Politics - Federal

Liberals, Conservatives Both Vote for Mandatory Minimum Sentences in Drug Crimes

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.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

41 Comments

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 15:42:33

Agreed.

Full drug decriminalisation would save the government millions of dollars.

I couldn't say anything else without repeating everything you just said.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:14:49

come take my job for a few years and work with young people who are ruining their brains and their lives by getting hooked on all sorts of drugs.

With all due respect, someone who's "pretty square" when it comes to drug use probably isn't the best person to decide whether they are harmful or not.

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By Responsible Tax Payer (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:17:33

Legalize it. Treat it like alcohol plain and simple. End black market and violence.

I'm so sick of the Gateway Drug Argument. Alcohol is the ULTIMATE GATEWAY DRUG. It's probably 90% of people's first buzz. And if they like it, the want more. None of my successful friends that smoke got into heavy drugs like coke.

It's a shame that the people who get addicted and kill themselves with crack & cocaine get wrapped in the same category as an adult that want to smoke a joint on a Friday night….. What a weird world.

Once it's legal it will be exciting for the first 3 months. After that, the people who smoke now, will probably smoke the same amount. And the people who won't, simply won't. Not much will change.

And if treated like alcohol. Kids will have as much access to it as a 6 pack of beer. In otherwords, if regulated, kids can't get it.

So legalize it. And to the folks that say NO and that have never done it, what right do they have to judge it?

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:20:41

The Liberals don't have a party position on the topic, despite it being a topic of high public interest for the past all of my life, so the trigger response becomes not wanting to be soft on drugs and/or crime. If those dullards wanted to get the vote out, this is a topic to build some policy around. Promise a referendum at a minimum.

I don't have anything against mandatory minimum sentencing in general (although it does imply that the judiciary is incompetent), as long as the laws are logical. Laws around marijuana, in particular, are ridiculous. Possession of a small amount is legal, and I think buying the small amount is allowed, but selling the same small amount is illegal and it would be impossible to grow a single plant without going over the simple possession weight allowance. Where do people think it comes from? I can't understand why provincial governments aren't lobbying hard to set up licensed dispensaries and cash in, additionally reducing some of the most serious crime and creating a new crop to be grown (with hemp as a by-product). I can also sense an increase in tourism for some reason. In fact writing this down reminds of how completely and utterly ridiculous government is. There is literally no down side. The only fears are increased levels of consumption and increased levels of addiction (and previously that the [insert minority] will steal away the white women), both of which have been debunked by a) alcohol prohibition and b) Holland.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:31:16

JonC - great comment. LOL. You got me chuckling out loud with that last sentence.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 16:48:40

Thanks. And to clarify, I certainly acknowledge that addiction is an issue for marijuana (as it is with caffeine or alcohol or donuts), but nothing (that I know about) would suggest that legalizing the drug would increase the problems.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 17:00:47

Jason: "With all due respect, someone who's 'pretty square' when it comes to drug use probably isn't the best person to decide whether they are harmful or not."

So these people who you help get off drugs, would be better in prison then taking the help of your institution?

I used to be of the mindset that drugs all needed to be criminalized, until I realised that it had little effect on the consumption of drugs.

To be clear: The argument here isn't promotion of drugs, rather, that support systems are much more effective than imprisonment.

There is evidence of this in any country.

Some European countries took note of this and started the decriminalise drugs. Society didn't deteriorate, but in fact ended up being more persevere to social under-bringing.

My personal opinion is that education is key. An educated mind makes more educated decisions. A unnecessarily jailed society doesn't solve problems.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2009 at 18:05:24

Jason,

I never said drugs are not harmful (though moderate marijuana use is at least as harmless as moderate alcohol use). What I said was that criminalization:

  1. Does nothing to reduce drug use; and
  2. Is more harmful than the drugs themselves.

People struggling with addiction need support, not punishment. This new law will further harm the people you're trying to help.

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By Bob (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 09:05:00

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By FenceSitter (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 09:50:26

Re: Comment by Bob.

