Pubdate: Fri, 20 Oct 2017
Source: Edmonton Journal (CN AB)
Copyright: 2017 The Edmonton Journal
Page: A10


By next summer, a brave new world will dawn on Edmonton streets.
Smokers will openly, and quite legally under certain restrictions,
puff on joints purchased from a cannabis store selling a line of
products sanctioned by and maybe even distributed by a provincial
agency. If the Notley government decides to adopt a public retailing
system instead of a private model, the province itself may adopt the
role of pot dealer - a scenario that a few scant years ago would have
rightly elicited a "what-have-you-been-smoking?" response in a region
traditionally known for small-c conservative values.

As historic and stunning as that development would be, it may not even
be the most tectonic shift in societal and government attitudes toward
drug use. That distinction may belong to Alberta's first supervised
drug injection sites, the first of which are expected to open within
months at four locations in Edmonton's inner city, as was announced
Wednesday by the province after the facilities received approval from
Health Canada.

Three sites will be set up at the Boyle McCauley Health Centre, Boyle
Community Services and the George Spady Centre, agencies which already
offer services to clients with substance abuse issues. A fourth site
is planned for the Royal Alexandra Hospital, which will be open to
admitted patients only and become the first of its kind for a hospital
in North America.

That either legalized cannabis or supervised injection sites has come
to fruition - let alone both - would have been unthinkable during the
war on drugs waged in the "just-say-no" era of the 1980s and '90s.
Even in this decade, the Stephen Harper government staunchly opposed
both the legalization of marijuana and the concept of safe injection
sites. The Conservatives argued that most Canadians didn't support the
legalization of marijuana, that loosening the rules would make it more
available to children and that its use was declining.

As for safe injection sites, their anti-drug policy favoured
prevention, enforcement and treatment, insisting that such
harm-reduction programs didn't provide proper treatment for addicts.
Governments never won the war on drugs and a deadly opioid crisis
first took hold under the years the Harper government was in office.

Now that the Trudeau government has taken the opposite tack by
legalizing pot and approving more supervised injection sites, it's up
to social agencies, law enforcement and health authorities to keep
close watch on the outcomes.

We will see whether a more progressive approach to drugs that
emphasizes harm reduction and personal responsibility works better to
reduce overdose deaths and social disruption than the previous
hardline policies.
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