that's the video we posted to YouTube. It's not HD television, but when you're doing something for the first time, it's best to start small.


More important than the technical details was letting people know about the event, and making sure we had some good questions for our interviewees to answer.

Facebook turned out to be the key to both - not only did it allow me to recruit from our fans in Canada, but it also made it easy for Stephen and Kirsten to spread the word to their friends to the UK. I only created a Facebook event page several days before the interview, but within a few hours we had tons of confirmed guests and a bunch of great questions on the event wall for me to ask. If I did it all over again, I would have focused more on Facebook, and started using it earlier.


We also established the #CSSDP hash tag on Twitter for people to interact with each other, and live-tweet any thoughts or questions they had while watching the interview livestream. We decided to use the general hash tag of #CSSDP instead of something more specific, eg. #NaloxoneInterview2012, because:

1. It directs people to our organization (eg. people see the #CSSDP hash tag, Google "CSSDP", and find our website).
2. We can reuse a general hash tag in the future and take advantage of any press we have already built with it. 

In theory, both of these facts will help us build our online profile. This theory was partly validated for me when several British NGOs started spreading the word that #CSSDP was a new health-related hash tag to watch on Twitter.

The day of the interview

On the big day, I had planned to meet Stephen at the Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF), where he works. Within minutes of arriving, I already had a picture of myself with a naloxone injection kit:

The SDF offices somehow gave me the impression of a Silicon Valley startup: bare furnishings and boxes stacked all over the place, but a sort of general hum and excitement, and that wonderful feeling of important things getting done.

I got into a discussion with Graham Mackintosh about SDF's new Hepatitis Scotland program. Our conversation was cut short by a ringing telephone - busy busy - but what I did learn was enough to get me thinking about some collaboration opportunities with him in the future. (Canadians working in hepatitis - got any ideas??!)

From Glasgow, we took the train to Edinburgh to meet Kirsten and figure out some last-minute details, and the rest you can see for yourself on YouTube.

Final thoughts

In my humble opinion, the interview went smashingly. Apart from being charming guests, Stephen and Kirsten enjoyed the opportunity to talk about their work and spread the word about naloxone, and our audience enjoyed learning about a powerful form of harm reduction that is already saving lives. 

Personally, I really enjoyed the experience, and already have some ideas for some further interviews we could do down the road, if that's something our supporters are interested in. So let me know what you think (comment below, or email me at, and we'll take it from there.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Update from Europe, Part 1: Berlin

by David Hewson

Guten Tag from Berlin, Germany. It's a great city and the weather is gorgeous, so the lure of a patio beer was unavoidable.

I've been in living and working in Germany since September, which has given me the opportunity to see another country's drug policies first-hand (check out the blog post I wrote last fall, about the relative peacefulness of drunken Oktoberfesters).

I've also had the chance to travel and meet a lot of different people in the drug policy reform movement. It brought me to the UK last month (full update coming!), and it's why I'm in Berlin now.

My trip has also shown me the power of putting yourself out there and making connections, and the role that students can play. So apart from just telling you what I've been up to, I also want to tell you how things came together in the first place.

Here's what's been happening:

Meeting with Frank Tempel

Wednesday, May 23

photo credit:

My trip to Berlin happened because Annie Machon, the director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) Europe, invited me to join her in a meeting with Frank Tempel, drugs spokesperson for "Die Linke" party in Germany, and a former police officer who has become one of the outspoken critics of drug prohibition in German politics. He seemed like a natural ally for Annie and LEAP Europe - like LEAP members, Frank has used his own personal story to show people the harm caused by his actions as a drug law enforcer, and the need for change.

Apart from the fact that I speak German and could help translate, Annie was also excited to have someone from Students for Sensible Drug Policy present, because of the way LEAP and SSDP have worked together in North America. Many LEAP speaking events in the USA and Canada are set up as speaking tours at SSDP chapters, and a complementary relationship has emerged: LEAP speakers provide an element of authority and credibility to the students' drug policy reform message, while the SSDP chapter structure make speaking tours work financially (speaking tours instead of individual engagements brings down costs) and the energy to make the events a success. LEAP is hoping that something similar can happen in Europe.

