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Drug control belongs in the domain of public health, not criminal justice

By Hempology | August 30, 2007

Smithers Interior News, BC
29 Aug 2007


North’s Public Health Director Calls For Reform To Drug Laws, RCMP Remain Opposed

The head of public health for the North wants to see radical reform in how Canada deals with psychoactive drugs.

Dr.  David Bowering told The Interior News last week that legalization of marijuana needs to be the subject of much more open and frank public discussion.

Bowering is a member of the Health Officers Council of British Columbia ( HOC ) that, in October 2005, released a position paper calling for a public health approach to drug control.

At the heart of the matter, Bowering said, is harm reduction. 

The 38-page document cites more than 100 studies and articles supporting the idea the drug control belongs in the domain of public health, not the criminal justice system.

“The federal government needs to take a leadership role at the national and international levels in actively initiating reform of current psychoactive drug laws, including a review and revision of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, to create regulatory frameworks for drugs that will allow governments at all levels to better address the harms associated with the production, trade, distribution, and use of these substances,” the report states.

The HOC is not alone.  In 2002, a committee of the Canadian Senate released a 600-page report, one of the conclusions of which was that prohibition does not work and should be replaced with a regulatory regime like those for tobacco and alcohol.

The argument is even finding its way into the local courts.

Two weeks ago in defending Ernest Pete – a street-level pot dealer caught up in a regional drug sting in September 2006 – defence attorney Ian Lawson asked for leniency based on growing acceptance of pot use among Canadians.  Judge William Jack, however, was not convinced sentencing Pete to four months.

Despite the high profile proponents of reform, opposition to any kind of softening of drug laws remains powerful, particularly among law enforcement agencies.

Acting commander of the Smithers detachment Ray Haugen refused to comment saying it is a matter of national policy.

Sylvie Tremblay, an Ottawa spokesperson for the Mounties, explained the policy.

“The RCMP does not support decriminalization of marijuana and this is also the position of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police,” she said.

“Our overriding goal is to ensure safe homes and safe communities for Canadians and we believe that marijuana use and the criminality that surrounds it harms individuals and communities.”

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