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Canada Major Source of Ecstasy and Amphetamines, UN Report Says
Canada Moves Toward Reform Of Drug Policies
Could Northern Neighbor Be A Model For The US?
According to an August 9, 2009 article posted by Canwest News Service, "Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Sunday that Canada will train Mexican police officers to assist Mexico in its brutal drug war against rival drug cartels" ("Canada to Train Mexican Officers to Fight Drug Cartels"). The training plan is part of Harper's recently announced anti-crime bill, the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, which he unveiled in anticipation of the "so-called Three Amigos Summit," an annual meeting of North American leadership from Mexico, the United States, and Canada. Harper's new program will require Canada to "invest as much as $15 million a year in projects across the Americas that combat the illicit drug trade, corruption, human trafficking, and other regional problems." Nearly half a million dollars ($430,000) "will go to Mexico to help fight its drug war."
Thus, as part of his attempt to "help" Mexico fend off cartels, Harper has authorized Canadian Mounties to "train 300 mid-level Mexican police officers with the help of the United States and other countries. The Mounties will also train 32 new police commanders in such areas as police management, investigation and intelligence skills." The question of what exactly Canadian law enforcement has to offer the Mexican military with regard to police training remains unanswered, but "[f]unding for the program has already been earmarked in the January federal budget," so interested readers can watch the program's progress as it moves along early next year.
Victoria to Distribute "Crack Kits" to Users
According to a July 13, 2009 article in the Nanaimo News Bulletin ("Victoria Accepts 'Crack Kit' Distribution"), Victoria "is impatient to get [...] crack kits flowing" to addicts despite opposition from surrounding cities. The kits, which are also distributed - though differently - in Prince George and Toronto, "include a mouth piece and a push stick," which advocates say could help reduce "the transmission of communicable disease[s]" like Hepatitis C; as the Bulletin states, "research has shown that crack pipes can carry hepatitis C-positive blood." The kits will be distributed "through the same agencies distributing needles for drug injection" and can be provided at a negligible cost to taxpayers. Moreover, the Bulletin notes, "unlike needles," crack kits "could be reused by drug addicts several times." Victoria should be applauded for approving this laudable idea that not only assists crack users in ingesting the drug more safely but also expands upon the success of harm reduction measures more typically associated with heroin users.
Canada Major Source of Ecstasy and Amphetamines, UN Report Says
On June 25, 2009, the Vancouver Sun ("Canada Primary Source of Ecstasy in Drug Trade") reported that this year's "United Nations report on the world drug trade reiterates what [British Columbian] police forces have been saying for a couple of years now: Canada has become a global producer of 'party' drugs, especially ecstasy. The article states that "Canada has grown to be the most important producer of MDMA for North America" and also plays a major role in supplying the drug to Japan and Australia. Additionally, the UN found that Canada's participation in the global amphetamine trade was on the rise. As the Sun states, "Export of illegal amphetamines produced in Canada, the report claims, has grown to 20 per cent of the country's output in 2007 from only five per cent in 2006."
The article claims that the report's findings are not "particularly new information to local police forces and academics." However, some "academics were skeptical of the report's pedigree, considering it to be ideologically driven by hard-line U.S. drug policy. They note that "the U.S. accounted for more than 80 per cent of the methamphetamine labs reported worldwide in 2007 -- almost 6,000 of them. Canada reported only 17." According to the report, the issue revolves less around the sheer number of Canadian drug labs than it does around those labs' sizes. The Sun quotes the reports assertion that "The number of [methamphetamine] laboratories reported by Mexico and Canada remains comparatively small, although the size of the laboratories may on average be larger." In the words of Canadian criminologist Neil Boyd, "There's a suggestion [in the report] that trafficking [in these drugs] has increased since 2003, [...] which is probably true. But if you read the whole thing, Canada is just a small part in a global market."
Canada's House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Measure, Senate to Weigh In
In a disappointing move, the Canadian House of Commons passed "the controversial C-15 mandatory minimum sentencing drug offense bill" in early June of 2009, according to the Drug War Chronicle's June 12 feature article ("In Bold Step Backward, Canadian House of Commons Passes Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentencing Bill"). The Chronicle reports that, "Bowing to the wishes of [...] Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Liberal Party Members of Parliament (MPs) joined Monday with Harper's Conservatives" to approve the measure after an unsuccessful filibuster attempt by opposing NDP and Bloc MPs. If enacted, the bill would impose mandatory minimum sentences on certain drug crimes - including those of the nonviolent variety - in a misguided attempt to target "serious drug traffickers, the people who are basically out to destroy our society," as Justice Minister Rob Nicholson explained.
Opponents of the measure, however, dispute Nicholson's claim. As the Chronicle writes, "MP Libby Davis (NDP-Vancouver East) told Vancouver's Cannabis Culture magazine [that] 'The evidence shows very, very strongly [...] that mandatory minimum sentencing is not an effective policy when it comes to drug crime.'" According to "Vancouver marijuana activist and Cannabis Culture publisher Marc Emery, [...] 'Mid and upper-level traffickers will get no particular increase in punishment, because a major dealer would already get six months or a year for any kind of trafficking.'" He asserted that the measure would instead affect "people who wouldn't normally go to jail" and that young people would comprise the vast majority of those new prisoners.
Although, according to the Chronicle, the Canadian Senate - where the bill next stops - "typically -- but not always -- defers to the House" in legislative affairs, opponents of the measure hope but do not necessarily expect that the Senate will "act to block the passage of C-15" or at least "kill the bill by refusing to act on it before new elections are called." If the Senate does not exercise the above mentioned options, however, Canada will take a rare step backward by enacting draconian, harmful, and ineffective mandatory minimum drug policies just as other nations - including the United States - are beginning to realize the negative consequences such measures carry.
Canadian Vets to Have Medical Marijuana Costs Covered by Veterans Affairs
As Salem News reported on May 14, 2009 ("Canada: Feds to Pay for Military Veterans['] Medical Marijuana"), Canada's "federal government has decided to pay for medical cannabis for some veterans" in a reversal of Canadian Veterans' Affairs' previous ban on doing so. The policy is not all-inclusive, nor is it perfect; as Salem states, "Payments can be made only to veterans licensed by Health Canada to possess medical marijuana, and who buy government-certified cannabis." Additionally, the Drug War Chronicle reports that "Only about 3,000 of the estimated 400,000 people who use medical marijuana in Canada are licensed through Health Canada, and only a small fraction of them obtain their marijuana from Health Canada." Furthermore, "Patients and advocates have long complained that Health Canada's sole-source monopoly marijuana is of low quality" ("Canada: Veterans Affairs to Cover Medical Marijuana Expenses").
For more thorough coverage, take a look at the articles quoted above or check out the guidelines for yourself at Health Canada's web site.
