Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014

Health News

Drug Policy Abuse?

Tories' Bill C-2 an attack on harm reduction

Released by Donald MacPherson, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition

his week, MPs are debating Bill C-2 – an Act to Amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The primary purpose of the bill is to obstruct the establishment of safe injection sites in Canada, despite over a decade of successful harm reduction at Vancouver’s Insite.

When Bill C-2 was first introduced, the Conservative Party launched a fundraising campaign that proclaimed “Keep heroin out of our backyards” and warned of “special interest” groups that are seeking to replicate “the experiment of Vancouver’s Insite facility.”

This is just one example of how politicians of all stripes get drug policy wrong. So the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition (CDPC) has launched a campaign calling on leaders at all levels of government and civil society to engage in a national dialogue about how best to address drug problems in Canada.

It can be seen at: www.DrugPolicyAbuse.com

The campaign identifies a condition, Drug Policy Abuse, that according to CDPC executive director Donald MacPherson “looks strikingly similar to a drug dependency. Only in their case, it’s a dependence on an outmoded policy approach towards drugs, not the drugs themselves.”

Those afflicted by this condition are unable able to speak openly and honestly about their views on drugs for fear of being vilified or smeared by their opponents. They’re unable to stray from the age-old and trite “tough on drugs” rhetoric. They don’t acknowledge that drug problems are a complex mix of social, health and economic issues. And they refuse to familiarize themselves with the mass of evidence demonstrating that new approaches can reduce violence associated with the drug trade and improve health outcomes in cases of problematic drug use.

“When they assess the evidence with an open mind, politicians, like anybody else, can understand that harm reduction and regulatory interventions improve life expectancy and increase the likelihood that problematic users will seek treatment,” notes MacPherson. “The evidence shows that drug use doesn’t go up in jurisdictions that have decriminalized or legalized drugs. And if you’re still not convinced, surely we can at least have an open conversation about it.”

Fortunately, we do have some bright lights of various political stripes willing to have the conversation. Federal parliamentarians who favour cannabis legalization include not only Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but also Conservative MP Scott Reid and NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies. The NDP’s official cannabis policy for 40 years – reaffirmed by current party leader Thomas Mulcair– is decriminalization. Elizabeth May’s Green Party would legalize marijuana and launch a public consultation on the decriminalization of all illicit drugs. Similarly, Liberal Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter defends the need for safe injection sites and favours bringing illicit drugs under a regulatory framework given that “The current drug laws are not working.”

At the provincial level, Wildrose Pary leader Danielle Smith in Alberta is in favour of decriminalization of cannabis. In British Columbia, Health Minister Terry Lake points to the success of Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection site in preventing transmission of HIV and other blood borne infections, reducing overdose risks, and connecting drug users to services. And former Attorney Generals Kash Heed and Geoff Plant speak out about the need to regulate cannabis in BC and Canada.

Municipally, former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell ran on a platform of implementing supervised injection sites, and city councilors in Toronto have lobbied for such a site in their city. Eight BC mayors including Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, have called for the legal regulation of cannabis in Canada, as has Thunder Bay mayor – and former police officer – Keith Hobbs. Councillors and mayors at the 2012 Union of BC municipalities convention passed a resolution calling for the appropriate levels of government to “decriminalize marijuana, and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.”

Outside of Canada, European politicians are actively supporting harm reduction efforts and Latin American leaders are demanding alternatives to criminalization and the punitive approaches to drugs over the past 40 years. Uruguay plans to legalize cannabis use for adults. Closer to home, two US states – Colorado and Washington – have done the same, thanks to ballot initiatives that passed thanks in part to key endorsements from public officials. More states will surely follow.

“It’s encouraging that at least some politicians in Canada and abroad are willing to challenge conventional thinking on this matter,” notes MacPherson. “It shows we’re at a crossroads with regards to drug policy.”

The intent of the CDPC campaign is to inspire citizens to confront their elected representatives about their own Drug Policy Abuse problems. It includes tools for campaign participants to tweet Canadian politicians as part of a larger conversation to address this nationwide affliction. However they chose to engage, Canadians are encouraged to help create a safe environment for politicians to confront their dependency and open themselves to honest, evidence-informed dialogue about drugs.

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