Even with legalisation there will still be addicts.

While I am open to any argument, you may have been a little harsh on Jason.

I am sure Jason would be happy to be out of a job if it were the result of no more drug problems in Hamilton.

While Jason reacted to a comment in Ryan's posting, I would like to hear his views on the context of this post re: legalisation and regulation of hard drugs.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:02:14

Fencesitter, a complex issue for certain, but I'm of the opinion that more personal and physical harm is the result of legalizing harmful behaviour. Please note, I'm not speaking from the financial/government side of the issue. Just the personal toll on people.

To me, it's akin to legalizing the non-use of seatbelts or mandating the exclusive use of landfills with no recycling or re-use allowed; or legalizing drunk driving.

People drive drunk, people refuse to be responsible for their own consumption and waste and people drive without seatbelts. Does that mean we should legalize those activities??

Statistics clearly show that in recent years, seatbelt use is way up, recycling is way up and drunk driving is way down. I would like to see the same trend when it comes to drug use.

For what it's worth, my job consists of far more than 'counseling drug addicts'. However, I've yet to come across a young person who is freed of their drug problem only to see their life spiral downward, out of control. In 100% of the cases I've been involved with, the opposite is always true. Their life improves dramatically once they eliminate drug use.

Fencesitter, thanks for the opportunity to further explain my thoughts. Cheers

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:33:55

jason wrote:

I'm of the opinion that more personal and physical harm is the result of legalizing harmful behaviour.

The legality or illegality of a drug has no connection whatsoever with the rate of use. Therefore, the harm caused by criminalization is entirely in addition to the harm caused by the drugs themselves, That additional harm includes specifically:

  1. Criminal records and prison time for drug offenders, including nonviolent drug offenders who are not hurting anyone (even themselves, in the case of moderate marijuana use).
  2. Forcing drug manufacture and sales into organized crime, since no legitimate business person would take the risks associated with selling an illegal product.
  3. The opportunity cost of money wasted on law enforcement, trials, prison construction and operation, etc.

The emotional argument for criminalization is very strong. The empirical argument for same is nonexistent: neither criminalization nor mandatory sentencing serves to reduce drug use.

It is a failed social policy, and we continue to pursue it only through a combination of bloodymindedness and political cowardice. The popular definition of insanity comes to mind here: Doing the same thing over and over, but hoping for a different result.

If your job involves offering support and counselling for drug addicts, I applaud you. That is exactly the approach we should be taking with drug abusers: support, counselling, medical intervention, and so on, in a manner that is proven to be most effective at helping people recover.

Frankly, given your occupation I'm dumbfounded that you would advocate to throw the people you're trying to help into prison and saddle them with criminal records.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 10:44:21

I concur. Furthermore, if we spent just 1/5th of the money it takes to imprison an addicted society and use it to educate and council we'd have less people getting hooked and even less people re-entering rehabilitation.

As it stands, most programs that help are horribly funded by the government or funded by public donation. Needless to say, most programs suffer due to this.

As an example, hospitals could offer ward dedicated to helping and rehabilitating on a more personal basis. The dollar-for-dollar effect would be better health care all around as those people would be sharing facilities with the general public, rather than having a separate institution within the prison (fractional health care services).

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:35:33

Ryan said - "The legality or illegality of a drug has no connection whatsoever with the rate of use."

How do you marry that statement with the factual evidence that seatbelt use has gone up since becoming a requirement, drunk driving continues to drop and gun crimes are much lower in Canada than the US.

It would seem to make sense that the same principle will apply here. People always knew it was smart to wear a seatbelt, but most didn't bother until they knew a fine would come their way.

How do you arbitrarily pick and choose when to apply this basic concept of action=consequence?

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:44:52

Because not wearing a seatbelt and and snorting coke are not the same thing. There are statistics that prove that seatbelt laws increase use of seatbelts. Likewise, there are statistics that prove that drug laws do not reduce drug use.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:46:26

jason wrote:

It would seem to make sense that the same principle will apply here.