The meeting went very well: Annie and Frank quickly saw eye-to-eye on the issues and the role that law enforcement officials can play in the drug reform debate. They agreed to stay in contact and take advantage of the different things they're working on, including LEAP co-founder Jack Cole's visit to Berlin in June.

Click here to see what Frank's website had to say about our meeting (in German).

How the meeting happened

Annie (left) and Jason Reed, director of LEAP UK (right), spoke at the SSDP UK conference in London, which I attended (full update coming!).

photo credit: Joseph Tynan

At the conference, I made it my goal to ask at least one good question per speaker, so that people would:
1. know that I exist,
2. remember me, and
3. see that I had something intelligent to say.

I asked Annie a question and then talked to her in person at the end of her session; she found out I was living in Germany and spoke German (ding ding ding!), and asked me to join her on her trip to Berlin.

If I hadn't spoken up, I never would have had this opportunity.

And how did the Frank Tempel meeting happen in the first place?

Annie received an email forwarded through LEAP USA, from a university student in Hamburg named Florian, who was in contact with Frank Tempel and familiar with LEAP. Florian thought it would be good for the two organizations to meet, and emailed his idea to LEAP USA. Annie agreed, contacted Frank, and the meeting was arranged. It was that easy.

Sometimes what you know can seem completely obvious - but to someone else, it's a revelation. All Florian did was throw his idea out there in the world. Again, if you don't speak up, nothing happens.

(Final, interesting note: there's a Canadian connection here - Annie was recruited into LEAP by David Bratzer, a Canadian LEAP member in Victoria, who has spoken at our CSSDP conferences! Here's a video of him discussing LEAP at our 2009 Vancouver Conference.)

Meeting with the German Hemp Association (Deutscher Hanf Verband)

Thursday, May 24

photo credit: Deutscher Hanf Verband

On Thursday, May 24 - i.e. today - I met with two members of the German Hemp Association, Georg Wurth (left) and Max Plenert (right - I'm in the middle). Both have been working in drug activism for over a decade, and accumulated a ton of experience along the way.

We discussed the situation in our different countries (I got a familiar "what the heck is Canada doing?!!!" when I told them about Bill C-10), LEAP in Europe, and the role Germany and Canada can play in what happens next.

Some interesting points to pass on:

1. Because of its own experience with Nazi authoritarianism, Germany has developed excellent freedom-of-speech legislation, and its citizens tend to be much less complacent about free speech issues in the UK or America. This makes it attractive to organizations like LEAP Europe that have a controversial message.

That said, there are still things that get in the way of people speaking out. German police unions can be very hierarchical, and lower-level police officials that speak out against drug prohibition are often harshly rebuked. This, of course, shows the role that LEAP can play in providing a platform for law enforcement officials to "come out" against prohibition.

2. German society is, in some important ways, very decentralized. This creates challenges for drug reform advocates, but also provides some opportunities.

Firstly, Germany's different regions seem to go their own way on drug policy issues, so there are different things happening around the country. If you're the German Hemp Association, this makes it hard to coordinate things nationally, and if you're Annie Machon, it's hard to know who to talk to as you get LEAP Europe started. There's also not one, but TWO national police unions - one that's more progressive and open to a new approach on drugs, and one that's more conservative, and isn't.

But the regional differences also provide opportunities. For example, while very conservative parts of the country like Bavaria seem completely uninterested in drug policy reform, Hamburg has a safe-injection site, and the conservative mayor of Frankfurt has defied her party and promoted more humane drug treatment policies.

Another difference: universities.

North American students' lives are often centred around their universities; in addition to studying, they often live on-campus, play sports, go to parties - and attend events like the ones held by SSDP. They are a natural recruiting opportunity for activist organizations, and even non-students from around the university often get pulled in.

German universities tend to be more academics-only; the students live off-campus, play sports in unassociated clubs, and have fewer on-campus events. For Georg and Max of the German Hemp Association, it means that they've had to hustle for every new member, since they don't have the natural funneling opportunity that universities provide for SSDP in North America. But the way I see it, the people they do get are more likely to stay engaged once they graduate, which is an issue for SSDP.

