Unharm Sydney's meetup this week was great, here's what went down

Thanks to everyone who came along to the Unharm Sydney meetup on Tuesday November 3. I’ve put together this blog post of ‘minutes’ from the meeting, for people who were there and people who couldn’t make it but are interested to hear about what happened.Thinking_picture_woman.jpg

There are two sections to this post - a recap on what’s been happening and how this has fed into the development of priorities for Unharm; and specific projects that are underway and that you might like to get involved with.

Getting organised

One of the high points of the meeting for me was introducing Unharm Sydney’s new lead organiser Madilen Weston. Madilen has come on board to help co-ordinate people’s involvement in Unharm projects and open up more opportunities to get involved. Got an idea, or want to get involved? Get in touch with Madlien via [email protected]

Recap on what's been happening

At the start of the meeting, I did a recap on what’s been happening over the past months. Along with the other Unharm directors and a whole bunch of supporters and contributors, I’ve been working on clarifying the mission of Unharm. Some of you will have participated in this (thanks!) - especially the series of interviews I did to understand better the problems people face in getting involved in drug-related advocacy and what the main priorities are for Unharm supporters. Key messages that came out of that process were that

  • Unharm supporters want campaigns that they can get involved in but also emphasised that the stigmatisation of illicit drug use can make it challenging to get involved. This seems to be especially an issue for younger people. To be effective at building a movement, dealing with stigmatisation is just as important as advocating for any particular policy changes.

  • Drug law reform isn’t just an abstract policy aspiration. It’s personal and it’s emotional, just as much as it is political and evidence-based. For a lot of us, it’s about taking care of people that we care about.

  • ‘Small target’ campaigns, like ending the use of drug detection dogs, are important but it’s equally important to be able to tell a big story about where we should be heading with drug policy. Otherwise, the reason for ‘small target’ changes can get lost in arguments about policy detail.

One of the other things that’s become clear is that the people who have engaged with what Unharm is doing are predominately younger people who at least some of the time use drugs in party, ‘nightlife’ or festival settings.


That’s all fed into the development of three main themes for Unharm

  1. Project Zero - Through Project Zero we’re seeking to ‘reset’ the role of criminalisation in drug policy. Zero is the exact number of people who should be arrested for drug consumer offences in Australia. Ending the criminalisation of drug use is not only achievable, it’s also an important first step before we build new regulatory systems for illicit drug markets.
  2. Party safe - A lot of young people’s illicit drug use takes place in party settings. This campaign promotes better alternatives to intimidating police presence at parties: safe environments, realistic and honest information about illicit drugs and how to manage the risks, and a culture of taking care of yourself and the people around you.
  3. Living well - If we want a world with drugs where people live well, we need to promote realistic and positive alternatives to the stigmatisation of illicit drug use; enable access to treatment for people who want it; and create supportive environments free from the traumatic experiences that contribute to some of the most harmful drug use.

If you ever have ideas, comments or questions please get in touch - [email protected]

There was some great discussion that followed this first part of the meeting. One of the points was about balancing the need to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’, by engaging relatively privileged groups like university students, while retaining an openness / not making the organisation exclusive. A good suggestion was that Unharm be explicit about why we’re doing what we’re doing by engaging with particular groups, for example, communicating the idea that there is an additional ethical responsibility of privileged people on this issue, because they are less targeted by enforcement. Another great point was made about growing through collaboration with other organisations  and communities, which is definitely going to be crucial. There was also good discussion about the how the perspectives of illicit drug users are often silenced in discussions about drugs, and the importance of breaking that silence. Finally, there were great points made about the limitations of rational or evidence-based arguments as the first point of engagement with people, and the much greater engagement that comes from emotional and personal stories. Evidence is crucial, but it plays a supporting role when it comes to convincing people.

Projects, ideas and opportunities to get involved

The last half of the meeting focussed on projects that are underway, or ideas for new projects. This raised a whole bunch of opportunities to get involved. If you want to know more about any of these, the main point of contact is Madilen via [email protected]

  • Screening of documentary ‘Drug Lawed’ and panel discussion at UNSW, December 4. Co-organised by Vince Polito and the [email protected] crew. Keep an eye on the Facebook page for further details. Please get in touch if you would like to help with promoting this event.

  • University societies - there will be another meetup soon for people currently working on establishing uni societies (at UNSW and Macquarie) and for people who are interested in getting involved. Details will be announced on the Facebook page, or get in touch with Madilen at [email protected]

  • ‘Coming out’ project. The idea is to break down the stigmatisation of illicit drug use and the myths about drug users and drug use, using storytelling, video, etc. This is an embryonic idea. If you’d like to help develop it in any way, large or small, please get in touch.

  • #ditchthedogs campaign to end the public use of drug detection dogs in NSW - we’re looking at some ways to push forward with this campaign. If you’ve got some ideas or would like to get involved in making it happen, please get in touch.

  • Resources - we’ve got a great crew of Unharm supporters working on this new project. The idea is to create short summaries and talking points about drugs, drug use and drug policy. Check out some of the contributions to date in the Resources section of the website, and if you’ve got research and writing skills that you’d like to contribute please get in touch! Point of contact for this is me - [email protected]

  • Outreach and workshops on drug law reform and harm reduction for the multi-day festival/doof scene - another embryonic idea, with a good crew of people keen to develop it. Volunteers for this project very, very welcome - [email protected]

If I’ve missed anything please let me know! One thing we definitely forgot was to take photos - something for next time. Thanks for everyone who came along, there was a great energy in the room and lots of good contributions. If you want to know more, suggest an idea, or get involved in a project, don’t be a stranger - hit us up at [email protected]

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