Pubdate: Thu, 22 Oct 2009
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2009 The Georgia Straight
Author: Carlito Pablo
Bookmark: (Harm Reduction)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)


Since founding the Vancouver Island Compassion Society 10 years ago,
Philippe Lucas has seen changes in the way countries around the world deal
with drug users. As recently as August 20, for example, Mexico
decriminalized the possession for personal use of substances like
marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and methamphetamine. Five days later,
Argentina's Supreme Court declared unconstitutional legislation that
punishes possessors of marijuana with prison sentences ranging from one
month to two years.

Elsewhere in Latin America, according to Lucas, a first-term Victoria city
councillor, countries like Colombia and Peru have set aside policies that
regard drug use as a criminal offence.

"We're seeing Canada and the U.S. increasingly isolated in the maintenance
of a prohibition-based policy," Lucas told the Georgia Straight in a phone
interview. "Within the western world, we see examples of very successful
alternatives to a law-and-order approach to substance abuse. The best
recent examples are Portugal and Spain."

Lucas recently retired as executive director of the Vancouver Island
Compassion Society, a nonprofit organization that provides cannabis to
terminally and chronically ill people.

Lucas, a graduate student in UVic's policy-and-practice program and a
research fellow with the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., noted
that prohibitionist policies persist in North America despite the absence
of evidence of success, particularly in terms of public health.

This is in sharp contrast to the experience in Portugal, which the
Washington, D.C.-based Cato Institute examined in a detailed report
released last April. Since decriminalization in 2001, lifetime prevalence
rates, which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or
drugs in their lifetime, have decreased among youth, the think tank noted
in Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and
Successful Drug Policies. For Portuguese aged 13 to 15 years, the rate
fell from 14.1 percent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006. Among those aged
16 to 18, the rate dropped from 27.6 percent to 21.6 percent.

With the fear of criminal punishment gone, more addicts have availed
themselves of drug-substitution treatments. The number of people accessing
these services rose from 6,040 in 1999 to 14,877 in 2003, an increase of
147 percent.

Drug-related deaths declined, from about 400 in 1999 to 290 in 2006, while
newly reported HIV cases among drug users in Portugal diminished from
nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 six years later. New AIDS cases among
the same group dropped from about 600 in 2000 to approximately 200 in

The percentage of drug addicts among newly diagnosed HIV and AIDS patients
decreased over the same time. In 2001, HIV-positive drug users accounted
for more than 50 percent of new HIV cases; this fell to 30 percent in
2006. Addicts diagnosed with AIDS made up almost 60 percent of AIDS
patients in 2001; their percentage was cut to less than 40 percent in

The Cato Institute report notes that decriminalization in Portugal applies
to purchase and possession for personal consumption. The allowable
personal-use amount is defined as the average quantity sufficient for 10
days' usage by one person.

In conversation, Lucas noted that although B.C., and Vancouver in
particular, have a reputation for being liberal on drug use, they have the
highest rate of drug-related arrests in Canada. "Out of those high rates
of drug arrests, 80 percent are for personal possession-they're not for
trafficking-and 60 percent of the overall arrests are cannabis-related,"
he said.

Lucas will speak at a drug-policy conference to be held at the SFU Burnaby
campus from Friday to Sunday (October 23 to October 25). Organized by
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the event will also feature
presentations from harm-reduction activist Mark Haden, UVic professor
Susan Boyd, Victoria police officer and antiprohibition activist David
Bratzer, author and physician Gabor Mate, medical-marijuana activist
Rielle Capler, lawyer Kirk Tousaw, and Insite researcher Dr. Evan Wood.

The conference is being held in the shadow of Bill C-15, a controversial
piece of drug legislation passed by the House of Commons in June.
Currently awaiting concurrence from the Senate, the proposed law seeks to
impose mandatory prison sentences on people caught with illicit

CSSDP director Caleb Chepesiuk is one of the organizers of the conference.
A graduate student of legal studies at Ottawa's Carleton University, he
noted that although U.S. federal policy remains firmly rooted in
prohibition, a number of American states, such as Massachusetts and
California, are looking at ways to legally regulate marijuana.

"What it says about Canada is that we're totally ignoring these trends,"
Chepesiuk told the Straight by phone. "We're doing things like imposing
mandatory minimum sentences. We're increasing prison budgets for more
prisoners while other countries are looking at ways to decrease spending
on prisons."

This weekend's conference would have had a place for marijuana activist
Marc Emery. On September 28, however, Vancouver's so-called Prince of Pot
turned himself in to Canadian authorities to await extradition to the
U.S., where he will serve up to five years in prison for selling cannabis

Emery is being held at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre, where he will
spend time until Conservative justice minister Rob Nicholson signs the
extradition order, Emery's wife, Jodie, informed the Straight.

For details on the drug-policy conference, visit .
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