A national non-profit organization called Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) is looking to confront drug policies that reinforce the stigma around drug use, criminalization
In order to address these concerns, the Halifax chapter of CSSDP is holding a symposium about drug use on Oct. 5 at Dalhousie University.
The symposium is aimed at discussing ways in which organizations can implement harm reduction for drug users, as well as how drug policy changes can help those in need to avoid unnecessary criminalization.
Dal students and local representatives of CSSDP, Agi Cabel and Justin Andrews, say they’re using their sense of “radical compassion” to engage with local communities and change the stigma that revolves around drug use.
Cabel says the symposium is designed to ignite a spark for social justice “through engaging communities in regards to changing oppressive drug policies.”
A new chapter
The CSSDP chapter in Halifax began in 2018. The organization has a presence in many university campuses across Canada.
“Although we haven’t actualized any aims for when these [drug policy] changes will take place, the symposium on Oct. 5 and the amount of conversations that we’ve had with people who are engaged and ready for this and are actively participating, to me, is a huge win in regards to social justice,” Cabel says.
For Andrews, one of the main goals of CSSDP –– specifically in regards to students –– is creating a community that provides “an authentic, real form of drug education.”
“Drug use will happen,” says Andrews, “so, it’s important to look at how to maximize safety.”
Another main focus of CSSDP is “to change drug use from a matter of criminalization to a matter public health and safety,” says Cabel.
“There are many people who face unnecessary criminal charges for drug use who are also generally marginalized populations because of it, such as disabled, queer and racialized people who need support.”
Although the Halifax chapter of CSSDP is set on changing Canadian drug use legislation as a whole, there are also local matters they are looking to confront, specifically harm reduction.
Just this year, Halifax opened up the first overdose prevention site in Atlantic Canada. It is located inside the Direction 180 building on Gottingen Street. People can safely inject opioids in the space under supervision.
“It’s a simple matter with these facilities. Less people will die,” Andrews says. “They’re also a place that provides solidarity and support for drug users, which can also help them get them off of the path they are on.”
Through education and public awareness, Andrews says the CSSDP is trying to “make partnerships with other harm reduction groups throughout the province” and “bring tools to students and other communities” to learn about safe drug use.
“There are also now drug testing kits that you can buy,” Andrews mentions, “such as ones that allow you to test for fentanyl in cocaine, so that you can be sure what you’re consuming is safe.”
What Andrews and Cabel hope to achieve with the symposium is not only to discuss decriminalization of drug use, education of safe use and harm reduction, but also to humanize drug users.
“I’ve seen the attitude that some people have toward drug users, and it’s very stigmatized. It’s degrading and humiliating,” says Andrews. “So, we’re hoping people can leave the symposium with the same sense of radical compassion.”