Interview with Linas Tamošaitis & Young Wave / EHRA

This year “Young Wave” has focused small grant activities on the development of the social campaign. Why have you chosen such kind of activity?  Could you please tell us what your campaign is about?

Even though it was a small grant, for us it was a big project! In Lithuania, we knew that the Parliament is due to discuss drug decriminalization amendments this year. As the only NGO in the country focused on drug harm reduction for young people, we decided that it is our responsibility to start raising awareness and understanding on how drug criminalization disproportionately affects young peoples’ lives. Over the past 3 years, alarming indicators have shown that drug policy in Lithuania is focused only on criminalization of people who use drugs and those, who possess small amounts of drugs without intent to distribute. For example, possession of drugs in small quantities without intent to distribute accounted for 77% of all drug related crimes committed in 2019. 63 % of offenders were under the age of 29. Each year, about 750 people are serving sentences in prisons, which cost Lithuania around 10,5 million Euro per year. These are just a few indicators, that prompted us to create a social campaign on the harms of drug criminalization. The campaign is called “Give a helping hand, not handcuffs” (in Lithuanian – “Ištiesk ranką, ne antrankius”).

Why this campaign was developed, what were the expectations, main expected results/changes?

This campaign was developed in recognition of the fact that the political process to achieve drug decriminalization would be very contested, and our opposition would mobilize in the media and social networks. We realized that we also need to strengthen our message so that politicians feel that young people and society at large are concerned about the harms of drug criminalization. If we don’t take action, who will? The expectation was that our campaign would get featured publicly  in the media, social networks, and at least will offer a counterpoint to the narratives of the political right wing in our country. Obviously, the main expected change would be for the drug decriminalization law to pass the vote in the Parliament, but we still have some time before the vote. If it doesn’t pass, at least we would have mobilized the community and got it ready for the next response. During the campaign we have found new allies and new stakeholders for us to grow and be more impactful in the future.