Some Canadian Health Experts Have Noticed The Drug War and "Tough on Crime" Things Not Working So Well


Portugal gets it; the president of Guatemala gets it; Now some Canadians are noticing that the whole be-like-the-U.S. and declare war on plants and people is not the best policy idea. 

The chief medical officers of three Canadians provinces, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan have written a new paper for Open Medicine called "Improving community health and safety in Canada through evidence-based policies on illegal drugs." Its conclusions are a cautious version of the above; law and order harshness does nothing to sate appetites for drugs, marijuana in particular is not terribly bad for people, and U.S. policies are just awful so why emulate them?

According to CBC News:

Looking at illegal drugs solely based on a criminal justice approach has failed, said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical health officer, a co-author of the paper.

"For the last decade, Portugal has decriminalized all drug use and they have some of the lowest rates of drug use in Europe and they have some of the least amounts of harm from drug use," Strang said.

In contrast, drug use hasn't decreased since the $1-trillion US "war on drugs" in North America was declared and aggressive drug law enforcement began.

The paper includes such excellently restrained passages as this:

Given its well-funded drug surveillance systems, the United States has generated excellent data for assessing the impact of drug law enforcement. Remarkably, despite an estimated US$1 trillion spent since former US president Richard Nixon first declared his country's "war on drugs," the effort to reduce drug supply and drive up drug prices through aggressive drug law enforcement appears to have been ineffective….

Opponents of drug policy reform commonly argue that drug use would increase if health-based models were emphasized over drug law enforcement,14 but we are unaware of any research to support this position. In fact, a recent World Health Organization study demonstrated that international rates of drug use were unrelated to how vigorously drug laws were enforced, concluding that "countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones."

This comes at a time when Canada's government is budgeting and unfortunately for anti-drug war fans, Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson is determined that U.S.-style mandatory minimums for drug charges are a great idea, even as the U.S. turns away from them at an admittedly excruciatingly slow pace. 

Or, as the paper's authors put it:

Canadian society would greatly benefit from a reorienting of its drug policies on addiction—that is, with consideration of addiction as a health issue, rather than primarily a criminal justice issue. In this context, evidence-based community diversion programs for non-violent drug offenders could be expanded and evaluated to replace more costly and less effective incarceration efforts….

In this context, several Canadian bodies, including the Canadian Public Health Association40 and the Health Officers Council of British Columbia,41 have recently endorsed the evaluation of a regulated market for all currently illegal drugs. Although a full description of regulatory models is outside the scope of this paper, it is important to stress that regulatory tools would need to be closely evaluated and should be tailored to each specific substance. Examples of regulatory tools that have been described for cannabis are presented in Table 1.36

Advocating for drug policy reform has traditionally been politically unpopular, but a recent Angus Reid poll estimated that 50% of Canadians already support legalization of cannabis.

It's worth noting that Canada has a reputation for being looser about marijuana than the United States (and is certainly not known for quite the same level of draconian punishments doled out to users and sellers) but the level of support for legalization is almost exactly the same in both countries.

Here's hoping our friends to the North ignore the U.S.'s awful, inhumane example and skip over the 40 years of misery part and get right to the tentative talk of legalization. Maybe they'll get there faster than us.

Hat tip to commenter rts

Reason on drug policy

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  1. Britain Deserves Better

  2. Are health experts in the United States clamoring for a continuation of our current drug policy?

    1. Is Kerlikowske a health expert?

  3. My first hat tip, and from Lucy no less.

    Anyways, the current Prime Minister is a social conservative pushing through a touch-on-crime omnibus bill (including tough-on-drugs crap), so don’t expect any improvements on this front any time soon up here, eh?

    (On the other hand, the budget is reported to have $4 billion in cuts, so at least they’re doing one thing kind of right).

    1. “touch-on-crime”

      Show us where the law touched you, Honey.

    2. (On the other hand, the budget is reported to have $4 billion in cuts, so at least they’re doing one thing kind of right).

      Sadly $4b is pretty meagre compared to the overall increase in federal spending under the current PM’s watch.

  4. Its coming. The courts are decent in Canada. I suspect the CDN supreme court will generally uphold the Ontario bawdy house decision. Criminalizing drug use is unjust.

    Harpers red meat crime law is part of their mean streak, their weakness. Only valve Harper has to keep the fundie ‘reformers’ at bay

    1. Watch for the R v. Mernagh appeal in May. If the previous decision stands, it would overturn federal marijuana prohibition completely.

      Well, more realistically it would be overturned until the government passes some new law with a broader exemption for medical users. Which may not take very long, since the court will probably grant them some time to do just that.

      But hey! If we’re really lucky, pot might be legal for a week or two.

  5. They should just sell this to the voters as “not-American drug policy” and it should be very popular just on those grounds alone.

    1. not-American drug policy, eh.

    2. The phrase is “American style” (“American style gun control”, “American style health care”).

      That phrase, used pejoratively, drives me nuts and should be an absolute embarrassment for Canadians. Sadly though, it isn’t.

      1. *cough*

        May I point out that our supposedly-pro-American Energy Minister recently attacked environmental groups for using “American-style” tactics to delay energy projects.

        Basically, though, I agree with you. Whenever I hear someone use that phrase, I point out to them that their usage is indistinguishable from the way the Nazis used the word “Jewish”.

  6. Lucy’s been on a roll the last few days.

  7. the effort to reduce drug supply and drive up drug prices

    So is the War on Drug Users an effort to eliminate drug use, or to manipulate the market? I know the drug cartels would like to thank the US for making their business so lucrative in the case of the latter. Or the former for that matter.

    1. The war on drug users is a persecution. It is a sport for cops and prosecutors.

  8. > The the paper includes

    >Or, as the papers’ authors

    All that dope affects your writing.

  9. Let’s use Tony Logic here:

    If buying illegal drugs is doing something, then NOT buying illegal drugs is ALSO doing something.

    Therefore, the government should force us to buy pot.

    I could deal with that…

    1. In theory, it should work.

    2. Do we need to break our own doors down and shoot our dogs, too?

  10. [Remarkably, despite an estimated US$1 trillion spent since former US president Richard Nixon first declared his country’s “war on drugs,” the effort to reduce drug supply and drive up drug prices through aggressive drug law enforcement appears to have been ineffective….]

    Hardly remarkable. See every black market in history.

    1. If people choose to ignore history then their foolishness is still worthy of remark.

  11. “We are unaware of any research to support this position”

    True of oh so many things.

  12. Oh wow, I am glad someone has noticed, this is good!

  13. It’s unfortunate that basic moral cases always need to be made on efficiency grounds, but oh well. I’ll take it.

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