Home » Side event – Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalization Has Failed

Side event – Protecting Youth with Drug Policy: Criminalization Has Failed

Damon Barrett – HRI

Convention of the Rights of the Child actually refers to drugs. Criminalizing children for anything, as you would an adult, isn’t appropriate. Is criminalization an appropriate legislative response to protecting children from drugs? What do we use to measure if criminalization has benefited children?

Four main questions we must consider:
1.      Has criminalization worked to reduce initiation? Even if it has, was there a less restrictive means at doing the same thing?
2.      Has it protected children whose parents use drugs?
3.      Has it helped to protect children from drug use in the community?
4.      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.

Ireland SSDP

Quantitative survey with eleven questions to understand drug use amongst youth.
92% of students have used legal or illegal drugs in the past. 65% have in the past week.
91% of participants know the legal status of the drugs they are using.
25% of participants have listed themselves as using illegal drugs.
10% came into contact with the law as a result of drug use.
78% of students that came into contact with the law have not changed their drug use.
44% of students think some drugs should be regulated like alcohol.


Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) is a grassroots network of youth and students who are concerned about the negative impact drug policies have on individuals and communities. CSSDP is based on three principles: 1) Education is key, 2) Drugs are a health issue, and 3) Honest, open dialogue is needed. There is diversity in the students and youth involved with CSSDP throughout Canada.

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
·         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. 

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