It seemed right to be in Washington DC for the Drug Policy Alliance's 2015 Reform Conference - a Nation’s capital, where so many of the world’s big decisions are made and social movements have congregated. It has taken me a few days to be able to sit, reflect and write about my experience at the Conference. It felt like a huge come down after an incredible buzz.
The hotel’s atmosphere was electric with more than 1500 Reform attendees. There were 52 sessions of discussion over the three days, 36 smaller community sessions, two opening and one closing plenary, 27 exhibitors and book signings and films. I was sleep deprived throughout because my mind wanted to work well into the early hours of the morning, thinking and processing all that occurred the previous day. Next thing, I'd be waking early for coffee and a bagel and then back into talks, learning and people’s experiences all day. Trying to fit all these things in a day whilst also networking with people from 71 countries was almost over stimulating - fortunately, we could unwind with some yoga which was on both in the mornings and the evenings. Living, breathing and doing yoga with 1500 other people from 71 countries who share the same common goal was euphoric. What contributed to this euphoria was this feeling of a shared determination to make changes with an incredibly diverse range of people; from your general stoner/ party goer/ user right through to university professors and policy makers, judges and police officers - in many cases users themselves!
Psychedelics were a big topic with the reported success of their use in the treatment of PTSD and Depression by Amanda Fielding Executive Director of the Beckley Foundation U.K and Rick Doblin Executive Director Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies U.S.A and we know that similar research is being conducted in many parts of Europe. This topic was rather interesting for me given that I know little about psychedelics apart from the usual Fear and Loathing depiction. I learned mostly about Ayahuasca and what sounds like an incredible experience with the connection of your higher self and the universe; how could that ever be considered a bad thing? Application of Ayahuasca for enhancing spiritual connectivity and healing is one conversation Native Americans are having as well as the broader impacts the war on drugs on their culture and the culture of other minorities, especially in and around the U.S. The Boarder between the USA and Mexico and the surrounding areas remains the greatest battle field of this war on drugs, where Monterrey has approximately 26,000 missing people, presumably from the war.
Cannabis legalisation was a big topic, as expected. Given that four U.S States have legalised and 12 have medicinal cannabis and decriminalised laws. The need for cannabis reform was never more apparent than when Jeff Mizanskey spoke of his recent release from Jefferson City correctional centre after having served 22 years for selling cannabis. Jeff, appeared teary and withered, another victim of the drug war. Learning also about the use of cannabis to treat other ailments or associated pain has been my biggest learning this year. States that have legalised report decreased crime rates, a reduction in alcohol related violence, an increase in the amount of people accessing assistance to manage their use, all whilst earning the States some good coin through taxation, which in Colorado is being re-diverted to schooling and health care systems.
All I know is that this is mi familia; this fight is what I feel will bring meaning to my life and more importantly safety and harmony to others. The current rhetoric surrounding drugs and drug policy maintained by governments is so incredibly damaging and only fuels an illicit economy which turns over more than $330 billion annually, kills thousands of people, destroys families, limits compassionate interventions through treatment, stigmatsises our vulnerable, spreads disease, all the while allowing pharmaceutical companies to pump our society full of substances that fall on the other side of the arbitrary line drawn between licit and illicit drugs. The pharmaceuticals industry turns a profit from people suffering depression, anxiety, from children who are told their activity is not appropriate for society, from people who are reliant on pain medication or managing their nausea from chemotherapy. Who are the evils in this war again?
Drugs have and will always be a part of our society, it is human to seek an altered state of being. What we need is to do it more safely, with less monetary control landing in the hands of international criminals, and less demonising of the choice of individuals to manage their own body. For me biggest learning from the conference was about how this movement is about so much more drugs; it’s a fight for human rights, it’s a fight for equality, it’s a fight for humanity
There were hundreds of personal stories of loss, deprivation, suffering, torture, isolation. Ann-Marie Cockburn spoke in a session on the role of women in ending prohibition about losing her only daughter, Martha, at the age of 15 from an accidental ecstasy overdose in 2013. Edo Agustian, from Indonesia spoke about how he was shot and hung upside down left to die by Police after being found with drugs for personal use. Daughters spoke of father’s in prison and having to watch their mother be ostracised, work two jobs to support the children and the father inside. Musicians spoke about how convictions for Cocaine in America are less severe than Crack, simply because African Americans are more likely to smoke crack, Jamaicans spoke about how they are being sent to prison for participating in a religious ritual. An Afghanistan returned veteran spoke about how Cannabis is the only reason he is still managing to live, when there are 22 veterans committing suicide every day in the States. Every story resonated in such a way that only human experiences can. I cried, I cheered, I was angered and I was inspired, I laughed, I hugged.
This spirit came to a beautiful conclusion after the conference's emotional closing session, when we danced till the early hours of the morning under the George Washington monument, in the middle of the Mall, between the White House and Capitol Hill. In the centre a huge fire burned a timber prison cell. The event was called Catharsis, aptly named following a week of intense discussion and the sharing of human struggle and pain. This event was a celebration of spirit, of a family bound together in a fight against a war of prohibition fueled by racist policy, non-sensical laws and fear. I invite you to join this powerful movement, to join our family.