More research demonstrates the high importance of Insite, a harm reduction medical agency for injection drug users. According to The Globe and Mail October 6, 2008 article, ("Insite Saves Two To 12 Lives A Year, Study Says") "Vancouver's supervised injection site, where addicts can use illegal drugs in a clean, staffed medical clinic, prevents two to 12 overdose deaths a year, according to a new research study. Researchers arrived at their findings after evaluating more than 1,000 overdoses over a four-year period at Vancouver's Insite clinic. Of the 1,004 overdoses recorded at the clinic between 2004 and 2008, 453 addicts suffered potentially fatal overdoses, the researchers said. Had these overdoses occurred outside the clinic, between two and 12 of the addicts would have died each year, the study concluded. It was written by researchers at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS."
The article states, "The injection site, which has the support of British Columbia politicians and the Vancouver police, has been the target of criticism by the federal Conservative government. In August, Health Minister Tony Clement questioned the clinic's usefulness, saying a government research panel concluded that the injection site has saved - on average - one life a year since it opened in 2003. Mr. Clement said the clinic's $3-million annual budget would be better spent funding drug treatment centres."
The article adds, "One of the study's authors, Thomas Kerr, said its large range of between two and 12 lives saved was unavoidable because it's hard to put a figure on an event that has not occurred. Researchers studied the death rates from overdoses in other jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, Australia and England, and arrived at a range of rates, said Dr. Kerr, who teaches medicine at the University of British Columbia. Still, Dr. Kerr said he's sure that that the injection site saves at least a dozen lives per year."
As insurance coverage rates continue to climb the increased use of employee drug testing follows. According to the Nanaimo News Bulletin September 10, 2008 article,("Drug Testing Hits Construction;") "An agreement between B.C.'s unionized construction workers and their employers has created a new industry-wide policy requiring workers who have workplace accidents or near misses to undergo mandatory drug and alcohol testing. Workers could also be tested if there is a reasonable suspicion of impairment.The program tests for alcohol and nine other drugs."
The article adds, "Bruce Margetts, president of Nanaimo's Crane Force Ltd., said industry employers have been fighting for a drug testing policy for years. His company has its own drug testing policy. 'Being in the crane business, the liabilities are absolutely staggering,' he said. 'We're 100 per cent behind it and so is the insurance industry. Margetts said there are already many job sites where his workers are required to give a urine sample, while oil and mining operations in Alberta have tested workers for some time. 'Pretty soon you'll see everyone do it-either that or you won't get insurance,' he said. Micheal Vonn, policy director with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said her organization has concerns about the tests. 'It's not clear that the tests effectively determine active impairment,' she said, adding the testing could lead to employers accessing medical information they have no right to access.'The safety justification, in our view, is incredibly problematic when it comes to pre-employment screening," said Vonn.'We would expect that there will be numerous individual challenges. When you have a program of this magnitude, there is the potential that it could bleed into other sectors."
The article notes, "Clyde Scollan, president of the Construction Labour Relations Association, said if a worker tests positive for marijuana, which can remain in the system for weeks after use, a second test is conducted that narrows active impairment down to a matter of hours. He said unionized contractors and the 14 building trades worked on the policy since the last round of bargaining and it applies to everyone on the job site, including managers and administrative staff.Scollan said the agreement only applies to the 350 members in his association. While concerns have been expressed about invasion of worker privacy, Scollan said both parties-the employers and the unions-agreed to the policy."
Another demonstration of supply meets demand. Alcohol, tobacco and drug smuggling linked to Marine Atlantic ferries has gained recent attention. According to The Gulf News July 28, 2008 article,("Ferrying Drugs") "Smugglers choose federal crown corporation Marine Atlantic ferries most often to move illegal drugs and tobacco from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and Labrador, but police and ferry officials do not routinely screen passengers and vehicles for contraband, according to an investigation by The Telegram. 'We live on an island. Almost everything comes by Marine Atlantic,' wrote RCMP Staff Sgt. Jim Power about smuggling in Newfoundland. The province's other main police force - the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary - also knows drugs are coming across the Gulf of St. Lawrence on federal government ferries. 'We know through our investigations that some of the drugs that have come into the province have Marine Atlantic links,' said Deputy Chief Bob Johnston. Marine Atlantic's ferry service sailing from North Sydney, N.S., is the only link for vehicles being driven to the island of Newfoundland. 'Marine Atlantic Inc. does not have the jurisdiction to conduct investigations that relate to activities referred to in your request,' said Marine Atlantic's interim president, John Roil. Instead, the corporation relies on police to investigate smuggling. The federal Department of Agriculture questions all drivers leaving Newfoundland about plants and vegetables in their vehicles, which are then sprayed to protect against the spread of crop diseases in mainland Canada, but police do not question or screen passengers or cars coming to the province for illegal tobacco or drugs."
The article states, "The RNC and RCMP have jurisdiction on Marine Atlantic ferries. The RNC - like the RCMP - consider the ferry routes an extension of the Trans-Canada Highway. RNC officers do not regularly police Marine Atlantic ferries, but sometimes board the vessels armed with search warrants when they are following up on specific information provided by confidential information. Johnston, the deputy chief, agreed that spot checks, metal detectors and police dogs would likely result in more drug seizures, but he said acting on confidential information is the RNC's preferred way to fight drug smuggling. 'Drug enforcement is not done through random checks,' said Johnston. 'Our strongest defence in terms of dealing with this is the strength of the intelligence community, in terms of information of who's bringing it into the province. We've doubled the size of our drug section, not only here in St. John's, but in Corner Brook and Labrador. So, there's more enforcement."
The article adds, "Police interviewed for this story said drugs also enter the province by courier, the ferry service to Lewisporte and via the Oceanex shipping terminal in St. John's. King said Marine Atlantic is worried passengers would be angered by check points, X-ray devices and police dogs and it is more concerned with protecting the provincial tourism industry, than catching smugglers. The RNC's deputy chief said screening passengers and vehicles isn't a simple matter. 'There's a whole bunch of things you'd have to look at,' said Johnston. 'The impact on Marine Atlantic traffic; is there an infringement by doing that kind of random search? I don't think that's a question that can be answered without in-depth research."
The British Columbia Supreme Court has effectively thrown out a key provision of Canada's drug law. The Court's decision supports the Insite safe injection facility in Vancouver.The National Post reported on May 28, 2008 ("BC drug injection site legal, court rules") that "The B. C. Supreme Court has thrown the country's drug law into limbo with a ruling that says it conflicts with health concerns that constitutionally are a provincial responsibility, as well as conflicting with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a surprise ruling yesterday, the court supported Vancouver's experimental supervised injection clinic and halted federal attempts to close the facility. Judge Ian Pitfield said Insite should be allowed to remain open for a year even without a federal exemption from current drug laws. The judge declared a key section of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) of no force and gave Ottawa until June 30, 2009, to rectify the law because it appears to interfere with medical treatment. Judge Pitfield said the current law governing illicit substances puts "unfettered discretion in the hands of the Minister" and violates the Constitution."