I daresay the quote in my sig file applies here.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:49:42

"Common sense is that which tells you the world is flat."

that's not much of an answer. I realize there are no Canadian stats on this since drug use is illegal. If drug use is legalized and the amount of drug use goes down in the following decades, I'll take ya'll out for lunch.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 11:57:20

jason wrote:

I realize there are no Canadian stats on this since drug use is illegal.

Drug laws vary over time and across different countries, and we can study those comparisons to tease out any correlations that might exist between drug laws and rate of use.

There is simply no comparative evidence anywhere that suggests drug use goes down when drugs are made illegal or when sentencing for drug offences is toughened.

If drug use is legalized and the amount of drug use goes down in the following decades...

There's no evidence that legalizing drug use will have any long-term effect - either way - on the amount of drug use.

What it will do is a) reduce the number of people in prison for nonviolent possession or small-scale trafficking, and b) increase the public resources available for treatment and support of drug abusers.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:29:15

There are many products that are deemed as legal that poeple abuse such as sniffing glue, huffing gas, how about prescription drugs.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 13:24:53

I'm a bit of a fan of P&T: BS (that's an acronym for a certain word).

Here is an episode that basically sums up my opinion on this topic: http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=3...

Even if you don't 100% agree with it, you can walk away with some better informed ideas.

It counters some of the points that Jason is attempting to make.

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By Huff and Puff (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 14:12:17

Legalizing drugs without doubt would have a somewhat more controlled and organized way of dealing with the problem, does not mean there will be no addicts, but it would take away from the stealing and robbing for illegal way, it would be more like alcohol and tobacco, their still risk but at least it is regulated.

Look at the problem with prescription pain killer most the people using it aren't the ones that have the prescription, if not people buying the prescription to sell on street value, so there it goes to show that if you had access to it you wouldn't want it.

Plus non the less the tax revenue from these drugs could go to more programs education just like we get for alcohol abuse and drinking and driving.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2009 at 19:04:58

The distinction between decriminalization and legalisation of drug use is important.

CAMH also feels that mandatory minimum sentences are not the way to go-- their reasoning is in this policy paper: http://www.camh.net/Public_policy/NADS&#...

I also note that CAMH does not consider cannabis a benign drug, for all that it agrees with decriminalization: http://www.camh.net/Public_policy/Public...

I didn't see any policy papers form CAMH recommending legalizing drugs and taxing their sale. Their big push is harm reduction, which, along with things like safe injection sites, would include some kind of legal sanctions.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 22:35:47

Hey Jason, Increased jail time and mandatory sentencing in the states haven't curbed drug use there. Prohibition didn't reduce alcohol use. Legalization hasn't increased addiction in Holland. Comparing addiction to seat belt use is poor.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 23:10:51

JonC, I wasn't comparing addiction to seat belt use. I was merely using several examples of behaviour that changed once laws were enforced.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 23:48:42

That is comparing them.

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By st0ner (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 02:51:05

yeah, just one question, what are the fucking penalties... DUH

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 08:06:58

Not wearing seatbelts is a bit less addictive for starters...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2009 at 14:29:01

In today's Star:

[Justice Minister Rob Nicholson] He was asked for concrete information and he provided none: no research documenting the benefits of harsh drug sentencing laws, no jurisdiction where they'd cut crime.

In fact, most studies - including two by the federal justice department in the last seven years - have concluded that mandatory minimum sentences don't work. Most experts, including 13 of the 16 who appeared before the committee, recommended that the government scrap the policy.

New York state, which pioneered mandatory sentencing for drug crimes in 1973, has decided to repeal its tough penalties. Michigan, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey and North Carolina are rethinking their mandatory minimum drug sentences.

Yet Ottawa is embarking on its own war on drugs.

http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/6...

[Comment edited by Ryan on 2010-01-05 08:29:00]

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 15:01:26

While it's quite easy to quote stats related to the Netherlands, it seems like the Dutch themselves after a 10 year or so period have started to "regulate" the use of soft drugs. While the actual drug use numbers haven't gone up, the people using rehab has.

