Side Event: Leave No One Behind: Crafting a Multisectoral Approach to Drug Policy

Organised by Students for Sensible Drug Policy International, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, SSDP Australia, Youth Organisations for Drug Action, YouthRise

Jake Agliata (Moderator), Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Nicholas Kent, Students for Sensible Drug Policy Australia

National Director of SSDP Australia, pay respect to Indigenous people on the land on which we work, and any Indigenous people here today. This is my first CND. Generally how this place works is very inaccessible for grassroots activists. Logistically, operationally. Just because we’re not here, doesn’t mean there isn’t a wide movement of affected communities fighting for new approaches to drug policy all around the world. I’d like to talk about our role in Australia, as a new youth drug reform organisation in a country that has never had one before, in trying to reach communities which are left behind.

We are disappointed in the overall lack of opportunities presented for youth to engage in these discussions at the international level. In our country, young people are rarely included in drug policy discussions, yet we often bear the burden of drug related harm. There is a big drug checking debate in Australia at the moment. 6 deaths over the last festival season. State roundtable in response to festival deaths last year, I was the only young person there. No people with lived experience there Unanimous agreement that a youth movement is required to make the policy change.

Inconsistency with public drunkeness for Indigenous people, and youth incarceration. These injustices are allowed to perpetuate within the the context of the international drug conventions, drug war paradigm because: not only are these voices left our of our domestic policy debates, but because of that there is a significant distance between

I’d like to congratulate our civil society delegation for welcoming and helping to mentor me here. Congratulate our government delegation on committing to developing an ongoing dialogue and engage SSDP in further youth representation.

Jake: We can have all the conversations we want but need to be there in parliament – sounds like you’re doing some great work over in Australia.

Piotr Markielau, Legalize Belarus/SSDP Belarus

The war on drugs in authoritarianism: Belarus

Where there is a centralised power, in its operation, governing rely on numeric indicators such as number of criminal cases that are to be brought to court by the law enforcement bodies, so called “planned” indicators. Even if it’s not regulated by public documents, this way to operate is inherent for the vertical governance and may be conducted through informal instructions.

Often missing to perform accordingly can lead officials to be relegated. On the contrary, officers are stimulated to initiate criminal proceedings on drug-related cases, as they receive increase in rank and pay. Salary increase for a single drug trafficking case ended up with conviction can exceed median salary in the area.

Where the rule of law is not respected, using drugs in a group is regarded as distributing and is punished to a more severe degree. Moreover, the concept of “distribution purposes” is applied, which means that there is no need for a prosecutor to prove the fact of distribution. Even putting a graffiti with Telegram drugs-selling bot on the wall is considered as drug distribution.

The accused basically don’t have a chance to defend themselves. More than 99.7% percent of criminal cases end by conviction. In point of fact, their fate is decided by the officer, who is driven by the reward system. In this way, drug users appear to be paying the price for such planning governance.

Today from a third to a half of the whole prison and penal colonies population are people convicted for drug-related crimes. Although these colonies are officially called “correctional facilities”, even assuming that drug use is a behaviour that needs to be corrected, though only 10% of people who use drugs use them problematically, these facilities do not correct people. They only criminalise and marginalise people who use drugs, making it harder for them to socialize, successfully perform personal and professional goals.

In political regimes with a lack of transparency, prison and penal colonies are one of the most closed institutions. Mailing correspondence censorship leaves no chance for the convicted to report on their condition. And, actually, there is a lot to hide from the public. Nominally deprivation of liberty turns to be deprivation of human dignity and basic human rights.

The convicted don’t receive proper feeding, they cannot count on adequate medical help, and they are forced to work for the state: to clean copper wire, to produce furniture or military uniforms. Forced unpaid labour is a form of slavery. Working conditions have much to be improved. In a particular penal colony, that is designed specifically for the convicted for drug-related crimes, prisoners have to clean several kilograms of copper wire per day with bare hands. The story of concentration labour camps is not over.

Most of the people imprisoned for drug-related offences are drug users. But not all of them. Often the investigation uses a mechanism called “test purchase” or even “test selling”. This means that, in order to produce evidence, the police creates an imitation of drug purchase or drug distribution. This “investigative action” is facilitated by the people that are already prosecuted and want to soften their punishment, and is aimed at their friends, who may be never dealt with drugs before.

