I started my journey at Cascade Creative Recovery, a community café run by people with substance misuse issues. Cascade provides a social network, safe space and creative courses to people in (or seeking) recovery from substance misuse issues to help them develop life skills, friendships and creative outlets. I remember on my first day being terrified of being an outsider in what I found to be a very close-knit community. My fears could not have been less realistic. I was welcomed with open arms by some of the most friendly, positive and grounded people I have ever met. My placement was for 30 hours of volunteering; 3 years later they still hadn’t gotten rid of me.
My time at Cascade was transformative. The unconscious stigma I had held about problematic drug users was chipped away with every person I met. These were not the ‘down and outs’ portrayed in the media; they were doctors, lawyers, musicians, academics, city workers, shop assistants. Most importantly they were someone’s mother, father, brother, sister or child. All they had in common was that some life event or underlying condition had led them down the path of addiction. They did not deserve the trauma they had had to suffer through, and I came to realise that the majority of their problems were not their fault; they had been failed by the systems that were supposed to protect them and then persecuted for falling through the net.
“I have organised and taken part in fundraising walks, met my MP and joined our network of drug policy activists.”
I began to obsess about reading articles and watching documentaries about drugs and drug policy; slowly collecting knowledge on the harms of prohibition; how it disproportionately impacts already marginalised communities, how stigma prevents people seeking help for their substance misuse issues and how gifting the drugs market to criminals has resulted in a highly contaminated drug supply, undermined international development and funded organised crime. I became convinced that the only way to protect society from the harms of drugs was to legally regulate them so that the market is taken away from criminals and instead put in the hands of doctors, pharmacists and licensed vendors.