The debate on drug policy continues to brew
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The debate on drug policy continues to brew

Two recent news articles caused a stir here at the Kensington office this week – proving to us that the debate on drug policy is alive and well, and that there has never been a better time for the imminent release of Raw Opium.

An excellent article by the New York Times regarding the safe injection site in Vancouver and Canada’s approach to HIV prevention caught our attention, as did another from the Globe and Mail outlining the current debate about Canada’s drug policy and bill S-10.

New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. wrote eloquently about the InSite program (featured in Raw Opium), described some of the users who frequent the facility and gave readers a snapshot of the difficult lives that users often lead on the Lower East Side Vancouver streets. He noted that their lives are often riddled with addiction, violence, sexual abuse, and physical and mental health afflictions.

As we reveal in the film Raw Opium, McNeil also noted that a place like InSite has been effective in slowing the growth of the racing HIV epidemic. But, despite the fact that InSite has been helping to reduce HIV rates, and the Canadian Medical Association have endorsed supervised sites, no more facilities like InSite are scheduled to open because the Conservative government has refused to grant more exemptions to federal narcotics laws.

At present those on both sides of the debate are waiting for a court case to be settled this May, which will decide whether the Conservative government’s attempt to shut InSite down will go forward. Back in 2006 when the Conservative government came into power, they sued to shut InSite down, but local courts refused, with the argument that an addict’s need for opiates is similar to a diabetic’s for insulin, and that a citizen’s right to health (recognized in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms) trumps narcotics law.

Meanwhile, the Conservative government is also trying to pass bill S-10, which if passed, would impose mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes, including growing as few as six marijuana plants if they were intended for sale.

One of the biggest critiques against the Conservative’s tough on crime bill was from Mark Holland, the Liberal public safety critic, who said the problem is that it doesn’t distinguish between an 18-year-old who makes a mistake by growing six marijuana plants and a member of the Hells Angels who grows 200.

We think the time is ripe for Raw Opium to make an impact on the current debates happening around drug policy, and that the film can do a good job of engaging audiences and familiarizing them with what’s at stake in the war on drugs.

There are many disparate articles from relevant news media including this one by The Economist which made the case for legalizing all drugs, but we don’t know of any other film that joins the dots between the interconnected and complex issues surrounding the war on drugs. Unlike news articles and broadcasts which have to be kept short, we were able to go deeper and broader with our scope, thanks to our longer runtime. With Raw Opium, we’ve taken all of these different aspects of the drug policy and addiction debate and we’ve pulled it all together in the film.

What do you think?

How do you think we can use the film to mobilize around drug policy issues in Canada and the United States? How can we use the film as a tool in support of ending the war on drugs? Do you know of any organizations who might be interested in working with us on a campaign that co-promotes one of these causes with the film? Let us know.

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