Pubdate: Wed, 03 Oct 2007
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2007, The Globe and Mail Company
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Supervised Injection Sites)


'The party's over," federal Health Minister Tony Clement intoned this
past weekend. Mr. Clement was talking about drug users, but it wasn't
entirely clear which ones. It might have been otherwise law-abiding
citizens who occasionally smoke marijuana. Or perhaps it was all those
partiers suffering from debilitating addictions to hard drugs such as
heroin and crack cocaine. Either way, Mr. Clement appears to have
borrowed his rhetoric from the 1980s. To go with it, he appears set to
borrow the disastrous "War on Drugs" strategy from south of the border.

This week, the federal government is set to unveil a new $64-million
anti-drug strategy. Some of its anticipated components, including more
money for treatment programs and a crackdown on drug smuggling at the
border, are worthwhile. But the government is also reportedly set to
shift away from harm-reduction programs. In their place, it is
expected to launch both an anti-drug messaging campaign targeting
teenagers and a crackdown on illegal drug use -- presumably meaning
more criminal charges against both hard- and soft-drug users.

All the available evidence suggests that this will be a waste of time
and money. Worse, it could cost some lives and ruin others. The
overwhelming body of research shows that harm-reduction strategies
such as Insite, the Vancouver safe-injection site for heroin users,
succeeds in limiting the health and social costs of addiction,
preventing deaths from overdose and disease and directing addicts
toward treatment. Yet rather than expand such programs, the government
is reluctant even to keep Insite going; it announced yesterday that
the site will be allowed to operate through June of next year, but
refused to confirm its long-term future. As much of the rest of the
world recognizes addiction for the disease it is, the Conservatives
appear poised to revert to treating it like a crime. Meanwhile, rather
than continue with the previous government's plan to decriminalize
possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, they will
ensure that more Canadians are saddled with criminal records for
indulging in a substance no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

This new strategy may play well with some members of the
Conservatives' base. But as evidenced by what has transpired in the
United States, it will do absolutely nothing to reduce drug use. Its
only effect will be to make the effects of substance abuse all the
more painful. 
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