Comparing the drug use policies between Holland and say here or the US is actually quite futile. The drug use here in North America is higher, and society itself is different. Adults trying to live the "American" dream has prevented many families from having proper relationships with their parents and as a result many behaviours that are detrimental to health and well being are left up to the kids to decide with little or no instruction or involvement from said parents. Society in the Netherlands is WAY different than here. Community involvement, the family unit, good parenting etc are core values that their society still holds dear. In many families, the wealth of a parent isn't determined by the size of their bankroll but rather by the success of their children.

It's quite possible that increased jail times may not be the answer, legalizing soft drugs is not the answer either...especially in our society. In fact, while some soft drugs are decriminalized in the Netherlands, possession and production for personal use still net you a fine. (although it's not enforced very often)

I understand Jason's argument because the effect of drugs on a person are more likely to have a greater on a persons' wellbeing than a lot of other things that we do have regulations about. However, supporting legalization because we can spend the money we currently use to enforce the rules on rehabilitation and have the same net result is a weird argument. If that's the case, then why not leave things the way they are? You also run the risk of what I believe is happening in the Netherlands where you create a cyclical problem as more of society now tries the drug and more of society needs to be rehabilitated from the drug however the numbers of people currently using it stays the same.

To me, if this is actually the case then we should be able to also legalize handguns and see the same result.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 16:23:22

What is with people and terrible comparisons? Just because two things are legislated does not make them analogous.

I don't think the argument is that the money can be shifted around from enforcement to rehab either. The argument is that we currently pay for enforcement & rehab, because enforcement doesn't work. Leaving things alone isn't a great policy if the status quo is damaging lives over, what I believe to be, trivial infractions.

As for Holland, the UN would beg to differ with your opinion as 17% of Canadians smoke marijuana compared to 5.4% of the Dutch. http://www.unodc.org/documents/wdr/WDR_2...

Where you have a point is treatment rates which the UN report details at: 24.7 of 25,908 people being treated for drug abuse in Canada, 19.4% of 29,908 people being treated for drug abuse in the Netherlands

So about an equal number of people, with Canada having about double the population, so the rate of people seeking treatment for marijuana abuse in the Netherlands is double that in Canada. However, I would argue that a large piece of that is that the stigma of usage has been reduced in the Netherlands, so people that need treatment are receiving it. I think we can agree that the rate of abuse treatment is definitely not related to usage rates.

Also, take this site for what it's worth, but they do cite their references (although they are a little dated, so if you have some more recent studies, I would be interested to see them) http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana/fact...

"Myth: Marijuana Policy in the Netherlands is a Failure. Dutch law, which allows marijuana to be bought, sold, and used openly, has resulted in increasing rates of marijuana use, particularly in youth.

Fact: The Netherlands' drug policy is the most nonpunitive in Europe. For more than twenty years, Dutch citizens over age eighteen have been permitted to buy and use cannabis (marijuana and hashish) in government-regulated coffee shops. This policy has not resulted in dramatically escalating cannabis use. For most age groups, rates of marijuana use in the Netherlands are similar to those in the United States. However, for young adolescents, rates of marijuana use are lower in the Netherlands than in the United States. "

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 16:40:25

JonC, if you actually read what I wrote, I said that the drug use here is higher... and you just enforced my point. The Dutch gov't has a few "swing" parties that have until now been voting to keep the regulations as lax as possible. What's changed their mind? Perhaps the fact that they don't want their nation known as a destination because of a red light district (which is also being regulated now) and virtually no drug laws.

Also, in my post I said that soft drugs are decriminalized, not legalized. The sale is restricted to government sanctioned locations and even coffee houses are starting to be closed (if i'm not mistaken the number is 200). Specifically those near schools (the more vulnerable younger people). Also while you may argue that people who are released from the stigma of drug use are now seeking treatment and this results in higher numbers, the census and polls taken are anonymous. If that were the case the number of people using drugs before and after the program change would have been significantly different.

