It’s easy to imagine the long line of opium that stretches from the vast poppy fields of Afghanistan to the heroin dealers in Vancouver. So the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue on West Hastings Street was an appropriate venue for a two-day international conference on drug-control policy.
Hosts of the event hailed it as a success, but other attendees complained of a one-sided show.
The University of Victoria Centre for Addictions Research of BC cohosted the Vancouver leg of the United Nation’s Beyond 2008 forum. Its director of communications, Dan Reist, told the Straight that the event went “very well”.
Speaking from the conference, he maintained that a variety of opinions were represented and that participants focused on working together.
Keeping the Door Open, a Vancouver-based organization that promotes dialogue on drug use, also cohosted the conference. Chair Gillian Maxwell shared Reist’s enthusiasm.
“It seems the majority of the people in the room think it’s impossible to prevent drug use, and, therefore, you get the war on drugs, which is a war on people,” Maxwell said.
She maintained those who can use drugs responsibly should be able to do so without fear of persecution. Money spent on enforcement and punishment could be better spent on prevention and treatment, Maxwell said.
But Alcohol-Drug Education Service’s Judi Lalonde told the Straight that Maxwell’s argument of harm reduction was one made too many times at the Vancouver conference.
“Representation from the groups for legalization are probably about 95 percent, to possibly 5 percent in the area of prevention,” Lalonde claimed, speaking from the conference. “I’m quite disappointed with the whole process of the last few days.”
Lalonde said that she also attended a Beyond 2008 conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, in January, and that it was very different from Vancouver’s.
While Florida’s event “allowed for a real dialogue from a balanced perspective”, Lalonde continued, Vancouver’s “became a forum for lobbyists and activists”.
D.A.R.E. BC Society’s delegate at the conference, Brian Whiteford, also told the Straight that there was a disproportionate representation of legalization activists at the event.
But, he maintained, it did a good job of bringing people together for an exchange of perspectives on drug control and D.A.R.E.'s message of education and prevention was well received.
Whiteford expressed hope that his organization’s message, which is delivered in B.C. by the RCMP, would contribute to the final Beyond 2008 report, which will go to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime later this year.
UVic’s Reist said he was hopeful that Vancouver’s contribution to the Beyond 2008 forum will be a positive one.
“Will it have a huge impact?” he asked. “I can’t say. But I think that it’s unprecedented that the UN has asked for and allowed such a consultation to bring its voice into the United Nations.”
The conference wrapped up on February 5 and was initiated by the Vienna NGO Committee on Narcotic Drugs. It was organized in partnership with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
The event was one of 10 held around the world. Beyond 2008 was designed to involve NGOs and civil society in advising the United Nations on international drug control.