According to the National Post, "In a 59-page decision that reviewed more than a decade's worth of social work on the Downtown Eastside, the judge said drug addicts deserved the same kind of health care as those in the thralls of alcohol or tobacco addiction. Insite was established in September, 2003, as a pilot project to reduce disease, reduce overdose deaths and foster better health care for addicts. More than one million injections have occurred. However, an exemption granted by the federal government for the clinic to operate expired, and the facility has been operating on temporary permits since. The ruling was greeted with near disbelief and euphoria by advocates, who have lobbied for years, first to open the site and then to keep it open."
The National Post reported that "Judge Pitfield concluded the national law blocked addicts from a health care facility that could reduce or eliminate their risk of death from an overdose or from contracting an infectious disease, thereby violating their right to life and security. 'While users do not use Insite to directly treat their addiction, they receive services and assistance at Insite which reduce the risk of overdose that is a feature of their illness, they avoid the risk of being infected or of infecting others by injection, and they gain access to counselling and consultation that may lead to abstinence and rehabilitation,' he said. 'All of this is health care.' Judge Pitfield went on to say the federal law 'forces the user who is ill from addiction to resort to unhealthy and unsafe injection in an environment where there is a significant and measurable risk of morbidity or death.'"
Canada's federal health ministry, Health Canada, published a new review of Insite, the sanitary injection center in Vancouver, BC, showing several positive and no negative impacts.
According to the Vancouver Sun ("Health Canada Panel Gives Injection Site Favorourable Review," April 12, 2008), "Vancouver's much-debated supervised injection site for drug users is well supported by the community, provides as much as $4 in benefits for every dollar spent, doesn't cause increased drug use, doesn't appear to affect crime rates, encourages users to get treatment, and saves at least one person a year from dying of a drug overdose. Those were some of the generally positive conclusions, made public late Friday, of an expert advisory committee appointed by Health Canada. The committee was appointed last year to review existing research on Insite, as well as new studies commissioned, including one by Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd on public order."
The positive conclusions had not been anticipated. As the Sun reported, "The committee's work was viewed with apprehension by local advocates of the injection site as an effort by Health Minister Tony Clement to look for negative information about the site in order to be able to shut it down, in spite of numerous positive evaluations by the Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. But the committee of experts in addictions, mental health, and criminology found that the evidence about the site's impacts was generally favourable, although the experts did say they weren't certain that conclusions about the site's impact on reducing HIV infection were valid. The report also suggested other types of research that could be done and it noted the limitations of existing studies."
According to the Sun, "Mayor Sam Sullivan, researchers and advocates see the committee's review as generally positive. 'I think this makes it clear the site is not part of the problem, it's part of the solution," said Sullivan. "It's also clear it doesn't solve all the problems, since only five per cent of injections are there, but I was very pleased with some of the other observations, that it had helped people get to treatment and had facilitated vaccinations [for pneumonia].' Researcher Dr. Thomas Kerr agreed. 'Overall, the report is very positive and confirms our research that the site is doing what it's supposed to do -- provide health benefits without increasing harm,' said Kerr, a researcher with the Centre for Excellence on HIV/AIDS. 'Now it's time for the federal government to honour the findings and stop asking if this program should remain open.'"
The Sun noted that "The site currently has a federal exemption from narcotics laws that goes to June 30 and allows the use of illegal drugs on the premises. Rita Smith, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Clement's office, said a decision on whether to extend that exemption will be made between now and June 30. However, the Vancouver Police Union issued a statement late Friday saying the review committee's report suggests that the site costs a lot to run and serves only a tiny minority, doing little to reduce infection rates or overdose deaths. Union president Tom Stamatakis called it a 'well-intentioned but expensive failure.' Stamatakis's view was at odds with the generally positive public opinion that was highlighted in Boyd's study. He found that 80 per cent of a select group of police officers, business owners, residents and service providers in the Downtown Eastside thought the site should be expanded or retained. Just over half of the 20 police officers interviewed had that opinion. 'It was certainly interesting for us to see the level of support for Insite,' said Boyd."
The Conservative government of Stephen Harper is pushing crime policy to the forefront as it attempts to replicate a US-style drug war.
The Ottawa Citizen reported on Feb. 8, 2008 ("Pass Crime Bill or Go to Polls, Tories Say") that "Looking more and more like it is bent on an election, the Harper government set another potential trap for the Liberals yesterday, introducing a motion urging the Senate to pass the government's violent-crime bill by the start of next month, but the Liberals promptly dismissed the move as a "juvenile trick." The motion, expected to be put to a vote next week, calls on the Senate to pass the Tackling Violent Crime Act by March 1. The government has declared it a confidence motion, meaning an election could be triggered if the measure is defeated."
According to the Citizen, "There are now three potential triggers for a spring election in the next seven weeks. Besides the crime motion, the government will face confidence votes over the federal budget at the end of this month, plus a motion to extend the Afghanistan mission that is expected to be put to a vote in late March. However, it appeared yesterday that the crime motion would pass. NDP leader Jack Layton said his party would vote against the motion, but Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe said he had 'no problem' with it. Liberal leader Stephane Dion also vowed that his party would not fall for what he called a 'juvenile trick,' suggesting the Liberals will abstain from the vote. Mr. Dion accused the government of trying to engineer its own defeat before having to table the budget."
The Citizen noted that "Earlier, government House Leader Peter Van Loan warned there would be a "clear impasse" between the two chambers of Parliament if the Commons approved the motion, but the Senate doesn't pass the bill. If that happens, the prime minister could ask the Governor General to dissolve Parliament, thus triggering an election, on the grounds the Senate is preventing the government from carrying out its agenda. Experts debated whether such a move would be constitutional, especially since Parliament last year passed a bill setting fixed election dates. The next election is set for October 2009, unless the opposition defeats the government."
Canada's self-styled "Prince of Pot," Marc Emery, has reportedly accepted a deal offered by US prosecutors and will serve five years in prison on cannabis-related charges.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Jan. 16, 2008 ("'Prince of Pot' Given Prison Time") that "Although the plea deal has not yet been formally adopted, Emery said Tuesday that he's agreed to the prosecution's terms: that he serve a minimum of five years behind bars. Most of that time would be done in a Canadian prison, he said. Emery had been facing a mandatory minimum term of 10 years and up to life if convicted in U.S. District Court for a crime that's rarely prosecuted in Canada. The plea agreement calls for him to plead guilty to a three-count indictment issued in 2005 by a Seattle grand jury. He was charged with manufacturing more than a ton of marijuana and conspiring to distribute seeds and launder the profits."
According to the Post-Intelligencer, "Emery said the plea deal is contingent on sparing two longtime associates, also charged in the indictment, any jail time. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg on Tuesday declined to comment on the plea bargain outlined by Emery. He said an extradition hearing scheduled to begin Monday in Vancouver so far hasn't been canceled."