I also don't think you've addressed the differences in society as I mentioned effectively.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 19:11:13

I caught that, but I don't see how that fits with "You also run the risk of what I believe is happening in the Netherlands where you create a cyclical problem as more of society now tries the drug and more of society needs to be rehabilitated from the drug". I don't think there is anything that would suggest that the increase (which has been going on for three decades now) of exposure to drugs in causing the increase of people in rehab.

As for cultural differences, that sounds good on paper but I don't think it holds any water and further don't see how it applies to either mandatory minimum sentencing or explaining why our laws should be different.

But even if don't think that comparison between North American countries and European countries is valid, that's fine, compare European countries amongst themselves. Denmark has nearly identical usage rates (5.2% & 5.4%) and treatment rates (331 & 351 per million), despite differing legislation. Italy and Spain both show usage rates of 11.2% (which is near the rate in America), and the treatment for addiction is less (274 & 143 per million) than that of The Netherlands per populace (351 per million), but Switzerland has a 9.6% usage rate and has a treatment rate higher than The Netherlands (384 per million).

So to recap, decades of legislative change show no particular difference between The Netherlands and Denmark and having a higher usage rate can lead to higher or lower addiction treatment rates.

If the Netherlands largest problem is being a drug tourist and red light traffic district, wouldn't, that doesn't really sounds like a problem. In fact it sounds like an opportunity other European countries should be taking advantage of, except for the huge level of misinformation that people seem to be willing to accept at face value.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:48:12

JonC, you're welcome to believe what you want about cultural differences, I'm speaking from my own experience...you see, I'm Dutch :) I have a lot of family and even more friends who still live in Holland. SO, while there may not be studies I can quote, or numbers I can tell you, I am speaking from personal experience.

As far as what you feel a nation should or shouldn't be known for, perhaps you should leave that to the nation itself to decide? Or do you believe that Somalia should start exploiting the fact that they have pirates that attack international ships and leave it at that? Or that maybe Colombia should not bother trying to clean up their drug problems but use it as a selling point? While you may not know the Netherlands' history, it was at one point a largely Christian nation and in an attempt to break from that have ended up with places like a red-light district and coffee houses. After a time of living it up, the citizens are starting to realize what's happened to the their society and families as a result of it. That's one of the reasons why places like the red-light district now face legislation.

As an entrepreneurial adventure, why don't you purchase a shop downtown, take a year or two and have your daughters or cousins or neices sit barely clothed in the windows under red lights so that men passing by can objectify them or solicit them for sex acts...then, after seeing the effects it has on them, determine (objectively of course) if you think we should start those up elsewhere or even have a whole red light district of our own... Of course, you could be fine with it, but I promise you many other won't be. There's a reason you don't usually find hookers in upscale neighbourhoods...

But we're straying from the topic here now.... My statement was that the treatment rates have increased since the drug policy has taken effect, suggesting a trend rather than the rates of last year... And I believe we're talking about a legislation that was passed here and the issues we have with that. You quote stats related to Denmark citing different legislations and nearly identical results, which emphasizes my point about spending money on one versus the other...and why bother changing. Then you compare Italy, Spain and Switzerland with the Netherlands which brings me back to the entire argument about the societies themselves. I have the privilege of knowing people from many European countries - personally I mean. Have you ever taken a trip through Europe? Have you ever sat and talked with people who visit here who currently live in any European country? I don't mean sitting down with the guys on James St talking about the "old country" either. The reason I'm asking is because it seems like you don't understand the wide range of cultures in Europe... My post said nothing about "Europe" compared to here, it said "Holland" and the reason for that is because it's being used as an example of what some people feel drug policy should be like.

