Pivot Legal Society - Equality Lifts Everyone


Thinking big about drug policy reform


As I write this blog, I am travelling home from the 6th Annual Conference of the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy (ISSDP) in Canterbury, UK. The ISSDP’s mandate is to bring together scientists and policy-makers to discuss how scientific evidence can influence drug policy. I attended two days of talks that were all very thought provoking. Some looked at specific questions, such as how England can justify the denial of welfare to people who use illicit drugs. And some asked much broader questions, such as whether there is a strong evidentiary foundation for the June 2011 report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, which announced that “the global war on drugs has failed.” 
Damon Barrett of Harm Reduction International (HRI) made my participation at this conference possible. Damon invited me to give a talk about human rights litigation and drug policy reform. I was thrilled to talk about the Insite decision and how the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is proving to be an important tool to shift our society towards drug policy that is grounded in health and human rights. There was a lot of enthusiasm about the Insite case, which reinforced what I already knew – the decision has had a powerful impact around the world.
I also took the opportunity to talk about the importance of the voice of people who use illicit drugs (and particularly marginalized people who use drugs) in these types of drug policy discussions. A voice that was relatively absent (at least to the best of my knowledge) from this meeting and I wanted to make sure that the scientists and policy makers in the room were reminded of the importance of hearing from the people most affected by the issues we were there to discuss. 

A highlight of my time in England was spending time with Damon from HRI, Steve Rolles from Transform and Niamh Eastwood from Release. I want to tell you a little bit about their organizations, which rock my world and happen to have a lot in common with Pivot’s mandate. 

Harm Reduction International works to promote evidence based public health policy and practices and human rights based approaches to drug policy. They work at the international level through an integrated programme of research, analysis, advocacy and collaboration with civil society partners.
Release is Britain’s national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law, providing free and confidential legal and specialist advice to the public and professionals. They also work to reform the UK’s drug laws. Check out their recent campaign: Nice People Take Drugs… nice.
Transform is a brilliant think tank that educates the public about the harms of drug prohibition. They are part of the fight for effective, just and humane government control and regulation of drugs. Check out their groundbreaking book 'After the War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation.'
I am going home with so much to think about. I continue to be wonder what we can do to reshape the various international drug conventions that encourage, and in some instances require, criminal sanctions for drug offences. I am also going home with many questions about the various legal approaches to regulating drugs (and all substances, for that matter). The issue of regulatory frameworks was the topic of much conversation at the conference. Interestingly, these discussions often took place as we sat in licensed English pubs, drinking government-regulated beer, aware of the fact that we were consuming one type of mind-altering substance, while talking about how regulation could look when we see an end to prohibition of illicit drugs. 
There is so much more I can say, but I am now off to join my daughter and my mom who have been frolicking about the English countryside, and kindly allowed me to have a few kid-free days while I was at the conference.  I am excited to come home and see all of my Pivot peeps who will be the recipients of a deluge of thoughts and ideas that I have about the role that Pivot can continue to play in this incredibly important movement for social change.