I’m old enough to remember when the “War on Drugs” was initiated with great fanfare and hope. Parents, educators and politicians believed the battle could be won. All it would take would be dedication, commitment, and adequate funding. Billions of dollars later and littered with burned-out workers, society and its efforts to wipe-out the drug culture pale in comparison to the financial resources of the drug cartels, the number of imprisoned users, and the legitimate services associated with surveillance, investigation and punishment.
Despite our best intentions and best practices, we have failed completely to bring about a drug-free society, a place where our youth can be free from pressure to use drugs, or a place where our urban citizens can safely walk the downtown streets at any time. Drug users constitute a small percentage of our population, yet what they need to do to gain access to the money to purchase drugs, restricts the freedom of most of the people in an urban environment. Prisons, we hope, are places where dangerous criminals can be punished or isolated from harming others, yet our prisons are primarily filled with people whose only crime was the need to find drugs.
More and more innocent, law-abiding people are becoming victims of others in search of the means to purchase or gain drugs. Drug users themselves are frequently victims of violent crimes. No one grows up with the career aspiration of “I want to be a user and live on the street and get ripped off as much as possible.” No drug user says, “I’d rather steal, cheat and betray my friends, than use drugs.” Yet we treat users as if they are making these career and life choices.
There is still one solution that is the most powerful and effective way to eliminate virtually all of the problems associated with drug culture. There is still one essential method that can end the war on drugs. And only Canada is poised and strong enough to put this solution into practice. Legalize and regulate all drugs.
A minority of people believe that legalized drugs will lead to an increase in users. This is unlikely to happen. No one leading a healthy, satisfying, confidence-filled life will suddenly say, “Gee, maybe things would be better if I went down to the clinic and got a dose of heroin.”
There are people who believe that drug use leads to criminal behaviour. Only a minority of people will engage in dangerous and violent acts when their judgment is impaired. And most of these people engage in these acts to get the money to buy more drugs. More people use drugs to calm themselves and reduce their stress levels, not build up their willingness to hurt someone else.
Some people are proponents of the viewpoint that supporting drug users means a lowering of moral standards in the community. Supporting drug users actually gives them a chance to improve their health, be employed, and make positive contributions to their communities. Without the worry of when and where their next dose is coming from, they can increase their attention to safety, quality relationships, and a decent lifestyle. They can increase their freedom to control their involvement with drugs, giving them more options to use at appropriate times and in appropriate places.
There are also those naysayers who argue that we have already legalized two of the most powerful drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and the health and societal benefits are marginal. Sure, bad things can happen to users and innocent people can become victims of users from ab- sorbing second-hand smoke to being killed by a drunk driver. We are still struggling with our options to manage and regulate misuse. But the majority of smokers and drinkers regulate them- selves in a responsible manner: they have places to go; they can be treated with decency and compassion when necessary and feel the full effect of the law when they violate it. Most people in Canada don’t smoke. Most people in Canada do not misuse alcohol. Legalization does not lead to significantly greater use.
Worried parents believe that legalization will lead to an increase of dangerous drug use among children and teenagers. Like other drugs and activities in society, certain acts are only legal for adults. Adding additional drugs to the list will not change this. Establishing an appropriate age or system for legal access to drugs may actually help parents in their discussions with their teens and children. By eliminating the life-long ban on various drugs, society may help young people gain greater respect for the “sense” of the law. Parents who are users may not feel hypocritical about their use and can more clearly and honestly discuss their involve- ment.
Health-conscious individuals are concerned that legalizing currently illegal drugs will impact negatively on health and raise our costs for treatment. By today’s standards it is not unusual to have concerns about virtually everything we take into our bodies. Virtually all popular, currently illegal drugs have in their origin a medicinal, health, or spiritual purpose or have been described today as having potentially valued properties. Legalization allows appropriate experimentation, supervised administration, and informative education. The billions of dollars associated with the war on drugs might be more appropriately directed at finding treatment and prevention methods for all health problems, not just drug users.
The “gateway” argument states that legalizing one substance will result in a yearning for other “harder and more dangerous” illegal drug. Research does show that users of the most highly dangerous drugs started their drug use by using less dangerous drugs. Of course, this scientific finding is made somewhat ludicrous when it is also revealed that the main substance consumed by users and addicts prior to the use of any legal or illegal drug was milk. But the “danger” of the hard drugs comes not from the drug itself, but from the way the drug is currently packaged and marketed in its illegal form.
Advocates for legalizing marijuana, the country’s most widely used illegal drug, have increased significantly in the last few years. This is a good place to start, but most cannabis users are already productive members of society whether they inhale or not. We need to legalize drugs such as cocaine and heroin; drugs that cannot be grown at home; drugs that are more difficult to properly administer and assess their composition. We need to give users access to inexpensive, regulated, self- or expert-administered doses. Clean needles, accurate substance analysis, determination of appropriate times and places will help users become more responsible and reduce dangerous drug-taking or drug-seeking behaviours. Free our police and justice system to target the real terror, crime, abuse, and violence in our society.
I want to see this type of legalization happen in my life time. I don’t use drugs of any kind, and I am definitely not advocating for the use of drugs. My friends are not drug users or adovates for drugs either. But we all want to be able to enjoy our city; we want access to our streets at night; we want to stroll with our children in our parks; and we want to keep our spouses, friends, co-workers, relatives, and family members safe. As a business person and home owner I don’t want to engage in extensive security measures to keep my home and office secure. I want to feel compassionate about individuals who need or seek treatment for addiction, rather than be worried that I’ll be ripped off by extending a helping hand. I want our community to provide drug users with access to safe and decent shelter without being treated as criminals.
How would you like things to be in your community?