Drink and Drugs News DDN December 2019 | Page 8

HIT HOT TOPICS DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES We need to dig deep for inspiration and redouble our efforts against reactionary policies, heard this year’s HIT Hot Topics. DDN reports. Photography by nigelbrunsdon.com ‘L et me take you to Columbia,’ said Sanho Tree, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a director of its Drug Policy Project. ‘Here farmers grow coca because it makes economic sense to them,’ he said. ‘They don’t stand a chance of growing other crops and coca is one crop that doesn’t require much infrastructure.’ Yet the government had been trying to eradicate coca for decades, primarily through crop dusters – aircraft that sprayed the area with a potent form of Roundup, a herbicide that caused rashes, vomiting and illness as well as the death of crops and animals. The drugs that cost pennies to produce would be worth thousands by the time they hit our streets, thanks to the politics of prohibition, which inflated their value at each risky link in the drug trafficking supply chain, he said. Then there was the ‘pogrom’ mentality – ‘if you get rid of these people, it will be ok’ – as seen in the Philippines, where Duterte had presided over 30,000 deaths. Meanwhile President Trump’s wall was failing to have any impact on preventing drugs from crossing the border between the US and Mexico, with the many other smuggling methods including tunnels, planes, torpedoes bolted under freighters and drones – not to mention the four-inch gaps between slats that enabled drugs to be handed through the wall itself. So how do we end up with such reactionary policies? ‘Because they sell’, said Tree. ‘People want easy answers.’ But we needed to step back from the ‘madness’. ‘We need to ask why we do what we do,’ he said. ‘We’ve built a fundamentally sick society, and when I think about this in terms of drug use, I wonder if it’s a predictable response to a world gone mad,’ he said. SUPERFICIAL ACTION According to Pavel Bém, commissioner at the Global Commission on Drug Policy, we had become used to ‘acting only on the surface of the problem’. As former mayor of Prague and drug czar of the Czech Republic, he had been instrumental in bringing about a period of decriminalisation. ‘There is evidence that drug policy is wrong and needs to be reformed,’ he said. ‘But this is not enough. We need never-ending passion. For good policy reform we need heroes.’ The hero in his country, at the time, was former president Vaclav Havel, he said. ‘At this time I was the drug czar. He asked me, “why aren’t smokers in jail?” It was the human rights angle, the ‘emotional momentum’ that introduced harm reduction services, including needle exchanges and outreach. As president of Caso Drug Users Union, Rui Coimbra Morais had witnessed the evolution of the decriminalisation model in Portugal – its progress and its paradoxes. ‘The country is not a paradise for users, but it’s better,’ he said. ‘But stigma doesn’t change overnight, globally and from society.’ We were so busy ‘creating illusions that we fit and should be normalised’, but we needed to change these narratives. ‘I felt all my life that I don’t fit – and now I don’t want to fit,’ he said. The important thing was to get back to basic things – the knowledge that you are not alone. ‘We are many, we are not alone,’ he said. ‘We have to connect much more with the levels of freedom I find in different places.’ VITAL CONNECTIONS Biz Bliss from The Psychedelic Society suggested that ‘sometimes we need a reboot, remembering what’s important, connecting with the self.’ She invited her audience to ‘connect with the heart space’, by looking deep into the eyes of the person (probably a stranger) next to them. The idea was to put people in vulnerable situations where they were forced to be uncomfortable. ‘We try to create spaces to remember what it’s like to connect,’ she said. Through a ‘beautiful retreat centre’ north of Amsterdam, she tried to create the ‘perfect set and setting’ through an intimate sharing circle with music, enhanced by taking mycelium truffles in ginger tea. Once people learned to get familiar with their feelings, including grief and pain, the idea was to learn to ‘use this space’ without psychedelics and ‘access the experience’. Photos, clockwise from top left: audience questions, Sanho Tree, Pat O’Hare, Megan Jones, Biz Bliss, Harm Reduction Union, Support Don’t Punish, Mick Webb, Prun Bijral, audience participation, Pavel Bém, questions, Rui Morais and Lizzie McCulloch, Katy McLeod. 8 • DRINK AND DRUGS NEWS • DEC 2019-JAN 2020 WWW.DRINKANDDRUGSNEWS.COM