The P-I noted that "As support for his allegation that his prosecution was politically motivated, Emery prominently displays on his Web site a statement from Karen Tandy, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration at the time. To the dismay of the federal criminal justice establishment in Seattle, Tandy issued a statement after Emery's arrest in July 2005, saying: 'Today's DEA arrest of Marc Scott Emery, publisher of Cannabis Culture magazine, and the founder of a marijuana legalization group -- is a significant blow not only to the marijuana trafficking trade in the U.S. and Canada, but also the marijuana legalization movement. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of Emery's illicit profits are known to have been channeled to marijuana legalization groups active in the United States and Canada. Drug legalization lobbyists now have one less pot of money to rely on.'"
A Canadian Federal Court ruling has struck down a provision of that country's medical marijuana law which required approved users to get their medicine from a government supplier.
According to a Canadian Press report published Jan. 11, 2008 ( "Decision Opens Field for Medical Marijuana Growers"), "The decision by Judge Barry Strayer, released late Thursday, essentially grants medical marijuana users more freedom in picking their own grower and allows growers to supply the drug to more than one patient. It's also another blow to the federal government, whose attempts to tightly control access to medical marijuana have prompted numerous court challenges. Currently, medical users can grow their own pot but growers can't supply the drug to more than one user at a time."
The Canadian Press reported that "In his decision, Strayer called the provision unconstitutional and arbitrary, as it 'caused individuals a major difficulty with access. . .' Ottawa must also reconsider requests made by a group of medical users who brought the matter to court to have a single outside supplier as their designated producer, Strayer said in his 23-page decision. While the government has argued that medical users who can't grow their own marijuana can obtain it from its contract manufacturer, fewer than 20 per cent of patients actually use the government's supply, Strayer wrote. 'In my view it is not tenable for the government, consistently with the right established in other courts for qualified medical users to have reasonable access to marijuana, to force them either to buy from the government contractor, grow their own or be limited to the unnecessarily restrictive system of designated producers,' he wrote. "
The Canadian federal government has finally announced its long-awaited shift in drug control policies from an effective, evidence-based strategy to a more US-style drug war. The CBC news service reported on Oct. 4, 2007 ("PM Wants Mandatory Drug Sentences") that "Prime Minister Stephen Harper has promised mandatory prison terms for serious drug crimes as part of a $63.8-million, two-year drug strategy he says will offer help to addicts and punishment to dealers.
According to the CBC, "Harper said harm reduction is not 'a distinct pillar in our strategy' and that he is skeptical about a policy that would help people stay addicted."
The CBC noted that "People involved in treatment of addictions have raised concerns the money being spent by the government will focus too much on anti-drug enforcement and leave out harm-reduction measures, such as safe-injection sites or needle-exchange programs."
Insite, the safe injection site in Vancouver, BC's Downtown Eastside neighborhood, has been given another six-month reprieve from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government. The National Post reported on Oct. 2, 2007 ("Vancouver drug injection site gets six-month extension") that "Vancouver's Insite facility had faced closure at the end of the year, but Health Minister Tony Clement notified the local health authority that the injection site can stay open until June 30, 2008. The facility, which opened in 2003 as part of a research project in the Vancouver's poor, drug-infested Downtown Eastside neighborhood, needs an exemption from Canada's drug laws to remain in operation. The federal government has been weighing Insite's long-term future, and the six-month extension will allow continued research on its impact on efforts to promote drug treatment programs and reduce crime, Clement said."
Insite, which is modelled on similar facilities in Europe, receives more than 600 addict visits daily. Insite's supporters, including Vancouver police, say studies have already shown it has prevented overdose deaths and helped get addicts into treatment. They say it also has slowed the sharing of needles, which is how AIDS and other diseases are often spread. The supporters say those results show the facility should be allowed to remain open permanently. But critics, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have complained the Canadian government should not be sanctioning the use of illegal drugs. The U.S. government has complained that Insite is a weak link in Canada's anti-drug efforts."
Editor's Note: CSDP Director of Research Doug McVay toured the Insite facility in Vancouver in August 2007.
The National Post noted that "Questions about Insite's fate had been fueled by the government's announcement last weekend that it was ready to unveil a new national drug strategy expected to emphasize a tougher stand on illegal drug use."
Minor arrests for possession of marijuana have increased in Canada since the Conservative government came to power in 2006. The Chronicle-Journal reported on July 8, 2007 ("Pot Busts Surge In Some Cities Now That Decriminalization's Dead") that "The number of people arrested for smoking pot rose dramatically in several Canadian cities last year after the Conservatives took office and killed a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The spike in arrests for simple possession of cannabis appears in data compiled by The Canadian Press from municipal police forces through interviews and Access to Information Act requests. National statistics will only be released next week but preliminary figures suggest the number of arrests jumped by more than one-third in several Canadian cities. Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax all reported increases of between 20 and 50 per cent in 2006, while Montreal and Calgary saw their number of arrests dip a few percentage points from the previous year."
According to the Chronicle-Journal, "Every party in the House of Commons except the Conservatives supported a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, but the Liberal government that sponsored it never brought it to a final vote. Several police officials say the trend is linked directly to that legislation, which died as a result of the federal election on Jan. 23, 2006. The head of one police association said many forces simply stopped laying charges after the Liberals first introduced a decriminalization bill under Jean Chretien in 2003. 'There were several police jurisdictions not laying the simple ... possession charges,' said Terry McLaren, president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. 'Everybody was waiting for what was going to happen. . There'd be no use clogging up court system with that decriminalization bill there. When that was defeated, I'd say it was business as usual.' The number of people charged plunged from 26,882 in 2002 and remained relatively steady, below 19,000, for the three years that decriminalization was being debated in Parliament."
The Chronicle-Journal noted that "The stillborn bill by the previous Liberal government would have made possession under 15 grams a non-criminal offence punishable by fines starting at $150. Nearly half of Canadians have committed the crime spelled out in Section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. It sets out a maximum six-month prison sentence and a $1,000 fine for anyone caught with 30 grams of marijuana or less. Liberalization advocates say 600,000 Canadians unfairly carry a criminal record because of existing laws. They call the decision to scrap decriminalization wrong-headed. 'It seems to me that the clock is turning backwards here,' said New Democrat MP Libby Davies, a persistent critic of current laws. 'They may charge more people - but they're not deterring youth, they're not putting in funds for education or prevention.'"
A public opinion by Angus Reid Strategies found that a majority of Canadians favor legalization of marijuana. According to the Angus Reid Global Monitor on June 28, 2007 ("Canadians Support Marijuana Legalization"), "Many adults in Canada believe the consumption of cannabis should be permitted by law, according to a poll by Angus Reid Strategies. 55 per cent of respondents think marijuana should be legalized in the country, but less than 10 per cent agree with authorizing the consumption of five other illegal drugs."
The survey found that "As far as specific proposals to deal with drug abuse, 86 per cent of respondents support introducing a National Anti-Drug Strategy, including a nationwide awareness campaign to discourage young Canadians from using drugs, and 71 per cent are in favour of ensuring mandatory minimum prison sentences and large fines for marijuana grow operators and drug dealers."
