Pubdate: Mon, 22 Sep 2014
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2014 Winnipeg Free Press
Authors: Richard Elliott and Donald MacPherson
Page: A9


With Parliament back in session, yet another regressive bill,
blatantly at odds with scientific evidence, is again on the table.
Bill C-2, coming up for committee hearings, would make changes to
Canada's drug laws with the clear objective of impeding supervised
drug consumption services such as Vancouver's highly successful
Insite. It's more of the same tired "war on drugs" ideology of the
last decades.

But as MPs in Ottawa grapple with this imprudent bill that would harm
the health of our communities, progressive world leaders have come
together to present a new vision of global drug policy that is firmly
rooted in public health, human rights, scientific evidence and plain
old common sense.

Last week, the Global Commission on Drug Policy released a
groundbreaking report chock full of sensible recommendations that, if
implemented, could completely change how we deal with illegal drugs
and the people who, for different reasons, use them.

The commission, comprised of former country presidents and other
dignitaries, has now challenged current country leaders to shift their
outmoded and unrealistic "drug-free world" thinking to a new paradigm
of decriminalization and pragmatic, responsible legal regulation.
Knowing that the failed (and expensive) war on drugs simply cannot be
"won," these commissioners are asking policy-makers the world over to
reconsider hardline stances on drugs that, at best, are ineffective
and, at worst, deadly.

Underpinning the Global Commission's report is the understanding that
prohibition, as a framework, just doesn't work. Full stop. And we need
not look beyond our borders to see the effects of this type of dated
and oppressive thinking. Here in Canada, we have people needlessly
overdosing and unable to get addiction treatment should they desire
it. Our prisons are swelling with non-violent offenders who, once
incarcerated, are denied access to clean syringes needed to avoid
preventable infections.

As with last century's failed experiment with alcohol, drug
prohibition fuels gangs and criminal organizations that seek to
exploit drug dependence for profit, with all the violence that ensues.
And the stigma attached to drug use is very real, often resulting in
flagrant human rights abuses against some of our most vulnerable
community members.

But the latest report from the Global Commission reflects an evolution
in thinking. Replacing stigma and prohibition with compassion and
reason, the Global Commission calls for an approach to the challenge
of drugs that is based on scientific evidence, public health
principles and human rights standards -- including decriminalizing
possession for personal use, alternatives to prison sentences and
scaling up health services, including harm reduction programs.

They point to concrete success stories from countries around the world
illustrating the health, social and economic benefits of such reforms
to drug laws.

The timing for this forward thinking couldn't be better. In 2016, the
United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session to shape
the future of global drug policy. In 1998, when the last special
session on drugs was held, many governments were still calling for a
"drug-free world." Years later, it's clear that this is delusional
thinking. This time around, world leaders need to seize the chance to
get it right, and a growing number appear to recognize this.

But in Canada, it seems the government can't let go of the past, and
Bill C-2 is just another worrisome example of choosing dogma over
evidence. Instead of facilitating the development of supervised
consumption services where they're needed, the bill would stymie them
with numerous hurdles -- many of them practically insurmountable --
that must be overcome before our Health Minister will grant the golden
exemption allowing a service to move forward.

Canada now faces an important choice. Our government can persist in
intensifying the misguided and thoroughly debunked war on drugs,
including blocking evidence-based health services with ill-conceived
legislation and continuing to waste taxpayers' dollars by prosecuting
and jailing people who need such services.

Or we could join the growing consensus that it's time to abandon the
empty declarations of the 1990s and rethink global drug policy, and
thereby actually make people and communities healthier and safer.

Richard Elliott is the executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS
Legal Network and Donald MacPherson is the executive director of the
Canadian Drug Policy Coalition.
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