Pubdate: Sun, 30 Sep 2007
Source: Chronicle Herald (CN NS)
Copyright: 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited
Author: Terry Pedwell, Canadian Press
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Strategy to Be Unveiled This Week

OTTAWA Health Minister Tony Clement will announce the Conservative
government's anti-drug strategy this week with a stark warning: "the
party's over" for illicit drug users.

"In the next few days, we're going to be back in the business of an
anti-drug strategy," Clement told The Canadian Press.

"In that sense, the party's over."

Shortly after taking office early last year, the Conservatives decided
not to go ahead with a Liberal bill to decriminalize small amounts of

Since then, the number of people arrested for smoking pot has jumped
dramatically in several Canadian cities, in some cases jumping by more
than one third.

Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax all reported increases of
between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006 of arrests for possession of
cannabis, compared with the previous year.

As a result thousands of people were charged with a criminal offence
that, under the previous Liberal government, was on the verge of being
classified as a minor offence.

Police forces said many young people were under the impression that
the decriminalization bill had already passed and were smoking up more
boldly than they've ever done before.

Clement says his government wants to clear up the uncertainty

"There's been a lot of mixed messages going out about illicit drugs,"
Clement said in an interview Saturday after a symposium designed to
bring together Canada's arts and health communities to combat mental
health issues.

There's also a health-care cost element to suggesting to young people
that using illicit drugs is OK, the minister said.

"The fact of the matter is they're unhealthy," Clement said. "They
create poor health outcomes."

For too long, Clement argues, governments in Canada have been sending
the wrong message about drug use. It's time, he says, to take a
tougher approach to dealing with the problem.

"There hasn't been a meaningful retooling of our strategy to tackle
illicit drugs in over 20 years in this country," Clement said.

"We're going to be into a different world and take tackling these
issues very seriously because (of) the impact on the health and safety
of our kids."

The Conservatives' wide-ranging $64 million anti-drug strategy is
expected to combine treatment and prevention programs with stiffer
penalties for illicit drug use, and a crackdown at the border against
drug smuggling.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Stockwell
Day will join Clement in announcing the plan as part of a range of
initiatives to be unveiled by the Tories surrounding next month's
throne speech.

Clement said treatment and prevention programs were his key priorities
for the health element of the drug strategy.

"Yes, there's a justice issue to that," he said.

"But there's also a treatment issue, there's also a prevention

Clement has suggested in the past that he opposes so-called harm
reduction strategies for combating illegal drug use, including
safe-injection sites where nurses provide addicts with clean needles
and a safe place to use drugs.

At a Canadian Medical Association meeting last month, he was quoted
saying "harm reduction, in a sense, takes many forms. To me,
prevention is harm reduction. Treatment is harm reduction. Enforcement
is harm reduction."

The following day, a petition signed by over 130 physicians and
scientists was released, condemning the Conservative government's
"potentially deadly" misrepresentation of the positive evidence for
harm reduction programs.

Vancouver's Insite safe injection clinic is facing a December 31
deadline for the renewal of a federal exemption that allows it to operate.

Critics of the Conservative government's approach to illicit drug use
say the federal government would be making a serious mistake by
failing to renew the exemption.

"I think there's very little chance that Mr. Clement will extend the
safe injection site's permit to continue," says Dr. Keith Martin, a
British Columbia Liberal MP and former substance-abuse physician. "But
in doing that they will be essentially committing murder."

Advocates say safe-injection sites help to prevent the spread of
serious diseases, including AIDS and Hepatitis by preventing users
from sharing needles while opponents say the sites simply promote
illegal drug use.

Martin says he's all for increasing penalties for people who sell
illegal drugs, including gangsters, but wonders why the Tories would
want to target users when he says similar strategies in other
countries haven't worked. 
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