Importantly however the poll results show that "Still, a majority of Canadians would salvage some of the ideas abandoned by the Conservative government. 55 per cent of respondents oppose eliminating "harm reduction" programs, such as supervised injection sites and needle-exchange programs, and 52 per cent disagree with scrapping the previous government’s marijuana decriminalization legislation."
The poll results are available from the Angus Reid website.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to soon release a new Canadian drug control strategy, backing away from harm reduction and embracing ineffective, counterproductive US-style drugwar-focused policies. The National Post reported on May 23, 2007 ("Tories To Shun 'Safe Drug' Sites") that "The Harper government's new anti-drug strategy is expected to take a tough approach to illicit drugs, including cracking down on grow-ops and pushers and retreating from "harm reduction" measures such as safe injection sites for addicts. The new strategy, slated to be announced next week, is also understood to include more money for treatment and a national drug-use prevention campaign. The federal budget last March offered a glimpse of the strategy by allocating an additional $64-million over two years for enforcement, treatment and prevention. But the budget figures did not mention harm-reduction measures, which aim to limit the spread of infectious diseases through substance abuse. 'They haven't explicitly said they are getting rid of harm reduction, but the budget numbers speak for themselves,' said Leon Mar, spokesman for the Canadian HIV-AIDS Legal Network. 'There is no money for harm reduction, which is quite ominous for what will be.'"
According to the National Post, "Of the new money allocated in the federal budget, $22-million would go to law enforcement efforts to crack down on marijuana grow operations and to catch and convict dealers. Drug treatment programs would get a boost of $32-million, including money for research aimed at treating crystal methamphetamine addicts. And another $10-million would be spent on a prevention campaign for young people and their parents. Tony Cannavino, president of the Canadian Police Association, said a national 'say-no-to-drugs' campaign would counter a perception among young people that marijuana is legal, in light of a failed Liberal bid to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug. The new Tory strategy is also expected to endorse drug treatment courts, which already exist in Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. Instead of criminal sanctions, drug addicts can be ordered into treatment programs."
The National Post noted that "Canada is currently operating under a 20-year-old national drug strategy that has been criticized for a lack of direction, targets and measurable results. The government spends $385-million a year under the strategy, most of it on law enforcement measures such as police investigations, prosecutions and border controls. A large share of the spending also goes to treatment, prevention, and harm-reduction measures such as needle-exchange programs, in which addicts trade dirty needles for sterile ones, and a supervised injection site in Vancouver, where addicts can legally inject themselves with the help of medical professionals. The Conservatives have been skeptical about the supervised injection site, saying the government shouldn't be in the business of facilitating drug abuse. The site opened on a trial basis four years ago. Last September, Health Minister Tony Clement ignored advice to renew the site's licence for another 3 years, electing instead to give it only a one-year reprieve. The United Nations drug control agency warned in March that Canada is flouting international drug control treaties by enabling illicit drug use at the safe injection site in Vancouver."
A report from Canada reveals that the economic and social costs from alcohol use are much greater than from illegal drug use. The National Post reported on March 29, 2007 ("Alcohol Toll Badly Underestimated, Study Says") that "Days after the federal government unveiled a budget that earmarked $64-million for a national anti-drug strategy, a new report says the social and economic costs associated with alcohol are twice as high as those racked up by illegal drug use. The study says Canadians have an exaggerated view of the harm associated with illegal drugs, possibly fuelled by vivid media reports, and the emphasis given the subject by police organizations, political leaders and policy-makers. The study, released yesterday by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, suggests anti-drug strategies should include alcohol as a significant part of the equation."
According to the National Post, "The study said the economic and social costs of alcohol abuse reached $7.4-billion in 2002, more than twice the $3.6-billion associated with illicit drug use. But Canadians' perceptions of the two problems were out of proportion with those figures, the study found. It said that while only 25% of Canadians identified alcohol abuse as 'very serious' national problem, 45% felt illicit drug use was 'very serious.' 'The divergence between the perceived seriousness and actual costs points to the need to reset public misconceptions about the size and scope of illicit drug abuse in Canada, especially injection drug use, and to better educate Canadians about the significant and largely unrecognized risks of alcohol,' Rita Notarandrea, the centre's director of research and policy, said in releasing the report."
The National Post noted that "Gerald Thomas, one of the report's authors, said illicit drug use is a significant drain on the Canadian economy. But he said policy-markers should not exclude alcohol from any stepped up strategy to combat drug abuse. 'We are suggesting that given the costs that we're looking at, what the costs are to society, that alcohol should not be left out.' Mr. Thomas said a 2002 study sponsored by the centre showed that in crimes involving substance abuse, alcohol tends to have more of a correlation with violent crime than illicit drugs do. The study said 49% of murders, attempted murders and assault were attributable to drugs and/or alcohol. Five per cent were attributable to drugs only, 28% to alcohol only, and 16% were attributable to a combination of alcohol and illicit drugs."
The study, "Comparing the Perceived Seriousness and Actual Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada," is available from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse website.
A review of Canadian drug policy found that it focuses too heavily on law enforcement as opposed to treatment or prevention programs. The Vancouver Sun reported on Jan. 15, 2007 ("Tough-On-Drugs Plans Don't Work, But Get Funds: Study,") that "Roughly three-quarters of federal spending to fight illegal drugs is going toward unproven and possibly counterproductive enforcement measures while an insignificant amount is being spent on potentially more effective "harm reduction" measures, says a new study being published today. The study was produced by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an agency partly funded by the B.C. government, that is fighting a fierce battle with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government over the future of Canada's only supervised injection site for addicts in downtown Vancouver. "While the stated goal of Canada's Drug Strategy is to reduce harm, evidence obtained through this analysis indicates that the overwhelming emphasis continues to be on conventional enforcement-based approaches which are costly and often exacerbate, rather than reduce, harms," states the report in HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review, a publication funded partly by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the American Bar Association."
According to the Sun, "The B.C. Centre's new study, analysing publicly available documents, said 73 per cent, or $271 million, of the $368 million spent by Ottawa in 2004-05 went toward enforcement measures such as border control, RCMP investigations and federal prosecution expenses. Of the remaining $97 million, $51 million went to treatment, $26 million was spent on 'coordination and research,' $10 million went to prevention programs, and $10 million was devoted to harm reduction. The study says the proportion of federal spending on enforcement has dropped from 95 per cent in 2001 to the most recent figure, 73 per cent, after the former Liberal government, responding to criticism from the federal auditor-general and other critics that Canada's drug strategy was uncoordinated and ineffective, began emphasizing alternative anti-drug strategies like harm reduction."
The Sun noted that "'The proposed Americanization of the drug strategy, towards entrenching a heavy-handed approach that relies on law enforcement, will be a disaster,' says report co-author Dr. Thomas Kerr in a statement. 'It is as if the federal government is willing to ignore a mountain of science to pursue an ideological agenda.'"
