Looking ahead to 2021 and the fight for drug policy reform

People who used drugs and the frontline community have championed the change we saw in 2020

canadian drug policy coalition 2021 canadian drug policy coalition 2021

There’s no denying that 2020 was a disaster. The human toll can be expressed in numbers, but the impact and actual loss is incalculable. Friends, family, lovers and co-workers died—many alone, and most from failed drug policy. 

Though many of us understandably want to forget about this past year, we must not overlook the courage, ingenuity, and determination that helped move the dial on public health, harm reduction, and drug policy. COVID-19 helped the public see and understand the dire health inequities plaguing Canadian society. Supervised consumption, decriminalization of drugs, and safe supply entered public discourse and consciousness in a way they hadn’t in the past. This was due to the work of frontline advocates and communities affected by the harms of prohibition.

A mourner sits on the ground at a rally in Vancouver
International Overdose Awareness Day; Vancouver; 2020

Not only did the overdose epidemic continue to rage in 2020, but the addition of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Canadians were isolated from their regular supports. COVID-19 may have finally brought some folks shelter, but it also came with an increased risk of overdose because these individuals were now living alone. 

Looking forward, there is an enormous amount of work to be done in 2021. The illegal drug market is still tainted with poisoned drugs. Stigma and discrimination still push people into the shadows. Municipal and provincial governments continue to deny the evidence of harm reduction and its positive impacts. We must keep the pressure on as we endeavor to change the minds of our elected leaders and convince them to support progressive drug policy. 

In 2021, the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition will train its focus on decriminalization and the legal regulation of drugs to help end the harms of the toxic drug market. We will do this through a range of major projects, each with its own audience and goal to push Canada towards a future free from drug policy-related harm.

Rally in support of Lethbridge Overdose Prevention Site; Lethbridge, AB; 2020

At the frontend of our efforts is, Getting to Tomorrow: Ending the Overdose Crisis, a national public health dialogue project aimed at helping Canadians realize that we all share the same goals: a safe and secure society free from the harms of a toxic drug supply. The project will bring together community leaders across Canada to identify shared values, goals, and a collective vision for change so that Canadians can work together towards solutions. Getting to Tomorrow aims to bridge the divide within communities that so often stands in the way of life-saving progress and build a broad base of public support that will help animate our other major initiatives and efforts.

Broken Drug Policies is a similar project focused in British Columbia hoping to leverage the gains in drug policy, already introduced at a provincial level, to accelerate drug policy reform. Broken Drug Policies will help the public understand how interconnected systems (health care, criminal justice, social services, employment) drive substance use and the power they as citizens have in influencing those systems to create change. 

The Regulation Project will do a deeper dive into what a system of legal regulation of drugs could look like. Ultimately, it is only through a safer and regulated supply of drugs that the scourge of overdose deaths can end, and envisioning this future free from harm is a vital first step. As part of the project, CDPC will be consulting key stakeholders—principle among them people who use drugs—on what factors would ensure that a system of legal regulation would succeed. How would people access safer drugs? Who would have access to them? When and where could they these substances be obtained? All these questions will be explored to lay the blueprint for life-saving change.

Two men carry a large black wooden coffin along the march route
Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users Memorial March; Vancouver; 2020

Working alongside this effort is Imagine Safe Supply, which seeks to clearly articulate the concept of “safe supply” and what it means for those most directly impacted by the harms of our current drug policy: people who use drugs. Having a clear and accurate understanding of this concept is the necessary foundation for transformative policy.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines we are happy to begin planning of Stimulus 2022: Drugs, Policy and Practice in Canada, the country’s largest harm reduction and drug policy conference that will bring together harm reductionists, people who use drugs, government, community leaders, advocates and academics to share knowledge and build community and capacity to better respond to the worst overdose crisis in Canadian history. 

As we look to 2021, we look with hope. We need to come together now more than ever as we walk this tremendous path to change failed drug policies and save lives. We hope that you’ll walk alongside us.

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policy grounded in evidence, compassion, and social justice