TheStar.com - comment - Same old failures haunt drug policy
Same old failures haunt drug policy
Jul 23, 2007 04:30 AM
It's disheartening to see Canada sliding backward on drugs, embracing policies that have been proven to do considerable damage while accomplishing nothing.
The former Liberal government sensibly introduced legislation in 2003 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. But it was never passed and the Harper government is committed to treating possession as a crime.
The approach fails any common-sense test. Consider the results of four decades of enforcement: Hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding Canadians with criminal records; an uncounted fortune spent on the costs of policing and prosecution; and a huge criminal network that thrives because of the government's approach.
Yet despite all those costs, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reported this month that Canada has the highest rate of marijuana use in the developed world. One in six adults between 15 and 64 used pot at least once during 2005. That's about one-third higher than the rate in the U.S., the runner-up.
By contrast, in the Netherlands, where marijuana is legal and accessible, use of the drug was less than half as prevalent.
There are sound reasons for concern about marijuana use and its effect on health, particularly for adolescents.
But as a public-policy problem, it ranks far behind other illegal drugs and, for that matter, alcohol. The fact that 3.8 million Canadians used marijuana in 2005 – more than the entire population of B.C. – suggests it does not pose an imminent threat to our health and well-being. (Practically, any effort to make criminals of almost 4 million Canadians is doomed to failure.)
Yet while heroin and cocaine wreak havoc on individuals and communities, StatsCan reported that 60 per cent of drug-related charges last year involved marijuana.
It's been 37 years since the federal LeDain Commission recommended decriminalization of marijuana. In that time we have spent a vast amount of money and made criminals out of hundreds of thousands of Canadians. Marijuana use has increased, criminal gangs have flourished and other drugs have devastated our communities.
It is foolish to continue down such a destructive, costly path