In an earlier post, you said "we currently pay for enforcement & rehab, because enforcement doesn't work." Enforement alone never works and neither does rehab alone. The Dutch policy still uses a balance between the two. As does the Danish policy... I'm not suggesting enforcement alone, I'm simply saying that there's nothing wrong with increasing the mandatory sentence when for drug crimes. I'd also like to go back to the original post which says something like if you're going to use heroin you'll use it whether it's illegal or not...presumably trying to make a case for legalization. My response would be: However, someone who's just thinking of using heroin (i.e. not "going" to use it) could quite easily be deterred from using it because it is illegal. That original statement is logic akin to "if you're going to get drunk, you'll drink." Duh!

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:51:29

I'd like to append the following to my second last paragraph: "when it's quite clear from the moves in more recent legislation that the Dutch aren't satisfied with it either".

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 15, 2009 at 15:26:56

On a personal level, I've traveled to three continents other than N.A., but unfortunately only had time to spend about a week in England and haven't traveled to Europe outside of that. I do enjoy talking to people from other countries when I have a chance, but thanking back about it, drug laws isn't something that comes up often. My comparison to other European countries wasn't due to my lumping them into one culture, but rather that you felt it was unfair to compare N.A to The Netherlands. If your opinion is that the country is unique and incomparable to others, I'd probably disagree.

Obviously, I don't have the ability to tell countries what to do. And again, comparing drug law relaxation to pirates or illegal drug cartels is ridiculous and I'll leave it at that.

You seem to feel that people are forced to work in the sex trade, which is true, but that is bound to happen much less in countries where sex trade workers have legal rights and don't work under fear of the police as well as their customers. I would assume that no one (or at least not many) would prefer to work in the sex trade, but it's called the world's oldest profession for a reason and I'd rather see those workers have rights than not. Upscale neighbourhoods tend to use escort services, if all the government scandals are any indication. I don't know much about the current legislation or any proposed changes, so I don't know if the shop owners are required to staff entirely with their relatives. I have my doubts, but... I guess I'll leave it at that.

I can't find any recent stats on drug treatment in The Netherlands, if you know a site (or journal) that has some recent (even some good sites with historical data, I find it is usually piecemeal) confirming the recent rise in treatment rates, I'd be appreciative if you could share the information. And getting back to comparing to other countries, my point is that the reduced restrictions around usage are not related to increased use or consumption. So treatment costs are comparable in countries that spend varying amounts on enforcement. And I'm with you on the mandatory sentencing. I don't particularly care one way or the other (in all facets of law), but only if the laws they are enforcing are just.

Heroin. I don't know much about it, other than it is significantly more addictive that alcohol or marijuana (which I think is why it is in a different class?). While I'm not sure prohibiting it has reduced it's use, I don't know many people that at any age would have tried Heroin on a whim, but that's just people I know.

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By GregB (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2009 at 22:01:45

Two points -

- I really can't see why we won't at least try legalization/decriminalization. It isn't as if we can't change our minds in a few years if we feel like it. Is the argument really that as little as two years of drug freedom would be so ruinous that there would be no chance of again being at the point we are today? Our country's population so addicted to pot and heroin that our lawmakers can't pass any "tough on crime" laws because even they can't stop nodding off long enough to vote?

- One of the worst things about the "war on drugs" is that it separates a very large segment of the population from the police force. I should be able to stumble out of my house - drunk, with a needle hanging from my arm, my nostrils crusted with white powder, a joint hanging out of my mouth - and shout "That bad guy who did those genuinely bad things is right there (pointing) behind that bush!" without fear of it being me that gets busted.

Right now even the friends of casual marijuana smokers want nothing to do with the police so they won't go out of their way to help. It starts right in our schools, might as well start early driving that wedge between the populace and the police. As it stands right now I could go up to a police officer and start to tell them about something they should know about and if they smell pot then immediately I'd be the one to focus on, and not to my benefit, while the really bad abuser of people and/or violator of property rights gets away.

After the police and the justice system send my otherwise moral and principled friend to jail for what is obviously harmless or at worst slightly self-destructive behavior and you can bet that the police/justice system and I won't be co-operating any time soon.

Then, you bar people who may enjoy an occasional cannabis experience from being a police office and only take ones that are willing to persecute people who might have been their friends otherwise, that are willing to arrest people for dope and send them to jail to be brutally conscripted into criminal society. You end up with the Robert Dziekanski "incident".

