Pubdate: Wed, 10 Jun 2015
Source: Simcoe Reformer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015 Sun Media
Author: Shawn Swarts
Note: Shawn Swarts is a lawyer at the law firm of Cobb & Jones LLP. 
Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to 
the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice. For more 
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At the end of last year the British government Home Office released 
an in-depth study "Drugs: International Comparators "comparing the 
drug laws in 11 different countries ranging from Portugal where small 
amounts of any drugs are legal, to Japan which has a zero tolerance 
position on possession of even the smallest amount of drugs. The 
purpose of this study was to not only take a realistic look at their 
own drug laws but to determine whether there was a direct link to 
being "tough on drugs" and actually tackling the drug problem.

This issue is of particular importance in Canada as the Harper 
government over the last six years has continued to take a hardline 
position on drug possession. Unlike the United States where during 
the same time period many states have loosened or even legalized 
possession of some drugs. Here in Canada, the Harper Conservatives 
have actually increased the penalties for possession and created 
mandatory minimum penalties for many drugs including six months in 
jail for possessing only six marijuana plants. The Conservatives have 
taken the position that being "hard on drugs" will solve our 
perceived drug problem and believe that throwing people in jail the 
answer to this issue.

Sadly, this rhetoric is not backed in reality. It does serve the 
Conservatives purpose of attracting votes but it does not help 
society deal with this issue. The results of this British study 
showed that there was no direct link between being tough on drugs and 
tackling the drug problem. The study found "we did not in our 
fact-finding observe any obvious relationship between the toughness 
of the country's enforcement against drug possession and levels of 
drug use in that country". In fact, drug use in Sweden which has one 
of the toughest approaches, has relatively the same level of drug use 
as other countries with much more liberal drug policies. Portugal for 
instance decriminalized the possession of most drugs in 2004. At the 
time there was a great outcry that this would lead to rampant drug 
use in their country. Studies have now shown however that despite 
drugs being decriminalized, drug use has now fallen below the 
pre-2004 level when it was it actually illegal. More importantly in 
Portugal there has been a significant reduction in HIV and other drug 
related illnesses, along with a noticeable decrease in organized and 
property crime.

The report further found harm reduction initiatives including drug 
injection sites (which the Harper Government has actively opposed), 
needle exchange programs, and the prescription of heroin under 
medical supervision all produced positive results unlike the 
enforcement approach which this study showed did not produce better 
health outcomes.

The reality is that dealing with the drug problem by declaring a war 
on it and locking up drug users simply doesn't work. It destroys 
communities, it destroys families, it costs the taxpayer's huge 
amounts of money in policing, prosecuting and prison costs and it 
just doesn't work. To solve this problem Canada needs to look to 
Portugal and other countries which have recognized that the way to 
solve health problems is not to use police but to use doctors. In the 
US, both Colorado and Oregon have now legalized marijuana for 
personal use. Although that experiment is still in its early stages 
what both states have discovered so far, is that it has led to an 
increase in tax dollars taken in and caused no significant crime 
problems as the naysayers have predicted. In other words the effect 
has been exactly what the British study would have predicted.

What Canada needs is a drug policy based on reality/science not 
rhetoric that is health-based not enforcement based. Sadly until the 
conservatives no longer control this issue that is very unlikely to happen.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom