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Canada’s ‘drug strategy’ missing in action

By Hempology | September 24, 2002

From the Province, September 20, 2002

by Jim McNulty

Health Minister Anne
McLellan wants us to
believe the federal
government has a
sound drug strategy.

She wants us to believe
that Ottawa sees “both
law enforcement and
health as being equal in
terms of importance” if
Canada is to get a
handle on illegal drugs
and addiction.

Unfortunately for Ms. McLellan the facts don’t back her claims,
as we learned from the Senate report on marijuana and a drug
symposium in Vancouver this week.

The Senate report notes that “only from 1987 to 1993″ did the
country have a “fully-funded national drug strategy.”

“Canada urgently needs a comprehensive and co-ordinated
national drug strategy” with “sound leadership” from Ottawa,
the report urged. And it should cover all psychoactive drugs,
including alcohol and tobacco.

The same message was heard at the AIDS Vancouver

“We don’t have a drug strategy,” said Evan Wood, a
researcher with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

“Are we better off than we were 10 years ago?” wondered
David Brittian, who penned an auditor-general’s report very
critical of Ottawa’s lack of information. “We don’t know . . .
What is Canada’s drug strategy?”

It is a strategy that pumps far more money into enforcement
than health initiatives, despite McLellan’s claim of balance.

The Senate report notes that some 90 per cent of all federal
expenditures on the drug issue go toward supply reduction, a
slick term for law-and-order.

The Centre for Excellence told the symposium that law
enforcement snorts back 82 per cent of the money spent in
B.C. on the “drug problem.”

So addiction, which is a health issue, continues to get token
amounts of health treatment while the miserably failed police
“war on drugs” racks up huge bills.

The lunacy of this approach was brought home by New
Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who brought his pitch for legal
marijuana and harm-reduction strategies to the symposium.

“The war on drugs is an absolute, miserable failure,” he said,
reaching a “level of insanity.”

“Drug prohibition is what’s tearing us apart, not the actual use
of drugs. Everything is made worse because of prohibition.”

Johnson noted America spends $50 billion US per year on the
war on drugs — “and with all these massive expenditures,
illegal drugs are now cheaper, more available and more potent
than they were 20 years ago.”

Almost half a million Americans die yearly from tobacco,
110,000 from alcohol, 100,000 from prescription drugs, “and of
course marijuana doesn’t even make the list.”

“In the U.S. . . . we’re letting violent felons out of jail to make
room for non-violent drug-addicted individuals,” Johnson said.
“We need to move away from a criminal model to a medical

Johnson isn’t exactly coming from left field here. Patrick
Basham of Washington, D.C.’s renowned Cato Institute, told
the symposium “the drug war is an expensive,
counterproductive Big Government program that should be
ended immediately.”

Why? Because “all the arrests and all the incarcerations
haven’t stopped either the use or the abuse of drugs, or the
drug trade, or the crime” associated with the drug black

“Most drug-related crime is, in fact, prohibition-related crime,”
says Basham, a view shared by Mo Mowlam, the former
British cabinet minister in charge of that country’s drug policy.
She says legalization is the only way to stop drug crime.

How sad that the drug war brigade still uses screwball logic
from the 1908-1960 “period of hysteria” the Senate report
refers to. When drug legislation “was largely based on moral
panic, racist sentiment and a notorious absence of debate.”

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