Social justice and peacebuilding within drug policy reform

Organized by Acción Técnica Social and Instituto RIA

Zara Snapp, Instituto RIA / Acción Técnica Social: This will be an interactive session before the presentation. Unfortunately, two presenters cancelled because of travel issues. Int he past, we’ve done this too; because you have interesting experiences that are rarely featured in these spaces. ATS has been doing harm reduction in Colombia since 2008 in festival settings, around alcohol consumption, nicotine,; so going beyond controlled drugs. And we have a project about what cocaine regulation could look like in Colombia As a producing country it’s really hard to think how production might work. RIA, in Mexico, does advocacy and research on this issues and has been closely accompanying the cannabis regulation process. Today, we want to think about what “justice”, “development”, “innovative” means in terms of policies. The words are there; not so much the proposals in terms of policies. The goal of today is to think together around these issues and Steve will do a presentation on principles, I will focus on social justice. When we think of these issues, we’re aiming to tackle challenges that have emerged. What harms related to prohibition can new policy address? They could be about drug use harms; but also prohibition. What could be some of the harms associated with prohibition?

  • Access to controlled medicines. There’s an epidemic of pain in the Global South because of prohibition.
  • Undermining civic and political institutions through drug market related corruption and the starving of funds for institution building. So many resources have been dedicated to law enforcement and security, that development and others have shrunk.
  • Stigma of people who use drugs, lack of access to treatment, forced treatment and treatment centres that violate human rights, arbitrary detention. The criminalisation of farmers; who are mostly indigenous communities. And this all has a disproportionate and specific impact on women, so we need to think how this related to gender and violence. Also, prohibition distorts how the rights of the child are understood (children whose parents use drugs, adolescents in conflict with the law, children who use drugs, are not given a place in society).
  • And the focus on drugs, the substances; rather than the people.
  • It creates a barrier to community care. In terms of the overdose crisis in Canada, for instance, if we had had a more caring response earlier on; the tide could’ve been stemmed. Canada is in a better situation when it comes to harm reduction interventions than, say, the United States; but still. Prohibition has created barriers to having these conversations.
  • From a research perspective, a lot of barriers to research. Whether we like drugs or not, we need to investigate them. And, in the case of research, apart from administrative barriers, the challenge is even participants don’t want to join studies.
  • Disproportionate policing of black communities in the UK because of stop and search laws. And, across the world, we see the same.
  • Prohibition entails harms to producers and their livelihoods. Indigenous cultures are harmed by the eradication of crops they have historically used and relied on.
  • In Myanmar, there has been a strict limitation of opium; so users go to heroin or methamphetamine, which are more readily available.
    • This is very insightful because we see the same in other places. Trafficking fentanyl in Canada, for instance, is easier than trafficking heroin because you have a more compact and more potent substance. You can maximise value and reduce the challenges of transportation. This is the same we saw during alcohol prohibition, an increase in the use of more potent forms of alcohol drinks.

Steve Rolles, Transform: If you look at the 2008 world drug report by UNODC.

Zara Snapp: They named five unintended consequences: violent criminal market (320 million dollars), displacement of substances, displacement of cultivation (balloon effect – eradication efforts reducing crops somewhere, but increasing them somewhere else), displacement of policy (more resources into public health), marginalisation of people who use drugs (which creates barriers to access to treatment – which is even higher for women).

Steve Rolles, Transform: Even if they have been identified, they’re not systematically measured and evaluated. They don’t feature in the world drug report. There aren’t questions in the ARQ about drug-market related violence, or stigma, or human rights implications of the illicit drug markets. I’m generalising but it’s rare when a government measures them.

Zara Snapp: I like this slide focusing on why people use psychoactive plans and substances?

  • Real or perceived benefits (ex. I need some coffee, I want a cigarette to relax).
  • Health and wellbeing (ex. A drink in the bar after the Plenary)
  • Social interaction
  • Sexual behaviour
  • Addressing tiredness
  • Managing distress
  • Curiosity
  • Euphoria
  • Pleasure
  • Religious use
  • Dependency
  • Dependency

Zara: (shows a slide depicting a range of uses from problematic to non-problematic)

Alex Bestos, CSSDP: But people might move around these categories and also they might vary from substance to substance. And dependence might not necessarily be problematic.

