By Ryan McGreal
Published June 10, 2009
I'm pretty square when it comes to drugs, but I strongly support legalizing most drug use - for the simple reason that making drugs illegal causes more harm than the drugs themselves.
Most the crime associated with drugs is connected to the fact that their manufacture and sale is illegal, and so only criminals are willing to engage in it.
From comparing laws and drug use rates across different countries, there appears to be little or no correlation between the stricture of drug laws and rates of use, so there's no strength to the argument that we need to keep them illegal to reduce their use.
The simple fact is that no one who currently abstains from, say, heroin would start to use it if it weren't illegal. Similarly, anyone who's going to use heroin is going to do it anyway, whether it is legal or not.
In other words, prohibition is an abject failure as a social policy as well as an absolute disaster as a criminal justice policy.
All of this is especially true for marijuana, which is about as close to harmless as a drug can be and, in any case, is both widely used and accepted by Canadians, a clear majority of whom support legalization.
So why in hell did the the Liberal and Conservative parties alike just vote to support a new bill that would introduce similar mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes in Canada?
In the USA, which has a quarter-century of experience with mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, the result has been:
The Harper Government can provide no evidence whatsoever that Bill C-15 will reduce either drug use or crime associated with drug use, because no such evidence exists. All of the evidence indicates that this bill, if enforced, will dramatically increase the number of drug offenders going needlessly to prison without reducing drug use at all.
This, of course, is consistent with typical right-wing wedge politics, not to mention the burgeoning potential for prison-building contracts to corporate "partners" who can then lobby for still tougher criminal penalties.
What really disappointed me was watching the calculating Liberals cave in on this issue. If the bill were a confidence motion I could see the Liberals abstaining so as not to trigger an election they're not quite ready to wage, but that's not the case.
Instead, it appears they're simply allowing themselves to be manipulated from the right in the same manner that the US Republican Party used for years to bait the Democratic Party with accusations that it's "soft on crime".
Not surprisingly, the Liberal grassroots are already up in arms about this vote, which is likely to push many left-leaning Liberal supporters over to the New Democrat and/or Green Parties.
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