I know and have known a very large amount of marijuana users over the years and one trait that they share, almost to a person, is that they demonstrate empathy, at least to some degree. Most non-empathetic people I have met (many) tend to use alcohol as their drug of choice, or are "drug free" (if you don't count prescription drugs).

Take that whole group of people (cannabis users) out of the police force as a career pool, already the people who can't stomach persecuting good people for harmless behavior have been voluntarily removed themselves from that pool - what is left but the increased likelihood of being able to find four people who would out and out execute Robert Dziekanski. Of all the dope smokers and junkies I have known I'd be really hard pressed to come up with four of them who would not have shown some concern for the treatment of a fellow human.

The wedge gets driven in deeper. That is one of the true tragedies of drug prohibition. Who knows how good things could be (real crime-wise) if the average citizen and the average cop were on co-operative terms, working towards the same goal? Unless we wise up we'll never know.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 10:06:02

JonC, related to your talk about the sex trade. Can you provide me with any real evidence that this is the case? That when sexual solicitation is "ok" they get less? Just because they're legal doesn't mean they happen less, it means you hear about it less...smoke and mirrors. As for the establishments not being staffed with relatives of the owner, you make my point for me. All of those who are working in these places are someone's relatives and chances are they don't want them there just as much as you don't want yours there. Remember the Golden Rule? I have been doing exactly what you've been doing with information. It's hard to find any one site to get everything from...

GregB, might I point out that the police force's duties extend to the public (read society) as a whole. In your first example, both of you should be punished or at least reprimanded (although perhaps one more than the other - don't forget the innocent til proven guilty rule) and that's not something that escapes the police force. The things that you are calling ok could very well be (and I'd suggest are for the majority) "genuinely bad" for others. You're taking a very narrow and selfish view on society by only looking at your actions and how they affect YOU. If you can show me significant numbers of people who are addicted to anything other than kindness who legitimately think that their addiction has helped them get along in life, I'll concede defeat. Until then, I posit that drugs in general are detrimental to society. Therefore, they should never be legalized/decriminalized.

As for your friends of occasional users who are afraid of police...you're blowing things WAY out of proportion. I also have friends who are occasional users and I'm absolutely not afraid of the police. In fact, neither are they. Are you calling us some of the few then? There are definitely police officers who would alter focus when they smell pot on you if you're trying to report something because they're work force happens to be a cross section of society, however, I'd suggest that many would not take that stance. I have three relatives one each in local, provincial and federal police forces as well as several friends who are local officers here in Hamilton and I know none of them would do that. You're a scared rabbit...have you ever tried it? Instead of watching CSI, watch The First 48 or even something like Disorderly Conduct or go try something... it's reality and you're going to find out that despite a person's appearance, smell, gender etc, their statements are always (since I've been watching the show anyway) taken and treated as any others would unless of course, the person making the allegations starts beating up the police officer... Heck I've even seen a short video (you might be able to find it on Youtube) of an officer trying to stop a speeding car at night with naked people hanging out the window and not only the driver got charged (the others got a warning).

You said "After the police and the justice system send my otherwise moral and principled friend to jail for what is obviously harmless or at worst slightly self-destructive behavior and you can bet that the police/justice system and I won't be co-operating any time soon." Once again, you're assuming that his behaviour only affects him. What if your friend has kids? or lives an apartment beside a young family and smokes up on his balcony? what if your "otherwise moral" friend manages to surround himself with "otherwise moral" friends and does something stupid like trying to cross Main Street like he's playing Frogger? At any of the above points, his behaviour DIRECTLY affects others and can no longer be called simply "self destructive". Also, by turning a blind eye to "self destructive" behaviour, where does one stop? Should we start turning a blind eye to all "self destructive" behaviour? Once you start moving the goal posts, they're very easy to pick up and move again. And not only that, you're last statement is quite childish. It reminds me of those times when I was a kid at school and my friend had said something mean and my response would be "well you're not coming to my birthday party".

