Pubdate: Sat, 29 Apr 2000
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Toronto Star
Contact:  One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322
Website: http://www.thestar.com/
Forum: http://www.thestar.com/editorial/disc_board/
Author: Betsy Powell, Staff Reporter

THEY JUST WON'T FADE AWAY

They're illegal, but drugs are simply a part of life or the social
scene for people of all kinds

"Hard drug use booming in city," declared The Star's front-page
headline. The date was July 9, 1983, but the year could just have
easily been 2000.

Or 1998. Or 1968. Or 1978, the actual time illegal drug use peaked
worldwide.

Which is to say new pharmacological names are added to the mix. Trends
may come and go, but illegal drug use never fades away.

If anything has changed, it is that the use of illicit drugs isn't
done clandestinely anymore. In many circles, it's commonplace, a way
to relax or have instant fun in our stressed-out, thrill-bent lives.

Leadership hopeful Stockwell Day's admission that he smoked marijuana
30 years ago caused barely a ripple in the Canadian Alliance caucus
earlier this month.

"I'm sure if you polled all MPs in the House of Commons, you might get
some interesting responses if they were all as honest as Stockwell. It
was 30 years ago. Come on," said British Columbia MP Randy White, who
has crusaded against drug abuse.

It was just a few years ago that Bill Clinton, Kim Campbell and Jean
Charest kicked up a fuss by admitting to trying marijuana in college.

Now, nobody is storming the barricades when teens are shown smoking
pot on That '70s Show. Radio station Q-107 regularly runs commercials
for something called Homegrown Hydroponics and you know it's not aimed
at lettuce growers.

The 1983 headline may have underscored what police called "the rapid
increase of hard drugs," such as heroin, cocaine and LSD. But look
around today and those same drugs - and a few new ones, including the
much reported-on crack and so-called designer drug Ecstasy - are plentiful.

York University professor and lawyer Allan Young says illegal drug use
ebbs and flows entirely on the whim of the times and has nothing to do
with public policy.

"The war on drugs has done nothing to curb drug use . . . it has
created a criminal sub-culture of otherwise law-abiding productive
citizens," says Young, who has fought many court cases in an effort to
de-criminalize marijuana.

About 600,000 Canadians have criminal records for simple possession of
marijuana, Young argued in a recent court case.

In 1989, the number of cannabis charges laid in Ontario comprised 69
per cent of the total number of drug possession charges that year.

"Canada annually arrests more of its citizens per capita for cannabis
possession than any other country in the world," Young says.

But does it make a difference? Not a chance, he argues.

"We have to protect against the worst excesses of it (drug abuse),"
says Young. "But the law cannot curb pleasure-seeking
activities."

In Woodstock, Ont., cops claim a former car dealer was a major
supplier in the small, southwestern Ontario city. Among his clients? A
city councillor convicted of possessing cocaine last month.

Teenaged experimeters toke up in suburban basements.

People down on their luck burn crack in handmade-tinfoil bowls in
alleyways.

High-earning professionals snort lines in the bathrooms of chic
Toronto eateries and 40-something mothers don't want their kids to
know they're still inhaling.

Meanwhile, abuse of tobacco and alcohol ruin or claim more
lives.

Canada spends an estimated $1 billion a year on drug enforcement;
governments establish task forces; inquest juries issue
recommendations; police launch crackdowns and cries ring out for
stiffer penalties and longer sentences - all aimed at preventing
people from the temptation of drugs.

Liberal MPP Ken Black, for instance, ran a one-man task-force on drug
abuse in 1988 after a 14-year-old named Benji Hayward drowned in Lake
Ontario. Benji had taken acid. Not long after that, then-Mayor Art
Eggleton launched a task force on drugs.

Next month, a coroner's jury will begin investigating the death of
21-year-old Allan Ho, the latest in a long, long line of inquests
called after someone dies after ingesting drugs. Ho had allegedly
taken Ecstasy.

Still, as quickly as you can say Reefer Madness, media outlets can be
counted on for sensationalizing aspects of drug use, rather than
trying to understand why drugs are commonplace, or acknowledging that
responsible drug users (gasp) exist. And rarely do people get a chance
to speak honestly and openly about something that is simply a part of
life.

Because admitting drug use is admitting to being a criminal, the names
have been changed.

"Smoking pot should be included in the Molson commercials for I Am
Canadian," chuckles Ted, 43, an editor in the film industry. "Go to
any party anywhere in Canada and somebody's smoking pot somewhere, at
almost any age group, too. At that level, it's a totally accepted
normal part of life."

He's been smoking dope since he was 16 and knows many bright,
productive people who like to get high.

He usually stuffs his pot pipe "after dinner" to relax, sometimes
watching TV or before jamming with his garage band. On occasion, he'll
drop acid or psychedelic mushrooms.

"I've never been an addictive personality so it's never been an abuse
situation. It's usually some other symptom in your life that causes
you to do that (abuse)," he says.

"For a lot of us, it's the only criminal activity ever engaged in.
(We're) model citizens in every other way."

When Danielle's 12-year-old asked recently, "Mom, did you do drugs in
high school?" she responded truthfully, "absolutely not." She smiles.

"All through high school I was very fearful (of it). I thought if I
smoked it, bad things would happen."

Five years ago, the 33-year-old mother of two smoked a joint at a
friend's cottage. She was sparking up daily after that, often in the
upstairs bathroom of her east-end home surrounded by odour-disguising
candles as her kids played outside.

"Instead of coming home from work and grabbing that rum and coke or
glass of wine, I'd roll a joint. If I had a big dinner to prepare I'd
rather do it stoned," she explains.

"It's a wonderful way to unwind."

Laura is an urban outlaw, an underground entrepreneur who rattles off
the inflationary rise in cocaine prices.

