VANCOUVER TO PRESS OTTAWA TO LEGALIZE AND TAX MARIJUANA Mayor Larry Campbell Backs Controversial Proposal As Part Of Strategy To Fight Drug Abuse A City of Vancouver report backed by the mayor recommends Canada legalize and regulate marijuana as part of a comprehensive drug-abuse prevention strategy for everything from methamphetamine production to alcoholism among seniors. The marijuana recommendation, one of two dozen in the report being released today, would allow people trying to prevent drug abuse to talk to teenagers about it realistically, the way they do with alcohol and cigarettes, and also limit dangerous use. It's a strategy that Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell endorses wholeheartedly, saying it's preferable to decriminalization, which imposes a fine instead of a criminal charge for use, but doesn't address the issue of supply. "I think the decriminalization doesn't do anybody any good. It sends the message that it's okay, but that it's a crime to obtain it." He says if marijuana were legalized, the community could benefit by being able to tax production. Campbell, a one-time RCMP drug officer, acknowledges that Vancouver's stand won't produce immediate change. "It's a talking point, but clearly it's something that has to be done in Canada." The report goes to council June 14 and then out for public discussion, before final approval likely next January. Others say that putting marijuana on the same level as alcohol and tobacco legally would allow teachers and prevention counsellors to talk about it strategically, rather than just avoiding the topic. "All that teachers can do now is say it's illegal," says the city's drug policy coordinator Don MacPherson, who wrote the 67-page report. If marijuana was treated like alcohol, he said, teachers could provide the same kind of advice they do when trying to prevent teenagers from risky drinking behaviour. However, he also emphasized that Canada should learn from the mistakes it made with alcohol and tobacco, which have been turned into commercial products, heavily advertised and promoted, which has led to problems stemming from the abuse of those two substances that far exceeds those of illegal drugs. The report notes that "even with the best prevention strategies anywhere in the world, we are limited in what we can do unless there are changes to the legal frameworks for psychoactive substances. The current system of prohibition for illegal drugs, this plan argues, has failed in its goal to reduce the availability of illegal substances and to prevent harm from their use." It also argues that prohibition leaves governments unable to regulate the drug, ensures that it stays in the hands of organized crime, and makes it impossible to use the kinds of public-education strategies that have been so successful in reducing tobacco use and dangerous drinking. The report's other recommendations include public education starting with young children and extending to seniors, whose problems with alcoholism and prescription-pill addiction are often ignored in discussions about drug abuse. Campbell said he likes the recommendations in the report, which has been a couple of years in the making, because it is so comprehensive. "It recognizes that this can't be done just by Vancouver, so it's bringing in all the other levels. And it's looking at all the drugs, including tobacco and alcohol." The report is the latest offensive in Vancouver's attempt to tackle the city's drug problems, which have contributed to an epidemic of HIV and hepatitis infections unequalled in North America, the deterioration of the city's inner-city Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, and a property-crime rate among the highest in Canada. It's part of the city's Four Pillars strategy, which emphasizes an approach that is an equal mix of law enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction for drug users. That policy was adopted four years ago, amid some controversy because of the harm-reduction aspects, which included a recommendation to create a health facility where users could go to inject drugs under the supervision of health-care workers. Campbell was elected as mayor in 2002, in part because he and his party said they would work to aggressively implement the policy. The supervised injection site was opened in the fall of 2003. DRUG USE: A NEW APPROACH 10% Proportion of casino revenue that cities would earmark for drug-abuse prevention under a recommendation by the City of Vancouver report. Other recommendations within the City of Vancouver's report on drug-abuse prevention strategy: - Create an agenda that would monitor the use of psychoactive substances in B.C., which would identify early trends in drug use and provide information to the public on the purity of illicit drugs. - Initiate a "safer bars" pilot program. - Advocate for stricter regulation of the chemicals needed to manufacture crystal meth and work with other agencies to address the potential threat of secret meth labs.