Support, Don’t Punish

By and

From pandemic chaos to the eruption of Black Lives Matterprotests on our streets and social media feeds, our way of life has been subject to significant socio-political change. Though much hardship has been endured, this period of unrest has certainly sparked a revolutionary sentiment amongst a significant portion of our society, willing to adapt to new ways of life to shield vulnerable individuals from institutional racism and COVID-19.

As an anti-racist organisation, dedicated to reforming drug policies which unfairly target ethnic minority groups, the Global Day of Action will hopefully coincide with a continuedmomentum within the Black Lives Matter movement. Occurring on 26th June, the Global Day of Action seeks to provide a counter-narrative to the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, historically used by governments to showcase their drug control ‘achievements’ in coercive terms.

Punitive drug policies have failed. Rather than reducing the availability and use of drugs, punitive drug policies have introduced a range of social and public health problems. Drug-related deaths in the UK are at record highs, with Scotland showing the highest rate of drug deaths in the EU, as punitive drug laws prevent access to potentially life-saving services such as needle exchanges, safe consumption rooms, naloxone treatment and evidence-based harm reduction advice. Across the world, 12 million people inject drugs and 1/10 has HIV.

The War on Drugs has also brought about mass incarceration in the US, with the number of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses having increased from 40,900 in 1980 to 456,000 in 2018. Globally, 1/5 prisoners are incarcerated for drug-related offenses, mainly personal possession. This disproportionately affects ethnic minority communities, with Black Americans accounting for nearly 30% of all drug-related arrests, despite making up only 12.5% of all substance users.

This issue is not restricted to the US, however. In the UK, Black people are 9x more likely to be stopped and searched for drugs than white people, despite using drugs at a lower rate. This has contributed to a much larger proportion of stop and search arrests of Black individuals, in comparison to their white counterparts. Despite using cannabis at lower rates than white individuals, those from Black and Asian backgrounds are twelve times more likely to be convicted of cannabis possession. With people from BAME backgrounds constituting 25% of England and Wales’ prison population, despite accounting for only 14% of the total overall population, this statistic, sadly, comes as no surprise.

Punitive attitudes towards drug legislation are intrinsically linked to ongoing racial violence and social inequality. But what’s the alternative? Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) Durham believes that drug policies should focus on health, wellbeing and harm reduction, rather than criminalising those who use illicit substances.

For instance, in Portugal, all drug use was decriminalised in 2001. Rather than seeing a spike in drug use, Portugal saw a roughly 60% increase in the uptake of drug treatment services, a reduction in drug-related deaths and a reduction in HIV transmission among drug users.

SSDP hopes that the Global Day of Action will help to raise public awareness of the failing War on Drugs, and its associated social damages and structural racism. This year, we will be joining thousands of other activists across the world in promoting more tolerant attitudes towards drug users, with the aim of advancing the course of drug policy reform in the UK.

Although this year’s campaigning efforts have been forced online due to COVID-19, this has allowed us to deliver two accessible webinars, through which we hope to reach large audiences of students and non-students alike. Our first webinar will bring together speakers from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, the International Drug Policy Consortium and SSDP International to provide a drug policy advocacy training session exploring ways in which individuals and organisations can advocate and lobby health-driven drug policies in the UK, as well as on the international stage. This will be followed by an introduction to restorative justice, co-hosted by Amplify RJ and Decarceration Nation, which will aim to underline the harmful impacts of criminalisation upon drug users and the general population more widely, advocating for a restorative rather than a punitive approach toward drug use.

Punitive attitudes towards drug legislation are intrinsically linked to ongoing racial violence and social inequality.

With restorative justice a priority on activists’ agendas in light of the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests, now is the time to push for fairer drug policies. The bottom line is the War on Drugs is a war on people – whose side are you on?

#SupportDontPunish: Here’s how you can help our campaign.

  • Keep up to date with our campaign – by clicking ‘going’ or ‘interested’ on our Facebook event page.
  • Speak out on social media – Need a new Facebook profile picture? Why not search for our {Support. Don’t Punish} template to spread the word? You can also help out by tweeting about the campaign using the hashtag #SupportDontPunish, as well as posting images of yourself holding the {Support. Don’t Punish} logo with the hashtag #SupportDontPunish, along with a written expression of support for the campaign.
  • Attend a webinar – and share the event on social media.
  • Drug policy advocacy training: speakers including HARVEY SLADE from TRANSFORM DRUG POLICY FOUNDATION, ADRIA COTS FERNANDEZ from the INTERNATIONAL DRUG POLICY CONSORTIUM and ROISIN EIMEAR DOWNES from STUDENTS FOR SENSIBLE DRUG POLICY. Click here for the Facebook event page and register your interest here.
  • Introduction to restorative justice: an introductory interactive webinar on the philosophy, practices and values of restorative justice, including an exclusive interview with JOSHUA B. HOE, former inmate and host of DECARCERATION NATION podcast and a workshop led by DAVID RYAN from AMPLIFY RJ to elaborate on the theoretical foundations and practical applications of a restorative approach. Click here for the Facebook event page and register your interest here.

Follow the worldwide campaign at @SDPcampaign and 

For more information visit or Students for Sensible Drug Policy 

Image: Durham SSDP

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