The biennial International Drug Policy Reform Conferences, organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, have always had a special place in my heart. The first time I attended a DPA conference – thanks to an Open Society Foundations scholarship - was in New Jersey in 2003.
Perhaps it was scholarly interest that led me to the world of drug policy reform - but it was its strong connection to social justice and personal freedom that appealed to me the most.
I had never previously realized the sheer number of ways in which the so-called War on Drugs affects vulnerable communities and ruins lives around the world, including racial discrimination, mass incarceration, social exclusion, the global HIV and hepatitis C epidemics, overdose deaths, and violent crime.
Freedom and social justice for all
I came to realize that most of the harms I had previously attributed to drug use per se, should instead more properly be attributed to punitive drug policies.
I recognized the insanity of policies which seek to eradicate human behaviors as old as human civilization - and I learned about the alternative harm reduction strategies for dealing with risky behavior.
This movement is first and foremost about freedom and social justice - for all. I hope that the next DPA conference will see more celebration of success - but even more inclusion and openness to the problems of those who feel left behind.
By Peter Sarosi
Video: Istvan Gabor Takacs and Peter Sarosi