Drugs & Consensus

Drugs & Consensus

One of the reasons, why I’m so interested in Intentional Communities, is that I want to get to know different methods of finding a consensus. Currently I’m in a 1 year old, small community in Costa Rica and we are debating rules for substance use.



After 3 days of preparation at our neighbors, which included cooking at least 200 tamales as party gifts, a pig slaughter (the first I’ve ever seen) and building extra furniture for the guests, the day finally arrived. Everyone at the community was looking forward to the big party and had some pre-drinks at the communal kitchen. We headed over to our neighbors, danced for 7 hours to pretty much every music genre with the farmers and ended back in our kitchen, where one of the locals catched the famous red-eyed frog and placed it on our kitchen table with the words ‘It’s only poisonous for your face and eyes…’.

Anyways, it was definitely a Christmas to remember. The next morning, the founder of the community, Allison expressed during our daily morning meeting (this one was a little later than usual 8 am), that she wants to redefine the lines of substance use in this community. Everyone in the circle took turns to start mapping out their feelings about it. The structure, that was followed were ‘circling’ rules, which are, to my understanding, that you actively listen to the speaker without interrupting and speak if you feel like it. This meeting took around 2 hours.

That is pretty much what I don’t want, to feel tired or loose focus in meetings, that go to long. I expressed, that I have some ideas on how to change it up, a mixture of circling and methods I learned in Agile Software Development. The cool thing, is that the people were instantly up for me moderating the next meeting. The downside: I don’t know exactly, what options there are.

Plan for the Meeting

So without futher a due, here is my ideas for the next circle/meeting about coming to a detailed decision on substance use.

To moderate there are two positions to be filled:

  • The facilitator, responsible for moving through agenda, which is going to be and the point of view, this is written in.
  • The ‘vibe-watch’: monitoring the emotional climate (body language & non-violent communication)


Consensus process flow chart
Consensus flow chart, credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Consensus-flowchart.png


  • act as objective as possible
  • watch that everyone speaks once before someone speaks twice
  • Explain handsignals communication, to get better input

Create a proposal

As we already had the discussion, just not in a moderated way like this, Allison and I talked twice to figure out, what she would think is ideal like for this space. As she is the current only long-term resident, the process and the vote is more a consulting one, than a deciding one. During the discussion it also became evident, that the current members agree on the basis.

Substance use In the Community

This is a substance-free community, trying to respect personal freedom outside of the premises. Any individual, who joins the community should not be exposed to substances in the space during their stay here.
  • The substances incl. Tobacco, Alcohol, Marijuana and hard drugs
  • If a new member has a special relationship to Coffee or sugar this will be revisted and the question will be included in the orientation.
  • Substances are not welcome on the area, an exception is made if they stay non-visibly in personal belongings.
Coming back to the community

  • No coming back intoxicated, members hold each accountable and notice signs of progressive intoxication and help in the worst case to find sleeping alternatives
  • How to communicate planned mild intoxication at a bar? (open to discussion)
  • How to come back, is use of the communal spaces accepted? (open to discussion)
Outside of the community

  • Ideal: Spreading out, that interactions don’t need to be tied to Alcohol or substance consumption
  • Communicate to join Allison in being sober
  • Do a check- in during the morning circle about going and substance consumption for Martinez (the local bar, only open fridays) or anz other event, the entire community joins

Test for consensus (vote)

Probably everyone knows the quickest voting method: Voice vote, those in favor say yes, those opposing say no. The problem with these majority votes is, that the ‘loosing’ minority will not support the plan and might work against it.

To counter this, there are three different voting methods, I’ve liked so far:

Mood image

  • By lifting or lowering both hands in front of your body, you show how much you agree with what was said.


  • Quick check, if there is a strong divide or few objectors, by change in pitch.

5 step consensus

  • There are different levels of agreement, ranging from fully agree(show thumb) to Veto(show all fingers). For a more in-depth introduction, head over one of my post and find the heading Consensus’.


And now the final, final plan for the circle:

I love starting with an active ice breaker to get the body and mind moving, and we have one member that is great at Zumba, so she will hopefully lead a song. I’m not worried about sweat, as we sweat all the time in the 30°C rain forest. I’ll explain the hand signals and the consulting role of the current, temporary members of the community. For each bullet point we will either do humming or a mood image. After each heading, I plan to vote using the 5 step consensus. However with in the first heading, there are two points, that are marked with ‘discussion’ and I plan to use the above mentioned discussion techniques to get input. My plan is two only do one round of opinion, if there are no hand signals indicate further need to talk. It will finish with

Thank you for reading, if you have a favorite ice breaker or voting method, please let me in on your knowledge and leave a comment. Or watch the video from the community that all this happened at below!


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