Activism as Means to Decrease the Stigma of Drugs – Obstacles and Hope for the Future

Civil activism means fighting for changes, for gaining certain rights or simply introducing the broader public with a certain problem or a state that needs to be corrected. Drug activism carries certain difficulties and challenges distinctive for this issue.

Civil activism in any social field requires a lot of effort, devoting most of one’s free time, obligations, as well as complete dedication towards achieving the desired goals. Any form of civil activism means fighting for changes, for gaining certain rights or simply introducing the broader public with a certain problem or a state that needs to be corrected. Drugs activism carries burden and certain obstacles anyone resolved to take this road should be prepared to face and accept at the very beginning. Unfortunately, we live in a society where drugs remain a taboo topic and where people foster certain loathing and prejudices towards anyone dealing with this issue, disregarding the reasons why an activist would choose this problematic and whether he/she is personally concerned with it.  

Despite my efforts to remain active in different fields and to always react when I perceive social injustice or discrimination on any grounds, my experience and personal beliefs directed my focus towards the drugs issue, i.e. towards what I truly believe in, decriminalization and de-stigmatization of drugs in society. Although I personally believe all drugs should be decriminalized and drug use needs to be considered through the health, rather than the legislative-punitive aspect, the main focus of my activism is cannabis. I am greatly dedicated to cannabis, partly because of my personal experience that began in the 1990s, as well as the unjust position cannabis has in comparison to other drugs (although I do not consider it as a drug) and to legal substances which are of no benefit, cigarettes and alcohol.      

The main challenge an activist faces is the family, surrounding, colleagues and friends finding about the activities he/she deals with and the goals he/she pursues. At this point the activist becomes confronted with the first major problems due to misconceptions and stigma surrounding the issue. However, I have to admit that in my case I was supported by my family, as well as my friends and my immediate environment.

Another serious factor regarding drugs activism is of course their illegitimacy. The fight for decriminalization often places activists in the police radar, and, even though they don’t break any laws, they find themselves under constant pressure and experience fear in their engagement. Therefore, those personally concerned with this issue often face the dilemma of speaking publicly and engaging all their efforts towards the issue they want to change, or, in most cases, be less publically exposed, mostly through the social media or, as I call it, activism via the keyboard.

Since November last year, the issue of cannabis for medical purposes became and still is a hot potato in our country, prompting several public tribunes, TV debates and lectures. For the first time I was confronted with the true meaning of being a drugs activist and how the experts and medical professionals feel about this type of activism. Namely, the other activists and I encountered constant lack of attention during the turbines and lectures, as well as mockery from representatives of institutions who considered out personal experiences and knowledge as trifle and irrelevant. Often, the auditorium, mostly doctors and pharmacists shouted offenses such as “look at the junkie” and other derogatory offenses directed at us. As much as one would try to remain indifferent to such provocations, facing such humiliating behaviour hurts, particularly because this is an issue all of us concerned believe in. In addition, most of us are ill or have a close family member or a friend that suffers from an illness and is successfully using cannabis as a medicine.        

During the last several months we also witnessed persecution of activists advocating for medical cannabis in the neighbouring countries. The chief activists in Slovenia, as well as some in neighbouring Serbia were arrested. Terrifying, considering all of us have a family or children for which we provide. Such circumstances would make any drugs activist reluctant and force them to reconsider their engagement – quitting what they strongly believe in or continuing with all their being. Fortunately, at present, state institutions have understanding, and although the pressure is high, most of us continue with the activities. On the other hand, typically for our country, such activities might bring you the epithet of an opportunist protecting someone else’s interests and have all your earnest efforts criticized as being commissioned.

Activists from this country can be proud of the work the civil society organization “Green Alternative” engages in, along with its founder Filip Dostovski. In the last two years the association managed to achieve what most of us deemed as impossible and delusional. The successful seminars and public appearances on de-stigmatization of cannabis and its use gave us the courage to continue with activism. The association is also responsible for opening the discussion on cannabis for medical purposes in Macedonia, a topic inconceivable of being discussed publically from fear of the consequences. The public’s perception gradually shifted with every public appearance, the knowledge on its healing powers grew, as well as the number of people who, unfortunately were forced to seek illegal treatment, but still achieved great results. Now, several years after the association was founded, public surveys show that the number of citizens who support medical use of cannabis has risen to over 60%, a fact unimaginable in the past. This inspired me to join “Green Alternative” and contribute towards the common goals.    

We also must acknowledge and recognize Dostovski’s ability to bring, alone and without outside support, eminent experts, scientists and doctors to speak on medical cannabis at the three seminars organized by the association, and opened for everyone, which attracted a lot of interest. The speakers at the seminars were renowned scientists and doctors, such as Lumír Ondřej Hanuš, Ph.D., Paul Hornby, Ph.d., Robert J. Melamede, Ph.D., José Carlos Bouso, Ph.D. and others. Some of them are involved in the training of the Macedonian doctors on medically used cannabis. The third seminar was held on 28th and 29th May, 2016. Apart from the latest news on the healing powers of cannabis and recent study results, as well as the false information continuously spread among the public by prohibitionists, we also heard about the economic potential of cannabis in Macedonia and the legislative aspect, i.e. generally UN conventions and their significance.   

Finally, I would like to invite all those suffering or working in this field to take courage and publically speak about this painful issue throughout the world. I wish more people, experts and ordinary citizens would participate and contribute towards what they truly believe in because only active work can change people’s perception in this region. I also invite the media to join in the discussion with TV shows and news programs, documentaries and public debates for an exchange of different opinions and views on this prevailing issue that needs to be addressed. Let us not wait for the UN and their conventions, but rather make an effort to achieve positive changes in our society regarding drug policies. Don’t allow the pointless devastation of entire families and lives of people who are far from criminals. These are people in need of health and social care to lead the normal life they desire and not be incarcerated and discriminated against due to obsolete and inefficient policies. Activism is a constant struggle and it takes time to perceive and enjoy its fruits.

Davor Angelovski

Civil activist