Drug legalization proposed at conference on drug use
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2008 | 12:32 PM ET
The legalization of drugs, including marijuana and heroin, is among the controversial solutions being offered at an international conference in Vancouver.
The conference on drug use will give advice to the United Nations and is expected to play a role in forming international policies to deal with addiction.
Ten years ago, the UN pledged to dramatically curtail drug use around the world. But the goal has not been met and discussions at the forum are designed to find a fresh approach to the problem.
The 10,000-member organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, among groups attending the conference, is made up of judges and police officers who want drugs legalized.
"I decided this didn't work three years into my undercover work," said former police lieutenant Jack Cole, executive director of the organization. "I started working undercover in 1970. That was the beginning of the war on drugs.
"Cops are so concerned about being labelled soft on drugs, soft on crime, and that next promotion, that we don't even talk to our peers about what we believe."
Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen said drug use shouldn't be treated as a criminal problem.
"The war on drugs is coming to an end, hopefully in my lifetime.
As mayor, Owen lobbied for Vancouver's safe injection site and other measures to reduce harm to drug users. He said the federal government's anti-drug policies put too much emphasis on enforcement.
"They say, 'It's not an illness, it's a lifestyle choice to use drugs. So just smarten up, get a job, and start paying taxes and be like the rest of us, and we're not going to burden the health-care system with your illness.' That's just stupid."
But others at the conference argue legalization would lead to more drug use.
"I don't think liberalizing drug laws is the way to go," said Colin Mangham of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada. "The only person that would benefit is the person who uses drugs who has no desire to stop."
Kelly Corcoran, director of international affairs for the Drug Free America Foundation, said legalizing drugs will only hurt society.
"Look at alcohol and tobacco. They're legal and they've had a tremendously negative impact on society," Corcoran said. "Why would we want to legalize other substances that are clearly harmful to individuals?"