Zara: True, that’s why in Mexico, civil society has focused on “responsible adult use”. Now, how do we apply a social justice framework to this debate. Actively confront dynamics of privilege and oppression (ex. Politicians acknowledging their past use of cocaine as a youth faux pass, while people in deprived classes are criminalised for the same thing), recognise groups that have been historically marginalised, generate affirmative action that levels the balance of power and justice, provide resources towards repairing the harm (ex. In Mexico, the government has acknowledge that State action has led to disappearances).

Steve Rolles, Transform: Regulation is part of the discussion of drug law reform, not the only one. This is what I focus on. Distinction between legalisation and regulation and decriminalisation. Decriminalisation is about removing criminal sanctions for minor drug offences, usually for possession and use offences; sometimes a bit broader. This is allowed within the drug treaty framework. Legalisation / regulation is different. Legalisation is a process, it’s just something illegal becoming legal; it doesn’t say anything about how that legal product is regulated or framed. Legal regulation refers to how the government intervenes in a particular market for a set of behaviours (licensing, taxation, marketing, packaging, etc.). The debate on regulation has moved decisively. 10-15 years ago, this was a marginal position, but now multiple countries are considering it. Uruguay, Cannabis, USA, South Africa, Mexico, New Zealand, Luxembourg, etc. Most is about cannabis but not only about cannabis. Bolivia legalised and regulated coca internationally (withdrawing from the Treaty and re-acceding with a reservation) and nationally. Regulation is about risk management. Whether for driving cars or regulating fireworks, or alcohol and tobacco, it’s about keeping people safe and protecting the interest of the public. A regulated market is not a free market. There are market interventions to manage behaviour and, usually, more potentially damaging lead to stricter regulations. The debate is about applying that same regulatory logic and expertise onto currently controlled substances. It’s also about establishing proportionate sanctions for what happens outside of the regulatory regime. Ex. We sanction the supply of alcohol to minors. What can we regulate? Production and transit, products, vendors, outlets, marketing, buyers/users (who has access, for instance). You want regulation to deliver public health protection; improve security and development; protect human rights, protect the young and vulnerable; reduce drug related crime; corruption and violence; and be based on evidence on what works and what will provide good value for money. We should start all conversations about what we’re trying to achieve. We all agree on this and should now interrogate if the current situation is delivering. How would we do this? There’s quite a limited number of options: medical prescription and supervised venues (ex. Methadone), a specialist pharmacist sales model (Rx over the counter), licensed retail (off licenses), licensed premises for sale and consumption (bars, coffee shops); unlicensed dales (coffee, tea). The retail moment can be a key opportunity to provide education about risk and harm reduction. And this could be mandated.

Zara Snapp: Yes. A regulated market would also seek to educate people too!

Steve Rolles: In terms of production, most of these substances are currently legally produced for medical and scientific purposes. So production would not be something completely different. But legal regulation offers an opportunity to redress the inequities associated with the legally regulated market.

Zara Snapp: So, how do we come with policy or legislation that addresses the challenges we identified initially. In Mexico, we’re thinking about “the social sector”, ejidos. In creating a regulated market, we think 100% of the market production should be guaranteed to this sector. The current regulatory proposal is about 40%. We think regulation creates an opportunity to reduce social inequality. It’s not about stamping the market. It’s about thinking what the market is now and how we reduce the harms of informal harms. We’re also cautious about certain aspects like seed-to-sale tracking, because this would exclude those most affected by prohibition. What other policy measures would we see?
Nicolas: The policy was created to encourage people transitioning to the legal market but this hasn’t happened. Because big companies are taking over and perpetuating the model of the farmer being dependent by big corporations, rather than encouraging autonomy.

Alex, CSSDP: There’s a strong lack of awareness about the impact that Canadian companies are having in Colombia and Mexico. How do Canadians support policies at home but also abroad to minimise that negative impact abroad.
Steve Rolles, Transform: We have seen this happen across the globe. And I think starting that conversation needs to happen also in Canada so that people are informed about what’s happening.

Zara Snapp, Instituto RIA: How about social justice and children? What policies could we think of?
Corina Giacomello, EQUIS: Things like not-institutionalising the children of incarcerated parents, promoting the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in terms of not separating kids from their families, provide more spaces for women in terms of treatment.

Zara Snapp: Let’s continue the discussion!

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