The lethal gun battles on the streets of Vancouver, the astounding number of murders in Mexico, and the insurgency that continues to grow in Afghanistan (which results in our soldiers being killed) all have one thing in common: the trafficking of illegal drugs.
The U.S.-style war on drugs that is being pursued by Canada’s Conservative government has proven to be an utter failure. It has not reduced crime, harm or even drug use. The only groups benefitting from the status quo are organized crime gangs, insurgent groups and terrorist organizations. Who pays a heavy price? Society, our soldiers, some of the world’s poorest countries, and the most vulnerable people in our communities.
So how do we deal with this? First, our government needs to change its perspective and see substance abuse as a medical problem, not a judicial one. In order to reduce the supply of illegal drugs flowing into our communities and, by extension, the funding of organized criminal groups and insurgents, we must get our own house in order and reduce the demand for these drugs.
Can we sever the ties between addicts and organized crime? Indeed we can. One superb initiative that does this is a little-known program in Vancouver called the North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI). This program allows addicts to receive prescribed narcotics under medical supervision. It frees these patients from the devastating feedback loop of drug dependence and criminal activity and brings them into the medical system. The addict no longer commits illegal activities (usually theft, prostitution or trafficking) to fund their addiction, which produces a significant reduction in crime. It also severs the ties between the individual and the organized crime gangs that are the primary vehicles for moving illegal drugs into Canada. By breaking this cycle, addicts are able to remain connected to the medical system, access training programs, psychological therapy and educational opportunities, gain employment, and rebuild their lives with their families.
Another initiative that is needed to modernize our drug laws is to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, including the possession of up to two plants. This will cut the connection between the gangs involved in commercial grow ops and casual pot users.
Bill C-359 was introduced this spring to accomplish these goals. Under this bill, a person who is caught with less than 30 grams of marijuana or less than two plants would receive a fine instead of going through the expensive court system and receiving a criminal record, or even incarceration if found guilty. The money saved could be invested in prevention programs like the Head Start/Early Learning Program for children or drug treatment programs like NAOMI.
Many studies, including those done by House of Commons committees have found that current federal drug policies have not been effective at reducing drug use, trafficking, crime, and harm. In 2002, the Senate Report on Illegal Drugs called for the decriminalization of the simple possession of marijuana. Respected organizations like the Canadian Medical Association have also echoed this position.
The medical profession has a principle: do no harm. We are actually doing terrible harm and will do so for as long as we continue to address substance abuse as a criminal issue. Decriminalizing the simple possession of marijuana would be a start at reducing harm, cost, and criminal activity in Canada. Several states in the U.S. have done this with positive results, as have many countries in Europe. Canada can and should do it too.