3. Like many reform activists I've met, Georg and Max are frustrated by the fact that people just don't seem to get the injustice of it all.

Getting people to see that it's unjust to criminalize people for nonviolent drug offences is a German problem too. From their perspective, the only recent example of the public outcry against law enforcement actions was when police used water cannons and pepper spray against people protesting the placement of a new train station in Stuttgart. The reason? The injured were largely middle-class, and that's different - and newsworthy.

Again, this is where LEAP Europe can play a valuable role, by bringing attention to injustices that are often ignored.

How the meeting happened

Quick updates were key.

Two hours after our meeting with Frank was over, I logged onto Twitter and found this:

So basically:

1. Frank's website already had a report of our meeting, and
2. Georg and Max tweeted it, then found me on Twitter, and wanted to know if I could meet with them.

I called them, set a time for today, and that was it.

This wasn't the first time things happened via Twitter; the Scottish Naloxone interview I did in April also came together that way (more information in my UK update, coming soon!). So I guess the take-home message is, you get a lot of opportunities through Twitter - if you can manage the constant stream of information without losing your mind!

All in all, a good couple of days: interesting possibilities, new allies, and a renewed respect for speaking up, both online and off. Try it. Exciting things can happen.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Chapter event: "Know Your Rights" at the University of Western Ontario


Our University of Western Ontario chapter held a great event on February 29th - and in the pre-conference excitement, we forgot to tell everyone about it!

Kudos to Geoff and the rest of the UWO chapter for pulling it off with style. Here's the update Geoff sent in:

"Just wanted to share that we had a "Know Your Rights With the Police" event today, where we screened a copy of BUSTED: A Citizen's Guide to Surviving Police Encounters from the FlexYourRights Foundation, then had a local criminal defense lawyer come in as a guest speaker. Attendance could have been better, but we had a solid group of 20 students who were very interested and engaging during the Q&A session with our guest speaker lawyer afterwards. Attached is a picture of our CSSDP club executive with our guest speaker. We plan on making this an annual event, hopefully attracting a larger audience next year!

I'm sure your probably already aware of FlexYourRights, but if not check them out. Their DVDs make a great club event that is relevant to members but outside the box of just talking about drug policy reform.


If you want to get in touch with Geoff or learn more about the UWO chapter, please you can email him at

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Response to Niagara high school drug searches

by CSSDP Board

Last week in the Niagara Regional Police, using police dogs, were sent to eight high schools in coordinated searches coinciding with "420".

Article: Police search eight high schools for drugs 

OVERVIEW: the police searched eight area high schools, identifying 22 students who were in possession of drugs, or who were determined to have recently used them. Police seized drug paraphernalia, steroids, marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms, and charged one young offender with possessing marijuana for the purpose of trafficking.

Some say that searches like this are necessary, because it's unhealthy for high school age students with still-developing brains to take drugs. If that's the case, why do we continue to take a crime-and-punishment approach to this problem? Is there a better way to address the fact that youth are taking drugs, without compromising their futures with a criminal record? 

Here are some specific problems that we have with searches like these.

Safe Learning Environments?
A few stoned students might be disturbing their own learning, but we seriously doubt that any of the students who had recently consumed cannabis were as detrimental to their peers' learning as a police raid complete with sniffer dogs. From an educator's perspective, that would be massive disturbance to the school environment. Asking students to resume learning after what must have been an exciting, and for some, a traumatic experience, is a tall order.
Is it right to disrupt the learning of an entire school, in order to take punitive measures against end drug users?

Criminalizing Youth
A high school student caught with cannabis, who could be selling it to his/her peers, is a far cry from the organized crime that the federal government claims to be taking aim at with the recently passed Bill C-10. Had the youth charged been just a bit older, he would be facing adult charges and a mandatory two year sentence under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act 5(3)(a)(ii)(C).

Deterrents Undermine Trust
The use of deterrents like drug dogs assume that youth are untrustworthy. They undermine the ability of educators and youth to build relationships built on honest dialogue.

