Written by Greta from Young Wave

A wealth of data has evidenced how young people who use drugs are vulnerable to systematic oppression, police brutality, discrimination, and various rights violations. Consequently, youth rights advocates and harm reduction workers are in an ever-expanding search for the fastest and most efficient method to change that situation. 

Young people’s vulnerability in prohibitionist contexts

Fighting discriminatory systems is not an easy task, but alternative strategies, such as education, have proven to be approachable, feasible, and effective methods to promote the needed systemic changes. For instance, psychoactive substance education is already being done in many countries, with positive results stemming from these initiatives. However, an often overlooked aspect is educational programs are the legal issues that young people deal with. This needs to change. Raising legal awareness can reduce fear and uncertainty among the youth and help them avoid or deal with unpleasant encounters with law enforcement. 

To find out whether legal awareness is being raised successfully in one’s country, one could try doing this simple experiment. Talk to a young person who uses drugs. Ask them a rather specific question related to the laws surrounding psychoactive substance use. Chances are that the questioned young person will not know the answer. It is baffling how we can be so unaware of the laws that rule our own country and how our education system has managed to mostly overlook this issue. 

Like many European countries, Lithuania is currently dealing with an inadequate legal system ruled by criminalization and outdated methods to respond to drug use. In the face of this context, the Lithuanian harm reduction organization Young Wave created a project called Legal Awareness Flyers. 

Know your rights! The Legal Awareness project by Young Wave

Legal Awareness flyers, developed and distributed by Young Wave. It contained valuable information to equip young people with the knowledge about their rights,

The legal awareness project: what do young people need to know about their rights?

The idea was simple: first, a questionnaire was developed. The followers of the organization’s social media were asked to share a question they have always wanted to ask a law professional. After receiving numerous answers, the members of Young Wave picked out the most relevant and most often repeated questions, such as: 

  • Under which circumstances can the police enter and conduct a search of your home? 
  • How do you act if the police find psychoactive substances in your possession? 
  • How long does your criminal record stay in the system? Can the record have an impact on your career? 
  • How do you find out which substances are illegal in Lithuania? 
  • Does the ambulance report you to the police if they find out that you have used substances? etc.

To answer these questions, the project’s initiators consulted a few law professionals. And then, magic: the answers are now available in a short and attractive format created by the team’s graphic designer. The flyers were also sent to other organizations that focus on helping youth communities dealing with social, psychological, and economic struggles. 

Young Wave also kept some flyers for themselves to hand them out at raves and festivals. Such a division of flyers between Young Wave and other organizations was intentional: this way, more young people could be reached.

Know your rights! The Legal Awareness project by Young Wave

Young Wave running a consultation with young people to understand needs and demands for harm reduction services.

The impact of the project

While it is difficult to measure exactly how successful the project was, it is much easier to prove why it couldn’t have been unsuccessful. Here are three reasons:

  1. The project is fundamentally simple and requires little effort if the key aspects of the working plan are done correctly. One of the most important aspects is finding the right professional for the consultation (one that specializes in punitive law) and asking the right questions. Another key aspect is reaching as many people as possible, and that depends on the social media reach, popularity, and networking capabilities of the organization, as well as on the recipients’ willingness to share this information with their friends. 
  2. The project did raise awareness amongst youth, as they were the ones asking these questions, and now they can become educators themselves! The more people see this information and share it with their friends, the safer their legal future will be, and they will be less susceptible to incidents such as rights violations. This will definitely reduce (at least to some degree) the risk of having a traumatic experience or having one’s future ruined by disproportionate punishments. 
  3. During the project, the competence of the harm reduction workers themselves was raised. Before the project, the members of Young Wave involved in the progress were not capable of answering some of the most important legal questions in detail, as knowing some of the information requires having a degree or at least extensive training in punitive law. The information will certainly help harm reduction workers become better peer-to-peer consultants. 

Know your rights! The Legal Awareness project by Young Wave

Young Wave participated in the “Let’s move YOUth work” Erasmus+ project which took place in Armenia and brought together youth workers from 8 different countries.

Expanding legal awareness among young people

Having presented the idea, its simplicity, extreme importance, and the likelihood of success, Young Wave invites harm reduction organizations globally to hop on the legal awareness train! This type of information should be available to everyone everywhere. As once said by Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”