"A kilo has gone from $34,000 to $40,000 to $43,000 in months," she
says with the authority of a banker discussing interest-rate hikes.

It might have something to do with the shortage of cocaine in the city
at a time when there's no shortage of steady clients, even among
Ontario high school students, whose usage jumped from 1.5 per cent in
1993 to 4.1 per cent in 1999, according to the Ontario Student Drug
Use Survey.

"Everybody's doing it now," Laura says.

"It used to be a secret. Now university students, judges, lawyers . .
. There's a lot more acceptance. It's no big deal. They do it to
because they're tired, or because they're out to have a good time and
make it better."

The consequences of excess caught up with one "executive junkie" who
graduated from coke to crack and lost everything because "the (crack)
pipe got him."

"If you use it as more than a social drug it's time to stop, and when
I see someone in trouble, I get on their case," she says, adding
quietly, "I wish I could cure people."

Why does she continue to sell, then?

"I'd rather they'd get something good off me." She insists her own
dabbling is kept to a minimum.

"They're everywhere," Judge Paul Bentley says of illicit drugs - and
users.

Bentley presides over drug court, a twice-weekly, federally funded
pilot project at Old City Hall in Toronto.

Many of the "participants" are homeless and/or on welfare. But he's
also seen professionals who work on "Bay St., people who are quite
well-off financially and just got caught."

In drug court, the atmosphere is convivial. It's not uncommon to hear
encouraging words, "Keep it up," and "You're doing good," when someone
has stuck to the strict no-drug program, monitored by urinalysis.

The program, run with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is
open to non-

violent, drug-dependent offenders charged with possession, possession
for the purpose of trafficking or trafficking in small quantities of
crack, cocaine or heroin.

The pilot project aims to move drug-dependent offenders out of jail,
into treatment.

As in the outside world, drugs are in ready supply inside prisons and
jails. "When inmates are released from custody, they're given urine
screens and virtually everybody is dirty," says Bentley. "That says
something about what's going on."

"I enjoy drugs and all my friends do drugs."

So says Ed, a 25-year-old office manager, a former championship
debater at university who graduated with honours.

"I was thinking about it last night. I've done E (Ecstasy) almost
every weekend for the past four years, give or take. I'll take a
weekend off, once in a while."

His other weekend indulgences have included pot, hash, acid,
mushrooms, cocaine, Special K, crystal meth and Euphoria, a speedy
drug that comes in capsules and keeps you awake for a long time.

"Money's not an issue," he says. "It's my entertainment budget. I
still pay the rent, I'm not in debt, though I have more than the
average amount of parking tickets. I don't steal old ladies' purses. I
work for my money and spend it however I want to.

"It's a quality of life issue," he says, warming up. "Doing drugs is a
lot more interesting than a night in front of the TV."

There'll come a time, he says, when "I'll find other things to do on
Saturday nights other than going clubbing or go to a rave."

Kevin reminisces about drugs like someone talking about dear, old
friends.

"I was in Grade 9 when you could buy a $5 nickel bag (of pot)," says
the 46-year-old who works in television.

After graduation, the drugs dried up when he lost contact with his
connections. But they never lost their appeal.

"It's harder to come by. For about five or six years nothing. Then I
ran into people who were able to get it."

During his 20s and 30s, he took acid periodically, sometimes with his
wife, "when the kids were away." But he found "the older you get, it's
more frowned upon," even by former users.

He recently started experimenting with Ecstasy.

"It's fun. I'm responsible with it. Bottom line - it was always about
laughing and having fun. I can't remember anybody getting ugly or
belligerent, which I can't say about alcohol."

Fred trades stock at a downtown brokerage firm. He has made lots of
money; he's lost lots of money. He learned long ago not to sweat it,
even on a day when the market goes down, down, down.

"I've been waiting for it," the 46-year-old says of the April 14 stock
market drop.

Smoking a joint is a perfect remedy to a high-stress
day.

"I have had a joint in my pocket since I was 17," he says after
settling his kids into bed.

"I always felt like I needed that little reserve there. I would walk
into my backyard and smoke a joint . . . or go out and play music.
Smoke a joint and blow my saxophone."

If the woman he's dating likes to partake, all the
better.

"I think (smoking) in a relationship is good. I think people that
smoke dope, laugh more. I think you have to come down to earth a bit
and be a little more real."

Sipping a hot chocolate in a downtown coffee shop, the clean-cut
21-year-old - wearing running shoes, an oversized blue sweatshirt,
leather jacket and gray slacks - could be mistaken for a university
student on an exam break.

Polite and articulate, John is the son of hard-working parents who
came to Canada in the mid-1980s via Hong Kong and, before that, Vietnam.

He was 14 when he began smoking pot at his high school.

At 17, he tried heroin.

"We were at a karaoke club. Someone handed me a cigarette and I smoked
it. In the beginning it was a very good high, very relaxing." The next
day he went looking for more. "I wanted to get some and do it again,"
he says. "I started doing that constantly."

No one in his family had been in trouble before. None had taken
illegal drugs.

John eventually dropped out of school, petty crime feeding his
habit.

"It makes you a different person. You don't care about no one. All you
care about is heroin. You'll do anything just to get it."

Which is how he got into trouble. In jail, he shot up for the first
time using a needle. "I'm afraid of them," he says, noting his
preference for "chasing the foil."

He now wants to stop, which is why he's appearing in drug treatment
court after getting charged with possession for the purpose.

Quitting won't be easy.

Twenty-four hours before a recent court appearance, he'd used again,
traces of the drug showing up in his urinalysis.

He's attending classes at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
and is grateful to receive help.

"I'm trying, I'm trying," he says. "I want to beat this."
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