What do YOU think about drug dogs and searches in high schools? How can we make schools safe and nurturing spaces for learning - including a judgment-free discussion about drugs?

NOTE: the picture above is not from recent Niagara drug search (we couldn't find a picture, sorry). It is taken from an article about similar searches in New Zealand. To see the article, click here.

Friday, 20 April 2012

What young people are saying about drug legalization - via sxephil

by Karl Smyth

Philip DeFranco is a vlogger on YouTube with over 2 million subscribers, and his videos often get over 500,000 views. He recently did a video mentioning the fact that Mexico’s former PM, Vincente Fox, is publicizing his support for drug legalization. After reviewing the story, Phil asks his audience (which is primarily youths) to comment about their views regarding legalizing any drugs. These comments are telling of the opinions people have about this issue and why they think so. As a youth organization, CSSDP can benefit from this type of survey info, so below are a bunch of the edited comments pulled from the site.

Jump to 1:30 in the video to see the drug legalization story.


NO ONE SHOULS LEGALIZE METH, COCAINE OR HEROIN.I can say from firsthand experience because a family member of mine got into meth, and a couple of weeks after being caught and made to serve time in the military in order to evade prison time, she threatended to kill several people. Drugs such as those are dangerous, and turn normal human beings into murderous monsters.


Prohibition does not work. Never has, never will.

If you're truly concerned about harder drugs, why not propose just decriminalisation?


The only drug that should be legalized is marijuana. It does not produce addiction in most cases and its harmfulness to the body is even less than tobacco. The only reason it is illegal is because of ANYONE can produce it and is therefore more difficult to tax and control. Legalizing it would make a huge dent on the cartels.


All drugs should be legalized and be taxed and sold and quality controlled.

There should be exact instructions on how to use them in the packages including telling to take ammount x-y for minimum-maximum effect and ammount z that will kill you.

Not for weed ofc because its impossible to kill yourself with weed no matter how hard you try, unless you burry yourself under a ton of weed.


legalizing drugs will not get rid of gangs they will just move on to other unlawful things


its sad to say but the president of mexico is right, since the birth of man there has been a demand for drugs and thus there is a high production of it. we've been spending billions upon billions of dollars each year trying to stop it and we havn't even came close to winning the war on drugs. we lost hundreds of years ago. there will always be a demand for drugs for as long as humans live, and until then, we could either keep spending billions of dollars each year wwith no effect, or legalize.


The people who want to do the hard drugs will find a way to do the hard drugs. Buying drugs on the black market means that the government is not getting any taxes on it. Many people who do have a problem with drugs do not seek help out of fear of punishment. If it is all legalized the government will have a new revenue stream, and those in trouble can seek the help they need. Legalize it.


Most here probably agree we should legalize weed. Other drugs people are more scared of, some of this is warranted, some isn't. Heroin is not something to worry about. It's addictive, like nicotine, but it's an opiate, so it doesn't make people belligerent. It really ought to be legal and given under prescriptions. Cocaine is different-it is a powerful stimulant and wrong dosing (like any drug) can cause serious problems and erratic behavior. It could still be legalized, but tightly controlled.


Not sure legalizing all drugs is a great idea, but I do believe in the legalization of marijuana. That itself is a long ways away.


not all drugs should be legal, however most should. i think heroin should remain illigal, as then less people would under-estimate how addictive it is, so not try it. how ever, with ever other illigal drug, im all for legalisation,


I say let the stupids kill themselves

if they want to do drugs, fine! let them.

they'll most likely die from it...

less stupid people, less stupid stuff happens, world is a better place


1. legalize drugs and tax.

2. if you do drugs, you dont get government aid (yeah you have to make choices. just can you can do drugs doesnt mean you should or that because you have the right to you are owed the ability to. ex. drinking, if you do it appropriately good job, if you stupid, thats your own shit, dont look to me for help.)