Criminal liability starts from the age of 14. In some cases, sentence exceeds age of the convicted. So many years spent in a penal colony have an irreversible effect on a person’s mind, which has absolutely nothing to do with any sort of correction.

Where there is no freedom of speech and basic civil liberties are not respected, mitigation of harm of the drug war, civic education efforts and stigma-reducing activities are blocked. Legalize Belarus website was blocked allegedly for propaganda of marijuana use. There wasn’t any reasonable excuse for such blocking, as there weren’t any materials endorsing use of any substances on the website

The blind prohibitive approach induced by the fear of drugs, leads to mass uncontrolled human rights violations. In the state of authoritarianism, the war on drugs has especially damaging and violent application. Enforcement of the punitive law makes unjustifiable detriment for innocent individuals and is extremely harmful for the society.

While in some countries application of international law is more plastic and is regulated by public and open debate, in others there is neither a political will for change, nor a democratic way to influence the government. Lack of accountability makes international support mechanisms for countering drug trafficking promote those “planned indicators” and expand the scale of fabrication of criminal drug-related cases.

The argument that “society is not ready for a change” or any other populist statement in support of the war against drug users is in fact hiding interests of criminals and nomenklatura — the establishment.

Marisa Morales, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (Mexico)

War on drugs in Mexico affects many of us, in particular women – incarcerated for drug trafficking, and taking drugs to jail – they are women living in poor communities who don’t have other options. Only country making progress is Costa Rica, who have seen the decrease in health of women in jail. Most of the time these women live alone with their children, if they go to jail, there is no one to look after their children. Also key groups, women who use drugs and farmers. Government have sprayed pesticides. Violence is also increasing there. Difficult for communities to integrate. Some families who work only in narcotraffic and the government does nothing for them. Some countries don’t care about their patients – now if you grow marijuana you can go to jail. I know it’s a big step to legalise it, there is police corruption, if you can’t pay what they ask you can go to jail. Many people go to jail just for possession. More harm reduction services coming, but then being closed by government. We need to work more on this because we need it. Need regulation to change the way that people are being criminalized.

Jake: Tying this all together – we’re showing how current approach to drug policy is failing, but even in seeking solutions, we’re not considering the people who most need to be here. It’s hard to get people to these type of conferences – there are so many institutional barriers, financial, visa issues etc. Problems of access for global south countries. When we talk about leaving no one behind, how can we do this when we can’t even get people to the table. Need to talk to people that can’t be here; questions?

Q: How do you think legalizing cannabis would change leaving no one behind?

Nick: We don’t have legalized recreational cannabis, we have a medicinal cannabis program that is very hard to access – very risk averse. In certain countries overseas, there are injustices for people of colour in particular. My concern in Australia is that Aboriginal communities will be left behind if cannabis will be legalized. More progress in New Zealand with integrating Maori populations.

Piotr: I agree, not only for cannabis though. Legalisation of cannabis would broaden control into the public sphere.

Marisa: In Mexico, regulation is what we’re looking for, in particular for medicinal cannabis. Sometimes the substances aren’t controlled.

Q: I’m a journalist, maybe we sometimes stigmatise PWUD. Would like to improve perception, we need to do something about this.

Nick: Specific regulations in Australia to not glorify drug use. We have an emerging project called AOD media watch in Australia in which academics and drug policy experts call out inaccuracies in media and fact check them.

Jake: Journalists are also sometimes removed from the areas where there is violence, so we’re not getting accurate ideas of what’s going on in these regions.

Piotr: Media plays crucial role here, in Belarus, drugs are always called narcotics and users are called narcomaniacs – hate speech

Daniel: In Ghana, there is an information gap – due to criminalization and law enforcement. Inclusive approaches would make them more open, and a lot of CSOs do not know the cracks of the conventions – we need to more. We need to form strong coalitions and support bases – Paradigma coalition. Helping inform young people of drug issues. We need to see drug users as part of the solution and accommodate them – we need to walk the talk – this helps leave no one behind.

Q: Informal dialogue with CND Chair on bringing people here – he suggested to take serious time to apply for visas – a few months not a few weeks – if there is enough time, UNODC and CND would be more likely to able to help.

Jake: We had an issue with our representative from SSDP Sierra Leone – he had to travel 4 countries over to even get to Austrian embassy and for reasons out of his control, could get the flight.

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