“Think big, go big – or stay home.”
This was the rallying call of acclaimed scholar Michelle Alexander in her keynote address to the 2017 International Drug Policy Reform Conference held in Atlanta, Georgia on 11-14 October 2017. Alexander, who received a rousing and sustained standing ovation from the crowd throughout her speech, challenged the audience to go beyond drug policy and see how it relates to broader democratic development. “The fate of democracy depends on what happens in spaces like this”, she said. “The drug policy movement is fundamental to the remaking of our democracy.”
The Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD) was represented in the biennial conference by its executive director, Celito Arlegue, who joined more than 1500 participants from over 50 countries in a 3-day event with more than 50 break-out sessions. “It was a great privilege to be here and learn more about a topic which is increasingly becoming important in the Asian region”, said Arlegue. “Asia appears to be lagging behind when in comes to progressive drug policy, and much more needs to be done to inculcate the philosophy of harm reduction when we deal with people involved in drugs.”
Harm reduction is a “public health philosophy and intervention that seeks to reduce the harms associated with drug use and ineffective drug policies.” Its focus, therefore, is on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, on people who continue to use drugs. Apart from the philosophy of harm reduction, Arlegue also noted the following information that had been repeatedly mentioned in the conference:
In one of the breakout sessions in the conference, “The Fight in Asia: Drug Policy Reform in an Unforgiving Region”, Arlegue observed how drug policies in the region continue to revolve on criminalization of and punishment for people involved in drugs. “For those of us pushing for drug policy reform in Asia, it appears that our work is cut out for us”, he said.
This post was written by CALD