Pubdate: Wednesday 19 May 1999
Source: Vancouver Province (Canada)
Copyright: The Province, Vancouver 1999
Author: Jim McNulty,


I must confess to being pleasantly shocked when a congratulatory
e-mail from Reform MP Randy White recently arrived.

Langley-Abbotsford's No. 1 crusader for law and order hasn't been
known for liberal views on how to solve B.C.'s drug epidemic. And yet
there he was, praising a column I wrote last year headlined "Drug toll
worsens, political willpower still missing."

"I believed then and now that you were right," said the Reformer, who
carries the column in his pocket. It was an inspiration, he added, to
launch his own action plan -- and would I be interested in talking?

I certainly was. And some of what he has to say about tackling the
drug issue may surprise those who view White and Reform as hopelessly
wedded to the failed crime-based war on drugs.

For starters, he now accepts the premise that drug addiction is
primarily a health issue, and throwing addicts into a jail cell is a
waste of time.

"They're a health problem," White said, and society must get away from
a prison mindset in dealing with them.

"Society also has to stop looking at people who are addicted as though
they're the worst lowlifes coming from poverty-stricken families.
That's just not the case."

White takes his enlightened attitude even further, cautiously
endorsing fellow Reform MP Keith Martin's private member's bill to
decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

"The greater populace is still saying no to legalization, and I don't
advocate marijuana being smoked." But it would "sit OK" with him if
small amounts were dealt with through fines rather than criminal
trials, freeing police and the courts to tackle more urgent matters.

"I believe in continuing the way we are, but it's rather a waste of
time to be throwing people in jail for smoking marijuana because it
just doesn't work."

Marijuana isn't White's main concern at this juncture. His primary
worry is addiction to heroin and cocaine, the enormous economic,
health and criminal toll addiction causes, and the absence of any
meaningful national strategy to deal with it.

To that end, White is organizing a rally for May 27 at Abbotsford's
Ag-Rec Centre "to raise the issue to a national awareness level, much
like I did with victims' rights."

He plans to launch a petition that night calling for development of a
"fully-funded national drug strategy that really works at street
level" and then take his campaign to Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and

"Hopefully by the time I get to Halifax next year the national profile
will be there and the federal government will be forced by public
opinion into sitting down with the provinces and municipalities and
saying 'we've all got a problem, now how are we going to deal with

He also wants to force a vote in the House of Commons "that initiates
action on what we're asking for in the petition."

White's efforts to raise awareness of the drug scourge and press for a
comprehensive health-based national remedy are most worthy. But having
noted that addiction is a health problem, I'm left wondering why he
has no one from the health field as a guest speaker at the rally.

Speakers include two law-enforcement officials and three victims.
Boxer George Chuvalo lost three sons to heroin, Jamie Hamilton (not to
be confused with Vancouver activist Jamie Lee Hamilton) is a
recovering addict, and Diane Sowden lost a daughter to the streets.

Their stories are no doubt compelling, but expertise from the health
field is what's really needed at this point to educate the public and
move society beyond outdated law-and-order rhetoric.
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