Pubdate: Tue, 27 Nov 2007
Source: Edmonton Sun (CN AB)
Copyright: 2007 Canoe Limited Partnership.
Author: Glenn Kauth, Sun Media
Bookmark:  (Mark Kleiman)
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


A renewed government focus on tougher drug laws in Canada is 
"insane," a U.S. expert told a conference on substance abuse yesterday.

Mark Kleiman, a professor at UCLA, was responding to an audience 
question about what advocates can do to counter moves by the Stephen 
Harper government away from harm-reduction programs, such as 
Vancouver's safe-injection site, towards longer jail sentences for drug crimes.

"I don't know what to do about insane policies except to identify 
them as insane," Kleiman told participants at the four-day Issues of 
Substance event at Edmonton's Shaw Conference Centre.

Marliss Taylor, the program manager at the city's Street Works 
needle-exchange program, is also concerned about proposed federal 
laws unveiled last week which would, among other changes, impose a 
two-year mandatory prison sentence for dealing drugs such as cocaine 
and heroin.

"Throwing people in jail does not solve an addiction," said Taylor, 
who called the fight against drugs a "war on people."

The proposed federal laws aim to come down particularly hard on 
people who sell drugs as part of a gang or who use weapons to ply their trade.

Kleiman, an expert on drug policy, said that while such targeted 
moves may be worthy, in general, moves to fight drugs through 
enforcement have failed.

Instead, he called for a "harm-minimizing" approach to enforcement in 
which police concentrate their efforts on reducing the violence 
associated with drugs rather than the substance itself.

In New York City, for example, cops have pushed hard to get dealers 
off the streets, and while people continue to get drugs through other 
means, the crime that results from the trade has gone down, Kleiman said.

Among his proposals, Kleiman recommends laws decriminalizing 
marijuana use while allowing people to grow their own pot.

He also cited alcohol as a particularly bad problem, something he 
said the government could deal with by making booze more expensive 
through, for example, a 50-cent tax on a bottle of beer.

While Taylor worries such a move would simply turn alcoholics into 
"poorer drinkers," Kleiman said a tax, although unpopular, shouldn't 
matter to most people.

"I submit that if a 50-cent tax on alcohol matters to you, you're 
probably a problem drinker," he said.
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