3. problem solved.


i don't believe in it... we are democratic, tax money is collective money. sometimes we decide that even though something causes damage, its worth it... like with alcohol.. when someone consciously harms himself, in a manor that is not recognized by the majority, it's an anti-democratic act...

however the law as of now is hypocritical, we have drugs like weed that are less harmful than tobacco and alcohol which are legal. since proabition of light drugs fund organized crime i say legalize it.


I strongly believe that the war on drugs is COMPLETELY lost. I have been smoking Marijuana for 4 years now, and I find that it is in fact easier to find and purchase marijuana (an illegal substance) than Alcohol (a legal substance) as an 18 year old. The billions of dollars and the countless lives that the US has wasted on this subject have not helped. They are better off legalizing, taxing, and enforcing the same laws as tobacco and alcohol. annd so I can enjoy my 420 in peace this friday :)


In PuertoRico the drug war has effected us more than 18 deaths every weekend! Legalize drugs!


Grew up around drugs and even though they were illegal, my childhood was still screwed. They should all be legal, look at Portugal, they are doing better, even if it is only a little. And people don't be hypocrites. If you are for weed, alcohol, and cigarettes. How can you be against coke, LSD, and heroine. For those that take Oxycontin, it is pretty much heroine.


i actually i'm opposed to legalisation because the strict curbs on drugs suddenly being lifted will cause large scale addiction. releasing the floodgates will not help. plus drugs like cocaine r too harmful to even THINK of legalising. marijuana maybe but heroin? NO.


Definitely legalize not all drugs, but at least mj. I mean if alcohol and tobacco are legal, then why not marijuana?


Bad drugs are bad

Click here to read thousands more comments.

Friday, 30 March 2012

5th Annual Conference Roundup: Part 2

This is a continuation of our conference roundup - click here for Part 1.

Saturday, March 3 - mid-afternoon

Refreshed from a break, conference attendees split up for the afternoon's breakout sessions. 

The first workshop, "Peer Outreach", was led by Ashley Schwanke, a member of CSSDP's new Edmonton chapter and a staff member with the Streetworks harm reduction group. It was live-tweeted by Elaine Hyshka:

As with so many of the weekend's presentations, the shadow of Bill C-10 loomed over the topic of peer outreach. According to Ashley, more funding is needed for harm reduction and similar initiatives, and the new crime bill's focus on mandatory minimum sentences and other measures is a step in the wrong direction.

The second workshop discussed the North American Opiate Medical Initiative (NAOMI), a clinical trial on heroin-assisted drug therapy, and the NAOMI Patients Association (NPA), a group of former NAOMI patients in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that emerged after the study was completed. 

Workshop leaders Dave Murray and Diane Tobin, members of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), laid out the background of the NAOMI study, which studied heroin-assisted addiction treatment and other treatment alternatives, and how it has affected participants' lives. The study did have some benefits for participants: many found the program worked much better for them than other programs, such as methadone-assisted treatment. But there were serious problems as well, including the issues of 

1. consent (how do researchers truly obtain consent from participants when they control something that is central to participants lives - namely, heroin?), and 
2. access to heroin once the study was over (participants were denied further access to heroin, forcing them to return to their often-chaotic pre-NAOMI lives).

In response, Dave Murray created the NPA, a space for former members of the study to meet, support each other, and speak out on these issues. An NPA report, published in March 2012, has finally provided a voice for participants' experiences, and recommendations for how future research should be conducted. The NPA has noted that history may soon repeat itself, since NAOMI's follow-up research project, the Study to Access Longer-term Opioid Medication Effectiveness (SALOME) has not addressed many of the NAOMI's problems.

Following the breakout sessions, CSSDP members met for our yearly Annual General Meeting (AGM), where new board members are elected and major issues discussed. 

The meeting saw one of the largest candidate turnouts in CSSDP history! In the end, 4 new board members were elected, with another 3 elected as alternates (to replace any members who resign throughout the year). Our new members are all very impressive, and are already contributing to the organization in important ways.


Capping off a long day, conference attendees joined forces with Calgary 420, a local cannabis activist group, to hold a vigil for prohibition's victims at Calgary City Hall. The group observed a minute of silence for those whose lives have been lost or damaged by destructive drug policies, and heard from speakers looking inspire a spirit of optimism and hope for the future.


