Pubdate: Sat, 30 Sep 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Conrad Black
Page: A17


The principal initiative undertaken by the Trudeau government has been
the legalization of marijuana under tight rules still being elaborated.

I have had a good deal of exposure to the American policy of the
so-called War on Drugs, from my time dealing with many pushers and
users as students for secondary school matriculation when I was in
prison in the United States. I had long been a skeptic about the War
on Drugs, which has cost the United States over a trillion dollars and
caused the imprisonment of more than two million people (but very few
of the kingpins), all while illegal drug use has increased
appreciably. The price of drugs has not risen much; supply has not
been strained, despite increased use among a growing population.

It is an immense industry, largely in the hands of the most dangerous
criminal gangs and syndicates at every stage of growth, refinement and
transport. Mexico and Colombia have been conducting virtual civil wars
with the drug gangs, and "drug-busts" in Mexico sometimes involve
armoured vehicles and helicopters on both sides, and at one such
occasion several years ago, after a two-day pitched battle, the
gang-leader escaped in a submarine.

The Colombian drug war entirely subsumed a long-running Marxist rural
insurrection, which was effectively tucked under the wing of the drug
cartel and has pursued its relatively quaint and pastoral ambitions
with the bemused protection of the drug-lords. It has also become much
easier to make drugs by assembling legally available medicines in the
United States and blending and refining them carefully.

The War on Drugs in the United States has not been a war at all. Of
course, the greatest military power in the world could prevent drugs
entering the country if it deployed military units along its borders
and in air space adjacent to it in adequate force. The inspection
system for incoming people by every method could be made much tighter,
but that would require the deployment of far more personnel to prevent
unreasonable delays for legitimate commerce and visitors.

In practice, the "war" has consisted of putting bone-cracking pressure
on Colombia and Mexico and leaving the U.S. borders relatively porous,
while practically ignoring middle class and academic drug abuse and
conducting endless trolls through poor Latin and African-American
districts and inflicting draconian sentences on street-corner pushers
who can easily be replaced and rarely include senior

The result has been to increase the number of incarcerated people over
40 years in the United States by a multiple of five to six, at immense
cost to the country (almost $100 billion annually), without reducing
drug use at all.

The United States now has six to 12 times as many incarcerated people
per capita as other flourishing large democracies (Australia, Canada,
France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom); conviction rates in
prosecutions experiment in the same field, by treating drugs as a
medical rather than mainly criminal problem. Dealers are still
imprisoned when convicted, but users are sent to a "Dissuasion
Commission," which generally prescribes treatment, including free
access to substitutes and aids that assist in breaking down addiction.
While not legalized, drug possession is only subject to a small fine
and obligatory attendance before the Dissuasion Commission, whose task
is to prevent the casual user from becoming an addict and help the
addict only about 10 per cent. Most Portuguese in treatment are able
to maintain jobs and relatively stable personal lives, while analogous
people in the United States receive lengthy sentences in prisons where
there is no official effort to hel! p them kick the drug habit (and
drugs are reasonably available in most U.S. prisons), and they are not
trained to make a living in a legal and gainful occupation when they
are finally released.

The Portuguese plan focused on specific high-risk groups such as
prostitutes, young unemployed, and specific immigrant ethnic groups.
Decriminalization also removed the fear of incarceration from those
who might otherwise seek help in combating their addiction. Naturally,
Portugal has spared itself the vast expense of the law enforcement
process the United States shoulders in the implementation of its drug
policy, and Portugal only spends about $10 per citizen per year on its
entire drug program. The entire anti-drug effort is made easier by the
fact that Portugal is a country with tight gun control, which is
frequently a complicating factor in the United Sates where everyone
who wants a firearm can easily lay hands on one. Portugal is, it need
hardly be emphasized, a much smaller and less complicated country than
the United States, but the fact that drug use in its population has
declined by 75 per cent in 15 years is very impressive.

Canada has, with other drugs than marijuana, taken a path much closer
to the Americans, and the former Harper government stiffened penalties
for all drug offences. Portugal has not taken the logical next step of
shouldering out the dealers and taking over controlled distribution of
drugs itself. This is the path that Canada and the American states of
Colorado and Oregon have embarked upon with marijuana.

The Canadian motive seems to have been philosophical, where the
American states seem to be chiefly concerned with thirst for revenue.
In a similar evolution, western governments have, as their desire to
buy popularity with more extensive services has combined with
political fear of general tax increases, moved from discouragement of
alcoholic beverages and gambling, to feeding their own addiction to
tax and spend by extracting greater revenue from those sources. This
is the strongest possible motive for greater indulgence of drugs, but
the Portuguese experiment shows that it is good policy on its own
merits. As it prepares the rules for marijuana sales and use, the
federal government should examine the Portuguese model, as well as the
disastrous drug war in the U.S.

A final note: the Portuguese program was designed by Antonio Guterres,
now secretary-general of the United Nations. He will find chronic
addiction to bad habits there too.
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