A new survey of Canadian attitudes toward drug policy was released at almost the same time. The CanWest News Service reported on Jan. 16, 2007 ("Drug Poll Points To Prevention, Treatment As Divisive Issues") that "Two-thirds of Canadians believe the federal government, which has promised a tough new national drug strategy, should treat drug abuse as a medical problem requiring more prevention and treatment programs, according to a new national poll provided exclusively Monday to CanWest News Service. But a clear majority of those remaining third of Canadians who favour a police crackdown on drug abuse are Conservative supporters, according to the new survey of just under 3,000 Canadians by Innovative Research Group Inc."
According to CanWest, "Innovative spokesman Greg Lyle said the results may explain why Harper's Tories are advocating the law-and-order approach while questioning scientific studies praising harm-reduction efforts. 'This is an issue where the Conservative world goes one way, the rest of the world goes another,' Lyle said. Harper, according to Lyle, would risk alienating his own support base if he backed the former Liberal policy that put more emphasis on harm-reduction measures like injection sites and needle exchanges. 'Within the Tory base, (government support for) harm reduction would be problematic,' said Lyle. 'But in the broader public that approach is where people are moving.'"
CanWest noted that "British Columbians' views were in line with the national mood, with 66 per cent in favour of the softer approach and 34 per cent advocating law-and-order measures.) Ontarians (67 per cent viewing addiction as a medical problem) and Quebecers (65 per cent) were also in tune with the majority view, whereas Albertans (61 per cent) and Atlantic Canadians (56 per cent) were least likely to view the issue this way. The poll found that 55 per cent of current Tory supporters back the get-tough approach, compared to 45 per cent of Conservative backers who believe addiction is a medical issue. Meanwhile, roughly three-quarters of the supporters of other parties believe addiction is largely a medical matter. Lyle said the results show the issue is a good one for opposition parties and problematic for Harper as the prime minister tries to solidify and expand his coalition into a possible majority government. He noted a significant 45 percent minority of Tory backers see addiction as a medical matter. 'This is a great opposition issue because it divides the Tories but unites the opposition.' The survey of 2,938 adult Canadians is considered accurate to within 1.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, according to Innovative, a polling and research firm based in Toronto and Vancouver."
The Canadian federal government has decided to allow the Insite supervised drugs consumption facility in Vancouver, BC, to remain open while more data is gathered on its effectiveness. The Edmonton Journal reported on Sept. 3, 2006 ("Safe Injection Site Gets Reprieve") that "Some experts are saying the decision to keep a safe heroin-injection site open until Dec. 31, 2007, while more research is conducted, was a strategic move on the part of the federal government. The announcement was made late in the day Friday, preceding the last long weekend of the summer. In the release, Health Minister Tony Clement said: 'Given the need for more facts, I am unable to approve the current request to extend the Vancouver site for another three and a-half years.' Releasing controversial news late in the week is a common political and corporate strategy used to deflect attention from hot-button issues."
According to the Journal, "Simon Fraser University political science professor Patrick Smith said it appeared that the minority Conservatives are trying to distance themselves from the safe injection site over a timeframe that many predict will see another federal election. Liberal MP and former health minister Ujjal Dosanjh called the project's extension "cynical." 'This is all about politics,' he said Saturday. 'This announcement is not about health for them . . . which is a shame. This issue is not a partisan issue.' B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan have rallied for Insite."
The Journal noted that "The pilot project, called Insite, allows addicts to shoot up their own heroin or cocaine in the presence of a nurse to prevent overdoses. It would have closed Sept. 12 had the Harper government decided not to renew a three-year exemption under Canada's drug laws. The site is funded by the provincial government, although Ottawa has provided research funding."
An archive of published research on the Insite program is available from the Insite website.
The Senlis Council, a European nonprofit focused on international security and development issues put out a report in June 2006 entitled "Canada in Kandahar: No Peace to Keep A Case Study of the Military Coalitions in Southern Afghanistan." According to the Senlis Council's news release ("Following US Policies Is Turning Canadian Military Operation In Afghanistan Into A Suicide Mission," June 28, 2006), "Canadian troops are paying with their lives for Canada’s adherence to the US government’s failing military and counter-narcotics policies in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan said The Senlis Council, an international security and development think tank. Senlis warned in a Report released today that the US-led counter-terrorist operations under Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and aggressive large-scale crop eradication have significantly contributed to the current war situation that is flaring-up in Kandahar and the other southern provinces. 'The Canada government and the international community continue to seemingly unquestioningly accept America’s fundamentally flawed approach to southern Afghanistan,' said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of The Senlis Council. 'But this is jeopardising both the troops’ lives and the stabilisation, reconstruction and development objectives. The Canadian troops in Kandahar are doing a heroic job in the most difficult of circumstances and are to be commended; but the overall policy context within which they are obliged to work is putting them at risk.'"
According to Senlis, "The Report indicates that the large-scale aggressive forced eradication of poppy crops in Kandahar, led by the US, has contributed in a significant way to the discontent of the local populations and that a wave of New Taliban are cashing-in on the local population’s disillusionment with the foreign military presence. 'Most farmers feel abandoned and cheated by the central government and the international community,' said Reinert. 'This has given way to a dramatic switch in alliance to the only people who they believe are showing any understanding of their needs the Taliban.' In its report, Senlis notes that there is growing support for the Taliban who now offer protection to farmers against the eradication of their poppy crops."
The Senlis Council noted that "Senlis said that the recent resurgence of the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and the sharp rise in violence which has come with it are an early warning of how the rest of the country could go if the international community, particularly the military, do not change their approach in the coming months."
International Drug Enforcement Counter Symposium:
A Canadian Response to USA Drug Policy Hegemony
Also, check out this article from Ottawa's Hour Magazine, "The DEA Comes To Montreal To Strategize."
The newly-elected minority Conservative government in Canada is making US-style 'get-tough' policies part of their agenda in an attempt to pander to both the US and some within Canadian law enforcement. The New York Times reported on April 4, 2006 ( "Canada's New Prime Minister Takes Tough Stance On Marijuana Laws") that "Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday that he was scrapping draft legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, a measure that had been strongly criticized by the Bush administration. The move was not unexpected, because his Conservative Party had opposed the measure. But it was symbolically important coming on the first day that the new Parliament convened and only days after Mr. Harper's first meeting as prime minister with President Bush, at a summit meeting in Mexico. Mr. Harper announced the move during a speech to the Canadian Professional Police Association in which he pledged to toughen sentences for drug and gun crimes, tighten parole rules, strengthen controls on child pornography and expand the national databank of DNA samples for convicted criminals."
According to the Times, "The former Liberal government had drafted the legislation, which would have made possession of less than 15 grams of marijuana a minor offense punishable by fines of between $100 and $400. Those found with small amounts would no longer have a criminal record. Several American officials had warned that the legislation would force the United States to increase its inspections at the border and thereby risk creating more delays for trade and tourists. It was also viewed by American officials as a harmful symbol when the Canadian marijuana industry, which is estimated to generate as much as $8.5 billion annually, is spreading across the country and exporting widely in the United States. The legislation was also opposed by local Canadian police departments. The proposed law, drafted three years ago, was never brought to a vote. But it remained an irritant in relations between Canada and the United States, especially as the Canadian police have made fewer and fewer arrests for marijuana possession in recent years."