It was a good day for press. In addition to our online presence (the livestream and all the live-tweeting), we got the attention of major broadcasters. CBC Calgary published an article on the conference online, and CBC Radio interviewed Executive Director Caleb Chepesuik and Carlos Negraeff, head of our Calgary chapter. 

We also got a major appearance on Global Television, where speakers Scott Bernstein and Donald MacPherson gave their opinions on Bill C-10. The video is available here (our clip appearing at the 6:45 minute point).

Sunday, March 4

The last day of the conference started with our student poster presentation, a chance for our members who are studying a topic related to drug policy to share their research, and for everyone else to get a chance to pepper them with questions about it.


Sunday's opening panel explored different issues related to Cannabis Reform.

The first speaker, Dan Werb, shared his ICSDP research on the economics of cannabis - focusing especially what the price of cannabis might be if the drug were to become decriminalized or legalized.

The topic is of great interest in drug policy discussions, since prices have a major impact on how drugs are consumed - especially among young people, whose protection is a major justification for the drug war. But while most agree that consumers in an illegal market pay a "prohibition tax", it's far from certain what post-prohibition prices would be, or what tools policy makers could use to best influence on consumers' decision-making.

The second panellist, Keith Fagin, spoke about his experience as a cannabis activist with Calgary 420. In recent years, he's become convinced that no matter how frustrated you get, focusing on being respectful is one of the most effective ways to promote change. By being assertive but gracious, you can win respect and help overcome prejudices, like the "lazy pot user" stereotype.

The third speaker, Lisa Kirkman, shared her personal experience as a marijuana activist and victim of prohibition. Being a marijuana activist and a good mother are often seen as mutually exclusive, and while in the United States Lisa actually had her son taken from her, as she was considered unfit to raise him due to her drug-related work. While she had been victimized by drug prohibition, however, she also talked about the opportunities for women, and the role they can play in creating change.

The panel over, attendees split up into another workshop session.

The first workshop was led by Michaela Montaner, drawing on her experience with the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy (ICSDP) to talk about Coalition Building. Once again, Elaine Hyshka was live-tweeting - Michaela later said that she "perfectly distilled" the session:

The second workshop was led by Heiko Decosas, of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC). Called "Create your own media:, Heiko shared his lessons learned, focusing on the importance of narratives and storytelling in connecting with your audience.

Another break, and then the fourth and final breakout workshops of the conference.

The first of the last was led by Shauna MacEachern, CSSDP's Outreach Director. Titled "Just say know! Honest drug education", she addressed ways to teach the facts about drugs, in an educational environment that is usually very reluctant to do just that.

The last of the last was led by Greg Khaymov, from the TRIP! Project in Toronto. TRIP! has never been shy about going where the drug users are to provide them with the information and tools they need to be as safe as possible. Greg's workshop, "Safer Drug Use", drew upon this experience to provide nuts-and-bolts suggestions for making drug use, well, safer.

The workshops done, it was time for our final presentation: "Harm Reduction as a Generational Struggle", by Barbara Ross of Alberta Health Services, and CSSDP's Alex Rowan. Closing off the conference, they traced the development of harm reduction, from its rocky beginnings, to its current growing acceptance, to where we might go with it in the future.

Final thoughts

This year's conference took place during a deflating time for Canadian drug policy reformers, as our country passed Bill C-10 and adopted the mandatory minimum sentences that have been such a failure in the United States. Going beyond C-10, there is a general feeling that as a country, we are sliding backwards in drug reform while the rest of the world (especially Latin America) is on the verge of making some major changes.

At the same time, there is a profound sense of optimism in our organization. Our vision hasn't changed - we're still working to build a Canada where drugs are seen as a health issue, and where young people can get the best drug education we can give them. But there's a feeling of growth, too - lessons learned in how we got here; new members, ideas and possibilities; and a distinct sense that while things may be difficult for the next little while, the "Berlin Wall of Prohibition" (as Donald MacPherson calls it) is starting to crumble, and we just need to keep chipping away at it.

We hope you think so too.