HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html A New War Emerges - Against The Losing One On Drugs
Pubdate: Wed, 20 Oct 1999
Source: Vancouver Province (Canada)
Copyright: The Province 1999
Author: Jim McNulty


Ronald Reagan's famous "war on drugs," launched in 1982 and adopted by
Canada, is a failure.

Those who said so in past years were quickly branded as radicals, left-wing
wackos and worse by the law-and-order establishment.

But two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars later -- with little to
show for it -- proponents of the war on drugs now find themselves the
target of ridicule.

A new wave of critics is making a big splash, and it doesn't come from
Hippieville. New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a conservative Republican, says
the time has come for a debate on legalizing drugs.

"Control it, regulate it, tax it," Johnson says. This would destroy the
drug rackets much the same as repealing prohibition in the 1930s ended
crime, gangsterism and corruption in the alcohol market.

Remember, this is a Republican governor, politically equivalent to a Reform
premier in Canada, if we had such a thing.

The U.S. National Association for Public Health Policy also urges a totally
new approach, noting the war on drugs has failed to cut the supply of
illicit drugs. It estimates all levels of government in the U.S. now spend
$67 billion US annually on drug abuse, with $46 billion spent on law
enforcement and jail and only $3.2 billion on medical treatment.

The vast sums would go much farther if used for prevention and treatment,
the association argues.

Closer to home, anyone with an objective eye knows the war on drugs is a
bust. Recent high-profile police crackdowns in Vancouver's Downtown
Eastside have only succeeded in pushing the problem into other
neighborhoods, such as Commercial Drive.

While the police get resources for headline-generating roundups, money
remains pathetically scarce for badly needed health, social and housing
programs to deal with the root of the evil, addiction.

A consensus that drug addiction is a health problem has emerged from within
the medical, police and correctional fields. Why do we still treat it as a
crime issue?

There are two main reasons. Society at large is hung up on old prejudices
and remains in a state of denial. And this allows nervous politicians to
continue fidgeting and pandering rather than show dynamic leadership.

The conundrum is explored in a provocative documentary, airing on CBC-TV
tomorrow night at 8 p.m., entitled Stopping Traffik: The War Against the
War on Drugs. Directed by Jerry Thompson, a Gemini-winning veteran B.C.
journalist, the show not only eviscerates the war on drugs but offers

Thompson visits places like Liverpool (England) and Switzerland, where drug
crime has fallen dramatically since they began prescribing heroin to
addicts. He talks to a Merseyside addict named John who has restored his
marriage, family and job since he began the heroin-maintenance program.

Joe McNamara, former police chief of Kansas City and San Jose and now a
researcher at Stanford University, wonders aloud why society is so
"irrational" on the subject.

"The answer is we're thinking about this in religious terms . . . and moral
terms. When you get someone's version of sin put in the penal code, bad
things happen."

Veteran Vancouver street cop Gil Puder is also profiled. He says drug
prohibition creates more violence, more addicts and more dysfunction in
society -- just as alcohol prohibition did 70 years ago.

Preliminary figures show 210 people in B.C. have died of drug overdoses
this year, to Sept. 23. Society, and our politicians, should heed the
advice of Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who told Thompson that "if there's
going to be a war on drugs, it should be a public-health war, not a
criminal-justice war."
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