Pubdate: Sat, 03 Feb 2018
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Page: A11


'Be it resolved the government of Canada should treat drug abuse as a
health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and
re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as
administrative violations."

That's the concluding sentence of a draft resolution up for possible
consideration at the federal Liberals' next policy convention, to be
held in Halifax this April. It follows a preamble that suggests Canada
should follow the example of Portugal, which in 2001 did just that,
decriminalizing possession of relatively small amounts of illicit drugs.

Such an approach is eminently sensible, and should in no way be
misconstrued as promoting or blessing drug use.

While hard drug use is undoubtedly dangerous and harmful, it seems
wiser to deal with it as the medical and social problem that it is.
Criminalizing small-scale possession only makes it harder for drug
users to seek help. It clogs an already overburdened justice system.
And it further victimizes those who all too often are themselves
victims - of pushers, pimps or their own dysfunction. The focus should
be on treatment and, where that is not possible, harm reduction.

Decriminalization should not be confused with legalization. There is
no legal or social parallel here with the government's moves on
cannabis, which already is available for medicinal purposes and is
only a few months away from being legally sold in stores for
recreational use.

There is also no political parallel. Where the Liberals were able to
tap into a huge constituency for the legalization of marijuana, far
fewer people have any personal stake in whether hard drugs are
decriminalized. If this resolution ends up finding its way onto the
Liberal platform for the 2019 election - and it has many hurdles to
jump before that happens - it would seem unlikely to be a vote-getter.
Rather, it could be a political liability, as the Conservatives, who
have already signalled their opposition to such a move, would aim to
portray the Liberals as soft on drugs and soft on crime.

However, the Liberals would not abolish criminal penalties for those
who make, import and/or sell drugs, profiting off the misery of
others. Such people deserve little mercy. And drug use would not
become legal, though it would be a much less serious infraction.
Societal disapproval of the behaviour would still be conveyed.

It is abundantly clear by now that the punitive approach to hard drug
use does not work. Meanwhile, the fact that the country is in the
throes of an opioid crisis makes finding more effective and more
humane approaches all the more urgent.
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