On 26th June – the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking – the 'Support. Don't Punish' campaign hit new heights around the world as people in more than 100 cities, and on social media, made a stand for drug policy reform.
The campaign was launched in 2013 to raise awareness of the harms caused by the criminalisation of people who use drugs. It calls for an end to criminal sanctions for people who use drugs, and for greater investments in harm reduction and health-based approaches.
In June 2014, activists gathered in Australia, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Egypt, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Spain, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the USA, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. The actions included press conferences, graffiti and art displays, protests, processions, music events, workshops and seminars, flash mobs, dance displays, football matches, and even a boat show on the Nile! The one thing that tied them all together was the ‘Support. Don’t Punish’ message – that the heightened risks faced by people who use drugs can no longer be ignored.
At the same time, the campaign also made waves on social media around the world – as the numbers opposite show. People posted messages, pictures and links all week to help spread the word. Celebrities also got involved: in the UK, Russell Brand, Sir Richard Branson and Sting joined 90 signatories on a letter to the Prime Minister calling for reform; in Russia, members of the infamous punk band Pussy Riot joined for photos; and in Indonesia the rock band The Changcuters participated in activities. This helped the campaign to reach unprecedented levels of media coverage – with radio, television and newspaper features around the world (such as this special feature on BBC World).
As thousands took to the streets in a collective show of force, politicians and policy makers took notice. In London, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stated that ‘we are losing the war on drugs and I think we need to think afresh... dealing with people who are addicted to drugs as a health issue’ – contradicting the official government response that ‘we have no intention of decriminalising drugs… we are confident [the current] approach is the right one’. In Australia, the campaign earned a commendation in Parliament. In Zimbabwe, the Special Health Advisor to the President and Cabinet supported the campaign’s calls.
Time will tell what impact these actions have, but the momentum is continuing to build ahead of the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs in the summer of 2016. The Global Day of Action was an incredible show of people power, but we need to keep this pressure on and keep pushing for reform. If we do, we can change the public and political rhetoric around drugs.
For more information, photos, links and coverage – visit http://supportdontpunish.org/day-of-action-2014/. There are still ways to support and engage in the campaign too: you can submit photos to the Interactive Photo Project at any time, and you can sign up and follow the campaign on our website, Facebook page and on Twitter.