As the first day of the International Youth Drug Strategies Convening kicked off in Bangkok today, young people from around the world discussed the ways in which the global drug war has impacted their communities. The first activity of the day asked each participant to share their beliefs about drug policy. The group discussed the need for gender-sensitive policies, the right to accurate information and education about drugs, and the need to eliminate the stigma surrounding drug use. Participants also stated the belief that psychoactive substance use is an organic and fundamental part of life and, as such, drug use is both a human and cultural right. Perhaps the most important part of the discussion — and the entire convening — was the consensus that the individuals suffering most from the war on drugs should play a key role in the process of making policies that affect them and their daily lives.
The second session of the day gave the young advocates an opportunity to share their experiences with drug policy in their home countries. Ranging from Costa Rica to Pakistan to Serbia, participants discussed the challenges they faced when attempting to reform drug policy. Facilitator Sara Velimirovic, a member of SSDP’s Board of Directors, noted that many drug policy workshops tend to focus on strategies used in Western countries, making it difficult for reformers from other regions to adapt the techniques to fit the cultural context at home. By inviting 26 participants from 21 different countries, the International Youth Drug Strategies Convening aimed to eliminate some of those difficulties by ensuring a diverse range of perspectives and providing all participants with an opportunity to exchange the best practices and strategies used in their countries.
The next discussion focused largely on the current state of the global youth drug policy movement. Jake Agliata, Sara Velimirovic, Penny Hill, and Eva Cesárova discussed their experiences at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) and the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem. While participants discussed the bureaucratic functions of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, much of the conversation centered on the ways in which young people are tokenized by UN officials and state governments alike. Participants noted that while concern for young people is invoked in nearly every discussion about drug policy, young people are rarely invited to speak for themselves and often find their opinions disregarded by those in power, simply because of their age.
As the global group of youth drug policy reformers wrapped up the first day of the convening, the feelings of inspiration and excitement could be felt despite the nagging exhaustion of jet lag. Conversations about drug checking campaigns and other harm reduction initiatives could be heard even after the final session of the day. Though the first day of the convening was merely the tip of the iceberg, it is clear that the 26 young people attending the convening are some of the brightest minds in drug policy and have the ability to accomplish tremendous things. Keep an eye out for the rest of the week’s blog posts to follow the group’s progress!