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The personal use of illegal drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine, should be decriminalized as part of a federal-provincial strategy to tackle drug abuse, a B.C.-based national coalition of drug policy experts argue.

In a report to be released Thursday, the coalition denounces the Harper government’s aggressive war on drugs, which puts the emphasis on law enforcement while steering money away from harm-reduction initiatives like Vancouver’s supervised injection site.

“While countries all around the world are adopting forward-thinking, evidence-based drug policies, Canada is taking a step backwards and strengthening punitive policies that have been proven to fail,” states a summary of the 112-page report from the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, which is based at Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction.

The “stunning display of unimaginative thinking” has failed to decrease the flow of drugs into Canada while hampering efforts to deal with drug-related health problems.

“Despite Canada’s significant investment in drug control efforts, drugs are cheaper and more available than ever,” the report notes.

Among the recommendations is a call to legalize, regulate and tax the sale of marijuana to adults, taking advantage of an underground business that generates an estimated $357 million in annual sales in B.C. alone, according to the authors.

By far the most controversial recommendation calls for the end to prohibition of not only “soft” drugs like marijuana, but products like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines.

The report notes that at least 25 jurisdictions in the world have moved to decriminalize at least some drugs, with Portugal (in 2001) and the Czech Republic (in 2010) ending criminal bans for all drugs.

“After decriminalization and similar to Portugal, drug use (among Czechs) has not increased significantly but the social harms of drug use have declined,” the report stated.

“In Portugal, decriminalization has had the effect of decreasing the numbers of people injecting drugs, decreasing the number of people using drugs problematically, and decreasing trends of drug use among 15 to 24 year olds.”

The coalition lists as its “partners” more than 70 organizations, including the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society, the Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, and the Canadian Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.

Its report is harshly critical of the federal government’s anti-drug and tough-on-crime policies introduced since Stephen Harper became prime minister in 2006, including minimum mandatory sentences for certain drug offences.

Among the targets is the five-year National Anti-Drug Strategy, which was renewed for another five years in 2012 at a cost of $528 million. The program devotes most of its money (roughly 70 per cent) to law enforcement, according to the report.

It also goes after the Canadian Forces’ substantial investment in counter-narcotics missions in the Caribbean Sea and the eastern Pacific, involving warships and aircraft operating with U.S. forces.

It complains about the lack of support of, and in the case of the Vancouver supervised injection site aggressive opposition to, “harm-reduction” programs like needle exchanges that “save lives and protect everyone’s health,” according to the Newfoundland AIDS Committee.

The Harper government has never flinched from its strong support for get-tough measures against drug offences, often sneering at academic studies suggesting that its measures, while popular among many Conservative party supporters, had debatable or even counterproductive results.

In 2007, for instance, then-health minister Tony Clement declared that the “party’s over” while speaking of his party’s contempt for the former Liberal government’s approach to illicit drug use.

The coalition report cites 2011 Health Canada statistics indicating that B.C. has the highest percentage of people who have used marijuana at least once in their lives, with the B.C. rate of 44.3 per cent well above the national average of 39.4 per cent.

Health Canada said 12.1 per cent of British Columbians said they smoked pot over the past year, second to Nova Scotia’s 12.4 per cent and well above the national average of 9.1 per cent.

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Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2013 The Vancouver Sun
Author: Peter O’Neil

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