Vancouver Drug Reform Group: Why Decriminalizing Hard and Soft Drugs Would Reduce Use In Canada
A national coalition of drug policy experts based in Vancouver, Canada, recommended decriminalizing all drugs in a report today.
The report by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition calls for decriminalizing the personal use of all illegal drugs, including heroin and crack. The report is critical of the Canadian government's aggressive war on drugs, which they say puts too many resources into enforcement of drug laws at the expense of treatment.
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The report calls for the government to legalize marijuana, and to regulate and tax it like any other commercial good. According to the report's authors, in British Columbia alone, the marijuana market in Canada takes in $357 million Canadian every year.
"Despite Canada's significant investment in drug control efforts, drugs are cheaper and more available than ever," the report says, also noting that, "Canada still relies on the criminal law to curb illegal drug use and stem the growth of illegal drug markets. These laws and policies disproportionally target already marginalized groups."
The report points out other countries where drugs have been decriminalized haven't turned into nationwide drug dens. In fact, drug use has declined.
"In Portugal decriminalization has had the effect of decreasing the numbers of people injecting drugs, decreasing the number of people using drugs problematically, and decreasing trends of drug use among 15 to 24 year olds."
Drugs in Portugal are not legal, but decriminalized, just as the Vancouver report suggests drugs should be in Canada. That's an important distinction. As Nuno Capaz, a sociologist in Lisbon, Portugal, pointed out to the Chicago Tribune, decriminalization still means that a person walking down the street smoking a joint or possessing Ecstasy will not get arrested, but may have to pay a fine, do community service or in some cases go to treatment facilities. Portugal decriminalized drugs in 2001.
"The consumption numbers have stayed pretty much what they were before, pretty much in line with the rest of the Western European countries," said Capaz, when asked whether decriminalization leads to more drug use. "That question could be answered the other way around: Why are there so many people using drugs in the countries that arrest drug users?
Vancouver is the only city in North America with a legal, government-funded facility where users can safely inject drugs. The facility, InSite, does not supply drugs, but offers clean needles and a sterile environment, and has a medical staff and drug counselors on hand. Studies have shown a reduction in Vancouver public drug use and needle sharing, as well as lower HIV and hepatitis rates, as a result of InSite.
According to InSite's website, although there were 1,418 overdoses at their facility between 2004 and 2010, not a single one of them resulted in death.
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