The Canadian Prime Minister's moves have met with mixed reactions in his own country. The Toronto Globe & Mail editorialized on April 5, 2006
("Harper's Inflexible Steps To Get Tough On Crime"):
According to the Globe & Mail, "The trouble with mandatory minimums is that they remove a judge's discretion to temper justice with common sense in cases where the evidence warrants. This might sit well with those determined to believe that the courts are stuffed with activist judges who abuse their power, but most judges treat gun crimes and weapons offences very seriously. And have those critics imagined how the changes would play out in the real world? Accused criminals who might have accepted a plea bargain will now fight their cases through the courts, having less to lose. Mandatory jailing would swell the prison populations at a considerable cost which Mr. Harper didn't mention either in Monday's address or in the Throne Speech. Apart from the many new minimums, the Conservatives would increase existing mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes to between five and 10 years, up from the current one to four years. Of course, some money might be saved because prosecutors would use their discretion not to prosecute. In March of last year, David Daubney, general counsel for the federal Justice Department's sentencing reform team, said prosecutors were already withdrawing or staying two-thirds of charges related to the mandatory-minimum gun laws because, in part, they concluded that 'it would be unjust to send someone to jail for a year based on the circumstances that were there.' One-size-fits-all doesn't fit all."
The Globe & Mail also noted that "As for the decriminalization of marijuana, Mr. Harper would do well to recall the December, 2003, ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada which found that Parliament has the power to make possession of marijuana a crime. Three dissenting judges said 'the harm caused by prohibiting marijuana is fundamentally disproportionate to the problems that the state seeks to suppress,' and even the majority said the accused raised 'matters of legitimate controversy' in arguing that 'the line between criminal and non-criminal conduct has been drawn inappropriately.' Consider that one-third of Canadians are estimated to have smoked marijuana at least once. Is the activity considered so dangerous, so harmful to society, that someone in simple possession of a small amount should be subject to a record that will limit where he or she may travel and what professions he or she may enter? No. The penalty is disproportionate, and the element of discretion -- criminal charges may be laid against one person with a marijuana joint, but not another -- makes it even less palatable. A bill to decriminalize the drug belongs before Parliament."
The Toronto, Ontario City Council overwhelmingly approved a wide-ranging drug strategy in Dec. 2005. The Toronto Star reported on Dec. 15, 2005 ( "Addicts Get Crack Pipes In New Drug Strategy") that "Crack users will be given pipes and the city will study whether to set up sites where addicts can use drugs under a wide-ranging drug strategy approved by city council yesterday. The drug policy -- which also aims to reduce the concentration of bars in certain areas of the city -- passed by a 24-15 vote. It urges the province to set up more treatment centres, especially for young people with drug and mental health problems, and says addicts should be eligible for provincial disability benefits. And it says possession of small amounts of marijuana shouldn't be a criminal offence. The strategy sets no deadline for the study of safe injection sites and a committee will examine just where crack pipes will be handed out."
According to the Star, "The policy's 66 recommendations are designed to prevent drug abuse, improve treatment for addicts, enforce the law, and reduce the harm that addicts do to themselves and others. It's the harm reduction strategies -- such as supplying needles or crack pipes, and studying 'safe injection sites' staffed by doctors and counsellors -- that drew the most fire." The Star reported that "Councillor Kyle Rae ( Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale ), who chaired the task force that wrote the strategy, noted it only proposes studying the possibility of safe drug use sites. Mayor David Miller strongly supported the strategy, saying it describes the way he would want a member of his own family with a drug problem to be treated. 'I would want the system to recognize the humanity, whether it was a sister who is a Bay Street lawyer addicted to cocaine, or a son on the streets addicted to heroin or crack or alcohol,' he said. 'It's about humanity in all of us. That's what this report is about.' Harm reduction is a necessary part of the plan, putting addicts in touch with people who can help, he said: "You don't reach some people without harm reduction.""
The Star noted that "The strategy identifies alcohol as one of the most problematic drugs in the city, but alcohol was only briefly mentioned in the debate that spread over three days. Council did call for the province's Alcohol and Gaming Commission to consult the city when issuing licences. But councillors rejected changes to the controversial aspects of the strategy. Rae said he was surprised that all the controversial measures got through. 'I wasn't sure they would, the safe injection sites and the crack kits,' he said. 'But you know what, there's a little twinge of leadership. Sometimes there's a little break in the cloud and the sun starts shining through.'"
The City of Toronto's Drug Strategy Initiative released its strategy report in Oct. 2005. The National Post reported on Oct. 15, 2005 ( "Drug Strategy Seeks Safer Use") that "The drug strategy prepared by Toronto Public Health contains 66 recommendations aimed at both preventing drug use in Toronto and mitigating its effect. The goal is to balance 'public health and public order interests,' according to Councillor Kyle Rae, who led the strategy's advisory committee. Seventeen proposals in the strategy are designated as priorities, including developing a 24-hour crisis centre for drug users and implementing systems to monitor hospitals and morgues for indications of new street drugs infiltrating Toronto. The report also highlights the need to expand harm reduction programs such as the distribution of 'safe crack' kits. Providing sterile pipes and other items could help prevent the spread of diseases such as hepatitis C, according to David McKeown, the Medical Officer of Health."
According to the National Post, "Providing crack kits and other support to users does not encourage their addiction, Dr. McKeown argued. He said that while preventing drug use is the goal, the city must also recognize that addicts exist. 'I think we need to send a strong message about the health and social risks of drug use, but for those people who continue to use, we shouldn't abandon them,' he said. 'If we have the ability to minimize the consequences for those who are using while we move them towards not using, I think we should do that.' The strategy does not propose opening safe injection or inhalation sites. However, it does suggest the city study whether consumption rooms are needed to provide junkies with a controlled space to indulge. 'We did not focus on that in this report, but we recognized that it is a methodology used around the world and that we should at least have it on the table,' Mr. Rae said. He added that the introduction of safe injection sites in other cities, such as Vancouver and Sydney, Australia, was complicated and lengthy."
The National Post noted that "The report will be presented to the Board of Health for approval this month."
A full copy of the report, "The Toronto Drug Strategy A Comprehensive Approach to Alcohol and Other Drugs in the City of Toronto," is available from the CSDP website as well as directly from the City of Toronto.
The British Columbia Health Officers Council issued a report in Oct. 2005 calling for wide-ranging changes in Canada's drug control policies. The Vancouver Sun reported on Oct. 18, 2005 ( "Health Officers Want Drug Law Changes") that "In a strident, progressive paper, the province's public health professionals say it's time to address the harmful effects of the criminal prohibition against substances such as heroin and marijuana. They say the laws are based on racism and cultural biases, not evidence of harm, and that the prohibition causes far more damage to health and to society. 'The current regulatory regime in Canada places most of these substances in either legal [tobacco and alcohol], prescription [morphine, benzodiazepines] or illegal [marijuana, cocaine, heroin] drug status,' the paper says. 'It is important to recognize that these classifications are not based in pharmacology, economic analysis or risk-benefit analysis, but stem from historical precedent and cultural preference. There is a growing consensus in Canada that there should be an exploration of other drug control mechanisms with possible adoption of strict regulatory approaches to what are currently illegal drugs.'"
