Systems Change

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Systems Change

Envisioning a Canada Beyond Prohibition

Imagine a future where people have access to a safe and regulated supply of substances. That was the vision of about 300 people who attended a free public forum on “new models for drug policy grounded in compassion, human rights, and public health,” held at the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts on Hastings Street in Vancouver on May 15, 2019.

The event was co-sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, BCCDC Foundation for Public Health, the Community Action Initiative, and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. It was organized by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and the UBC School of Nursing.

Garth Mullins, activist, award-winning broadcaster, and member of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, moderated a panel consisting of Steve Rolles, Senior Policy Analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (UK); Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto; Suzanne Fraser, Professor of Public Health at Curtin University (Australia); and Zara Snapp, Co-founder of the Instituto RIA (Mexico).

The event was part of a four-day International Research Roundtable at Peter Wall Institute (UBC) that brought together global experts, including people with lived experience of drug use, to strategize about how to create a system for the legal regulation of currently illegal drugs in Canada. Of highest importance to the Canadian context is the immediate provision of a safe supply of drugs to address the overdose crisis—or what the panel organizers term the “drug policy crisis” to draw attention to the bad policy that is at the root of the over 10,000 deaths that have occurred in Canada since 2016.

Panelists considered what they hope will be a not-too-distant future, to frame a discussion about what the next steps would be after ending prohibition, such as how to implement a safe supply, and what “decriminalization” means.

Garth Mullens is the founder of the podcast Crackdown, which recorded the full event. A link to the 1.5 hour podcast can be found here: nursing.ubc.ca/SystemsChange.

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