A fight for basic human rights
All participants without exception regard the fight for the respect, protection and fulfilment of the inalienable human rights of people who use drugs as a defining, fundamental feature of the drug user rights movement (hereafter referred to as ‘the movement’). The movement has promoted self-determination, the notion that “people who use drugs are people” (Angela), and the “upholding [of] human dignity” (Anand). Fundamentally, it is a “peace generating kind of movement” (Brun), born out of necessity, “passion” (Charles) and fighting for social justice for people who use drugs, at times when the scale of human rights violations in many countries has been staggering. Indeed, many participants became involved in movement after they or those close to them had experienced “life-threatening events” (Andria). The movement is about the rights to self-determination over one’s own body, decision-making and consciousness. Furthermore, although participants phrased this more implicitly, the movement has also been concerned with achieving broader economic, social and cultural rights for people who use drugs, such as the right to access appropriate, non-judgemental and non-coercive health services, and safe housing.
The movement is not only about people who use drugs having access to the resources that society can offer, but also society having access to the resources that people who use drugs can offer; indeed, many participants highlighted the positive contribution they have made to their communities and societies, and want people who use drugs to be welcomed as “resources” (Arild) for society rather than “scapegoated” (Jude) for societal problems. The movement is about being at the heart of decision-making, and “meaningful involvement” (Simon) when policies are being made and implemented, in the spirit of ‘Nothing about us, without us.’
A movement fighting criminalisation and prohibition
Participants were unanimous that empowerment of people who use drugs and full respect for their rights can only be achieved by “dismantling prohibition” of drug use and drug possession (Jude). Criminalisation, and the repressive, oppressive laws and policies through which it is enacted, have been and continue to be at the root of all other harms and violations people who use drugs experience. Criminalisation of people who use drugs has been an impediment to engaging with public and community-services and has also created obstacles to finding employment and other opportunities which may help to “resolve” (Shaun) potentially more problematic aspects of drug use. Several participants discussed criminalisation as a “tool of racism” (Andria) and an “imperialist, colonialist” policy (Zoe), the direct consequences of which - police brutality, violence, extortion and arbitrary arrests – have disproportionately affected Black, Brown, indigenous and poorer people who use drugs due to “apartheid-style policing” (Shaun).
Fundamentally, criminalisation is not “science-based” (Hollis), “makes no sense” (Jude), and the associated so-called War on Drugs was seen as “the single most catastrophic global public policy fiasco disaster” (Geoff), “a political construct” which has cost countless lives. Participants spoke of ulterior motives driving the War on Drugs, for example as a “proxy” (Shaun) for repressive governments to achieve their political goals and retain a strong grip on power, or as economic fuel for a “1.5 trillion dollar… mass incarceration” industry in the US (Robert).