You said "I know and have known a very large amount of marijuana users over the years and one trait that they share, almost to a person, is that they demonstrate empathy, at least to some degree. Most non-empathetic people I have met (many) tend to use alcohol as their drug of choice, or are "drug free" (if you don't count prescription drugs)." So then the solution to being a jerk is getting addicted to drugs? Man, I wish you'd come out with that sooner... We're back to sweeping generalizations in favour of your viewpoint. (i.e. pessimistic)

You said "Take that whole group of people (cannabis users) out of the police force as a career pool, already the people who can't stomach persecuting good people for harmless behavior have been voluntarily removed themselves from that pool - what is left but the increased likelihood of being able to find four people who would out and out execute Robert Dziekanski. Of all the dope smokers and junkies I have known I'd be really hard pressed to come up with four of them who would not have shown some concern for the treatment of a fellow human." Really? well I'd prefer that those people driving those cars with the fancy schmancy lights on them and the sirens don't have the inkling to stop by the local drug dealer for a toke. They have something on their hips far more dangerous than a taser and a lot more responsibility than your average citizen. And what's up with using Dziekanski as a reference? Are you suggesting that because those officers weren't pot users they chose to use their tasers? Just because every user you know is a nice person doesn't mean they're all that way. Take a shift at the Living Rock downtown. You'll find a couple of guys there who are "users" who are definitely not warm and fuzzy... And yes, I did volunteer there.

While it may appear from my posts that I support only enforcement and punishment, I don't. I'd like to see a balanced system of punishment relative to the crime (probably not hard time for simple possession of a very small amount of cannibis but real, hard time for dealers and traffickers etc) and treatment for those who need it.

What I'm sick of hearing is the argument that because our justice system is structured such that dealers and their cronies can get off charges easily and head back on the streets with a slap on the wrist we should legalize something. What our justice system currently calls enforcement is hardly enforcement at all so why are we calling it that? All this move did was make one aspect of a drug charge actually punishable...and now you're all scared? IMO, enforcement hasn't even been tried yet...

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By JonC (registered) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 19:55:58

Hi Frank, In a situation where prostitution is illegal, the victim has to admit to being a criminal to report a crime. The prostitute can also seek a fair wage and theoretically unionize if performing a legal task. The additional crime related benefit is that the police force can then be directed to more serious crimes. The possibility of screening of both prostitutes and clients also exists in a controlled work environment. If your alternate solution is abolition and assuming that high levels of enforcement will result in no one ever having sex for money again, that's obviously not worked and never will.

I also don't find GregB's comment to be particularly accurate or useful either. But as for this comment "If you can show me significant numbers of people who are addicted to anything other than kindness who legitimately think that their addiction has helped them get along in life, I'll concede defeat. Until then, I posit that drugs in general are detrimental to society. Therefore, they should never be legalized/decriminalized."

In that case I assume that you are petitioning all levels of government for the immediate criminalization of nicotine, caffeine, etc. Otherwise, you are hypocritically selectively selecting which drugs are harmful and require a zero tolerance approach and based on your comments, I would guess based on the status quo. That a substance has addictive properties, does not mandate it's removal from society. I'm not of the all drugs should be legal opinion, but I do believe there are drugs that cause more problems when criminalized, marijuana included.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2009 at 15:09:47

Interesting take on the Netherlands issue:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTPsFIsxM...

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By synxer (registered) | Posted July 30, 2009 at 11:24:34

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2010 at 14:18:29

I just read an article in Time on the results of drug decriminalization in Portugal that bears closely on this subject:

At the time [that drugs were decriminalized], critics in the poor, socially conservative and largely Catholic nation said decriminalizing drug possession would open the country to "drug tourists" and exacerbate Portugal's drug problem; the country had some of the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe. But the recently released results of a report commissioned by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, suggest otherwise.

The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

To which the only question left for the other Western countries is: So how's that enforcement working for you?

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-04-26 13:19:05

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