Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jun 2011
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2011 Winnipeg Free Press
Author: Tom Oleson


In December of 2008, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police made the
largest seizure of heroin in Manitoba history at the time -- two
kilograms with an estimated street value of $250,000. On Wednesday,
almost three years later, a B.C. woman and former Winnipegger was
sentenced to nine years in prison for her part in the smuggling
operation, a long and costly court proceeding that contributed little
to the safety of Canadian cities.

That's pretty serious jail time, however, more time, in fact, than
many people who murder other people face once they have been
convicted. Crown Attorney Chris Mainella justified the punishment on
the basis of the "mountain of misery" that this heroin could have
caused if it had found its way onto the streets instead of being
apprehended at the Winnipeg airport en route to its destination in

What the Crown prosecutor did not say was that the heroin could have
done a lot more damage on the streets of Winnipeg. Vancouver has a
"safe injection" site, known as Insite, where addicts can go with
their dope to safely indulge in it, reducing the risk of the deadly
and debilitating diseases that are too often associated with the use
of illegal drugs. Neither Winnipeg nor any other Canadian city has any
such place, although all evidence indicates that such locations reduce
the health risk, the crime rate and the cost associated with illegal

We are not likely to see such a place in Winnipeg, either -- Vancouver
will be lucky if it can hold on to its safe injection centre, as the
new majority Conservative government's commitment to the so-called
"war on drugs" is notorious, even though it is clear that it doesn't

The whole world -- particularly the United States and Canada -- is
waging war on drugs without much effect. A new report from the United
Nations indicates that the use of seriously damaging narcotics such as
heroin, other opiates and cocaine is on the rise world-wide, despite
prisons that are bursting at their cell doors with convicted drug
dealers and drug users. The only winners in this war are the criminal
cartels that wholesale the drugs on the international market.

A panel of UN officials and former heads of state, including Louise
Arbour, previously a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and more
recently UN high commissioner for human rights, on Thursday released a
report on the subject: "The fact is the war on drugs is a failure,"
said the Global Commission on Drug Policy. There are about 250 million
abusers of illegal drugs around the world today -- probably an
under-estimation -- and "we simply cannot treat them all as criminals."

Yet that is what we do, in Canada, in the U.S. and in most other
countries -- the UN itself, in defiance of all evidence, classifies
marijuana as one of the most dangerous illegal drugs. In Canada, it is
still in the Criminal Code as the "killer weed" that undermined public
virtue back in the early 20th century.

Public virtue should be a subject of public concern. But the fact
remains that we and they can legally drink alcohol in an increasingly
available number of places at increasingly more frequent hours; we can
smoke tobacco, although we pretty well have to hide in our basements
to do it; and we can go to jail for taking a single toke of marijuana,
even though scientists assess booze and a butt as far more dangerous
than weed.

The UN report proposes some common-sensical things that Canadian
politicians should urgently consider. It doesn't propose criminalizing
alcohol or tobacco, which will disappoint the blue noses. Instead,
rather than treat drug users as criminals, it would treat them as
patients; it suggests that we not waste valuable law-enforcement
resources looking for recreational drug users or ordinary addicts or
even small-time dealers; and that we should decriminalize or, better
yet, legalize and regulate the use of drugs to undercut the criminal
cartels and take that huge source of cash out of the underground and
into the mainstream economy.

In short, governments should adapt to the real world. The drug problem is as
old as history. It can't be cured, because people are people, but it can be
handled and it can be handled far better than it is being handled today.
Almost everyone knows this -- even an often woolly-headed UN is coming
around to believing it. It is time that the Canadian government tried
grasping this reality as well. In effect, this report has some advice for
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and United States President Barack Obama:
"Don't Bogart that joint, my friend."
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.