Pubdate: Mon, 02 Apr 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Caitlin Shane


This April, the federal Liberals will consider a policy resolution
that could result in the decriminalization of low-level drug
possession across Canada - something that people who use drugs,
medical professionals, and increasingly, members of government have
been pushing for.

For Conservatives and other prohibitionists, decriminalization has
been fiercely contested on the presumption that it makes a radical
'Wild West' of the drug market. They argue that a tough-on-crime
agenda is the only answer to an opioid crisis that has killed
thousands - but fail to acknowledge that under absolute prohibition we
relinquish control over every echelon of the drug chain to a black
market that no amount of law enforcement will get under control.

To clear up any misunderstanding, let's talk about drug-policy reform,
what works, and what doesn't:


As contemplated by the Liberal party, decriminalization refers not to
the removal of sanctions for all drug-related offences, but only to
the simple possession of illicit drugs.

Practically speaking, this means people who possess drugs for personal
use will no longer be forced to use in secret, under fear of arrest.
It means they'll be afforded a basic degree of legal protection when
accessing harm-reduction services, medical assistance or police
services. From a harm-reduction perspective, decriminalization is an
imperative first step: With a toxic drug supply and mounting death
toll, now is not the time to be driving drug use further

Legal regulation

In Canada, we legally regulate many substances (including alcohol and
tobacco) so that government can control who accesses them, how, and
when. Legal regulation is not to be confused with absolute
legalization; it refers to a complex set of laws that regulate
substances with a view to managing the personal and public-health
risks associated with use. Different substances warrant different
regulatory structures depending on affiliated harms and evidence of
efficacy. For opioids, regulation can be rigorous and comprehensive to
ensure strict quality control and to minimize problematic use.

Under legal regulation, certain activities can still be prohibited,
including advertising, underage sales and the supply of exceptionally
high-risk drug preparations. Far from amounting to a loss of control,
legal regulation allows for significantly more precise and tailored
oversight than prohibition, under which control is transferred to
organized crime. Unsurprisingly, the legalization of alcohol and
tobacco cut down rates of access, problematic use and health-related


Prohibitionists endorse a strict criminal regime with an aim to
eliminate supply, and in turn, reduce demand. But under prohibition,
drug production, distribution, availability, problematic use
(including use by young people), and drug-related crimes and health
harms have all risen. Why? Because measures targeting supply ignore
the fact that drug markets are driven by demand - or the unshakable
reality that people will always use drugs for any number of legitimate
reasons. Overdose deaths in 2017 alone have taught us, devastatingly,
that drug use occurs all the time, irrespective of neighbourhood or
demographic. This demand fuels the illicit drug market, the sheer
lucrativeness of which means that for every dealer imprisoned, another
is ready to take his place.

The fact of demand also disproves the argument that prohibition
reduces drug use: Consider the thousands of Canadians who, when cut
off from opioid pain prescriptions in recent years, didn't
miraculously stop needing or using opioids. Given the options of
unbearable pain and buying opioids from the illicit market, many were
forced to choose the latter. Amid a fentanyl-saturated supply, this is
how we sentence people to death.

Legally regulating drugs is neither radical nor extreme. Regulating
dangerous substances for which there is ongoing supply and demand is
the only logical way forward. By contrast, clinging to a regime that
has so utterly failed is radical. Insisting on morals-based laws and
policies contrary to science and evidence is illogical. As eight
Canadians die each day, the blood that flows from our laws and
policies is on our hands.

- -----------------------------------------------------------------

Caitlin Shane is a lawyer with the Pivot Legal Society.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt