Pubdate: Wed, 06 Feb 2008
Source: Province, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 The Province
Author: Suzanne Fournier
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)


Delegates Work To Revise UN Drug Policy

A United Nations forum on drug policy yesterday agreed that 
"over-reliance on law enforcement" causes deaths, fuels crime and 
unfairly targets "poor people of colour."

Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen said after the Beyond 2008 
conference in Vancouver that "drug-policy reform won the day because 
most rational people on the front lines realize that the war on drugs 
has been a miserable failure."

The conference drew about 80 delegates from all over North America 
and is one of several being held worldwide before a drug-policy 
discussion slated for Vienna this July.

Owen, the architect of Vancouver's four-pillar drug strategy based on 
prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement, noted that the 
"old-school prohibition crowd also had its say."

"There are still those, in the U.S. and in our federal government, 
who say drug users are criminals and should get a job, pay taxes and 
salute the flag," he said.

He insisted that community attitudes are dramatically shifting.

He noted that 220 U.S. mayors at a conference last June "agreed 
unanimously the war on drugs is not working."

"Mayors are close to the issue so they actually see the drug users as 
people who are ill and need treatment, and they have to deal with 
related crime, yet it's our federal government that controls 
narcotics," Owen said.

He blasted Ottawa for "spending $64 million spread over two years for 
every province in Canada for prevention, treatment and enforcement of 
drug policy -- which is just insulting. It's just pennies."

He noted there are 45,000 deaths each year in Canada linked to 
alcohol and tobacco, which are legal.

"How many die of marijuana? None," he said. "If government regulated 
and taxed marijuana and other drugs, then we'd at least get money for 
health and social programs, including drug treatment, detox and prevention."

Forum organizers noted that "over-reliance on law enforcement" 
criminalizes drug users unnecessarily, "fuels the drug economy and 
the black market, aids organized crime and terrorists [dependent on 
income from drug crops] and disproportionately targets poor people of colour."

Forum co-sponsor Gillian Maxwell of Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues 
on Drug Use, said most conference delegates who visited Insite, 
Vancouver's safe-injection site, "were very positive."

Chris Livingstone of the Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society 
agreed with forum findings that "First Nations people suffer 
disproportionate harm."

"All of the punishment and prohibition policies lead to 
criminalization and deaths -- we can't get any funding to continue 
our alley patrols where we saved people from overdose deaths."
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