Honouring Donald MacPherson – A Force for Change in National Drug Policy

Dear CDPC supporters,

CDPC’s Executive Director, Donald MacPherson, is retiring. On behalf of the CDPC Steering Committee, I want to recognize his incredible contributions to drug policy and the CDPC, and thank him for his unwavering mission to make drug policy humane, equitable, realistic and just.

Before bringing his passion and insight to the creation of CDPC, Donald worked with the City of Vancouver as the Director of the Carnegie Centre, and then as the city’s Drug Policy Coordinator.  In that latter role, he published Vancouver’s ground-breaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy in 2000. This framework reflected the then-still-controversial notion that health care for people who use drugs must be understood broadly, beyond just abstinence from drug use, positioning harm reduction as a necessary element of any sensible, effective strategy.

Donald co-founded the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition in 2011 to bring people together from across the country in a coordinated, ongoing effort to challenge and reform drug policy as a matter of not only local but national concern. As the drug poisoning crisis exploded, Donald positioned CDPC as a leader in advocacy. For years, he has convened people who use substances, politicians, health and legal experts, and other stakeholders to focus upon specific issues such as supervised consumption spaces and safe supply, decriminalization/legalization/regulation and many other critical interventions. Through changing governments at municipal, provincial and national levels, Donald has created strategies to work well with those who consider drug policy reform a valid pursuit, as well as those who are opposed because of fear, misunderstanding or ideology.

Donald has been deeply committed to the meaningful and active involvement of people who use substances and has heightened the voices of people affected the most by unjust drug policies. Similarly, he has sought to ensure that CDPC’s work confronts the truths of the racism embedded in punitive drug policies and contributes to ongoing efforts at reconciliation with the First Peoples of Canada. 

In addition to his many accomplishments in community, Donald is also co-author of Raise Shit! Social action saving lives (2009) and More Harm than Good: Drug policy in Canada (2016), regularly contributes to various reports and scholarly papers, and has shared his knowledge and experience around the world, including as vice-chair of the Board of the International Drug Policy Consortium, a civil society organization working to improve policy responses to drugs globally. 

Donald served on Health Canada’s Expert Task Force on Substance Use, which issued unambiguous recommendations to end criminalization of simple possession and other measures to support and protect people who use drugs and communities – measures we’re finally seeing some progress on. He is an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, and has also been awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Adler University in Chicago/Vancouver, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy at Simon Fraser University for his contribution to social justice in the field of drug policy.

Donald has been a mentor, teacher and example of commitment to many people from all walks of life. He has affected people’s views and persuaded the unpersuadable.  He has been a giant on the national and international stage. But he has also been humble, kind, quiet, patient, respectful, approachable, and creative. He will speak of drug policy as effectively in a city of several million as in a small remote community. He is diplomatic when needed and forthright when necessary.  

Donald has been a force for change in this country, advancing equity, justice and human rights. In recent months, as word that Donald would transition into a well-deserved retirement, one of the phrases I have heard most often is “How can we fill Donald’s shoes?”. It will be difficult. But Donald will leave us with an army of informed, committed, energetic people who understand the issues of drugs and drug policy, and who are enthusiastic to push forward with advocacy to make the world better. 

Thank you, Donald! You will be missed greatly! Have a very happy retirement!

Marliss Taylor

Chair, CDPC Steering Committee

About Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

Advocating for public health- and human rights-based drug policy grounded in evidence, compassion, and social justice