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Tories Get Tougher On Drugs

By Hempology | May 24, 2007

Saskatoon Star Phoenix
May 24/07

OTTAWA — The Harper government’s new anti-drug strategy is expected to take a tough approach to illicit drugs, including cracking down on grow-ops and pushers and retreating from “harm reduction” measures such as safe injection sites for addicts. The new strategy, slated to be announced next week, is also understood to include more money for treatment and a national drug-use prevention campaign.

The federal budget last March offered a glimpse of the strategy by allocating an additional $64 million over two years for enforcement, treatment and prevention. But the budget figures did not mention harm-reduction measures, which aim to limit the spread of infectious diseases through substance abuse.

“They haven’t explicitly said they are getting rid of harm reduction, but the budget numbers speak for themselves,” said Leon Mar, spokesperson for the Canadian HIV-AIDS Legal Network. “There is no money for harm reduction, which is quite ominous for what will be.”

Joanne Csete, the network’s executive director, recently wrote in a letter to parliamentarians that the Conservatives are contemplating “a U.S.-style war on drugs, an approach that has proven time and time again to be counter-productive and a tragic waste of public funds.”

Of the new money allocated in the federal budget, $22 million would go to law enforcement efforts to crack down on marijuana grow operations and to catch and convict drug dealers. Drug treatment programs would get a boost of $32 million, including money for research aimed at treating methamphetamine addicts.

And another $10 million would be spent on a prevention campaign for young people and their parents. Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Police Association, said a national “say-no-to-drugs” campaign would counter a perception among young people that marijuana is legal, in light of a failed Liberal bid to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug.

The new Conservative strategy is also expected to endorse drug-treatment courts, which already exist in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. Instead of criminal sanctions, drug addicts can be ordered into treatment programs.

Canada is currently operating under a 20-year-old national drug strategy that has been criticized for a lack of direction, targets and measurable results. The government spends $385 million a year under the strategy, most of it on law enforcement measures such as police investigations, prosecutions and border controls.

A large share of the spending also goes to treatment, prevention and harm-reduction measures such as needle-exchange programs, in which addicts trade dirty needles for sterile ones, and a supervised injection site in Vancouver, where addicts can legally inject themselves with the help of medical professionals.

The Conservatives have been skeptical about the supervised injection site, saying the government shouldn’t be in the business of facilitating drug abuse. The site opened on a trial basis four years ago. Last September, Health Minister Tony Clement ignored this department’s advice to renew the site’s licence for another 31/2 years, electing instead to give it only a one-year reprieve.

The drug strategy is expected to be accompanied sometime soon by proposed legislation to impose minimum mandatory prison terms for serious drug crimes, a Conservative election promise that has been delayed for more than a year.

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