Titled, A Public Health Approach To Drug Control in Canada, the paper recommends reform of federal and provincial laws and international agreements that deal with illegal drugs, development of national public health strategies to manage all psychoactive drugs, including alcohol and prescription drugs, improved monitoring and more education."
The Sun noted that "The Health Officers Council of B.C. released the 38-page document to coincide with a two-day conference called Beyond Drug Prohibition: A Public Health Approach, which starts today at the Wosk Centre for Dialogue. It is sponsored by the non-profit agency Keeping the Door Open: Dialogues on Drug Use, a broad coalition of social service providers, health authorities, research centres, charitable foundations, public policymakers, drug consumers, consumer advocates, government and business officials. 'As a society we are both inconsistent and frequently unsuccessful in our approaches to minimizing the harm from psychoactive substance use,' said Dr. Perry Kendall, B.C.'s provincial health officer. 'This forum examines some alternatives to the status quo.' Experts from around the globe are in Vancouver to attend the conference -- most if not all committed to overcoming the American-led anti-drug crusade that has wreaked havoc in developing and developed countries alike. It now is impossible to deny that the negative social consequences of maintaining the present prohibition is fueling crime, terrorism, homelessness and the spread of diseases such as AIDS and Hepatitis C. But the American federal government continues to hamper attempts by the United Nations and individual countries to abandon it -- even though 10 states have decriminalized medical marijuana and there is a growing U.S. lobby for legalization."
A full copy of the BC Health Officers Council report is available online.
Canada's medical marijuana program is taking distribution to another level. The Winnipeg Free Press reported on Sept. 14, 2005 ( "Select Drugstores To Sell Pot") that "Health Canada's long-delayed plan to sell government-certified marijuana in drugstores appears to be back on track for early next year. The pilot project would stock medicinal pot in some pharmacies for use by authorized patients, making Canada only the second country after The Netherlands to allow easier access through drugstores."
According to the Free Press, "Currently, 237 patients can get Health Canada's medical marijuana through Prairie Plant Systems Inc., which grows the weed in Flin Flon, Man., under a $5.75-million contract with the federal government. Thirty-gram bags of dried buds, costing $150 each, are couriered directly to patients or their physicians. But since early 2003, when senior officials visited The Netherlands to investigate that country's marijuana distribution program, Health Canada has looked for a way to insert a pharmacist between the manufacturer and the patient. The department is scouting out a handful of urban and rural pharmacies to begin the pilot project by the first quarter of 2006, spokesman Christopher Williams said. Health Canada had initially planned a project for last year, but regulations authorizing pharmacy distribution only came into effect on June 7 after a long period of consultation. 'Ideally, we'd like to run it in more than one province,' Williams said in an interview. 'Once we recruit the pharmacists, we'll make sure ( they ) receive specialized training in dispensing the marijuana for medical purposes.'"
The Free Press noted that "Currently, 943 people are authorized to possess marijuana for medical conditions ranging from AIDS to multiple sclerosis, once a doctor has indicated that traditional remedies are ineffective. Of these, 695 have permission to grow the plant themselves, while Health Canada has authorized 77 growers to produce it for other patients. Prairie Plant Systems is also distributing a flowering-bud product that currently contains about 14 per cent THC, the main active ingredient. The company's five-year contract ends in December, but is expected to be extended by a year as Health Canada issues a request for proposals for a new long-term arrangement. The first pharmacies to stock the product are likely to be in British Columbia, said Robin O'Brien, a Vancouver pharmacist who has been asked by Health Canada to participate as a consultant. An internal document from Health Canada says it could take up to three years to implement a national pharmacy distribution program."
Marc Emery, Canadian cannabis activist and leader of the British Columbia Marijuana Party, was granted bail. The Toronto Globe & Mail reported Aug. 3, 2005 ( "Pot Activist Granted Bail") that "Mr. Emery is accused of selling seeds out of his bookstore and over the Internet. He also runs a magazine and is president of the British Columbia Marijuana Party. Mr. Conroy argued that his client has openly sold his seeds for years in Canada with no interference from authorities here. 'Here we have a situation where they turn a blind eye locally, and now they're in a position of assisting the U.S. to try to have him extradited to the U.S., where the penalties are substantially greater than here,' Mr. Conroy said. Mr. Emery faces charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana seeds, conspiracy to distribute marijuana and conspiracy to engage in money laundering. U.S. officials have said they will seek his extradition from Canada to stand trial in Seattle, where conviction on either of the marijuana charges carries a minimum prison term of 10 years. He was granted bail provided he could raise a $50,000 (Canadian) surety. Mr. Emery's co-accused, Gregory Williams and Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek also were granted bail."
According to the Globe & Mail, "All told, U.S. prosecutors allege that Mr. Emery sold more than a million dollars (U.S.) worth of seeds over a 10-year period dating back to 1995. Vancouver Police assisted in the probe, seizing Mr. Emery's bank records. Ms. Dattilo said $1.7-million (U.S.) was deposited and withdrawn from one account during a five-year period ending in 2005."
The arrests have stirred controversy on both sides of the border. The Arizona Republic reported on July 31, 2005 ( "Americans Join Canadians In Protesting Arrests On Pot") that "What wasn't to be expected at Saturday's Vancouver rally against the arrest of three Canadian B.C. Marijuana Party members was the support it received from visiting Americans. Party leader Marc Emery, Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek, financial agent for the party and Greg Williams, an employee of Pot-TV, all face charges of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana, distribute seeds and engage in money laundering. The United States wants the three extradited to the United States to face the charges. Nick Frey, who was visiting from Los Angeles, stumbled across the protest while walking through Vancouver's 'pot block,' a city street that houses mostly marijuana-themed stores. 'It's not my problem because I don't smoke pot, but people should be alarmed. People should be able to do what they want to do.' Nebraskan Scott Tanner echoed the sentiment. 'Our government has overstepped its bounds,' he said. 'Whatever happens on this side of the border, it's none of our business.'"
The raid has raised a number of concerns among Canadians. The Vancouver Sun reported on Aug. 2, 2005 ( "DEA Pot Raid 'It's A War On Canadians, In Canada'") that "The raid on the BCMP Bookstore at 307 West Hastings -- and the subsequent criminal charges laid by U.S. authorities against B.C. pot activist Marc Emery, as well as Michelle Rainey-Fenkarek and Gregory Williams, on charges of distributing marijuana seeds south of the border via the Internet -- has many in Vancouver talking these days. And the question on everyone's lips is: How can American authorities orchestrate an arrest of Canadians on their home turf, especially when Canadian law enforcement officials have tolerated Emery's marijuana seed business for years and declined to prosecute?"
According to the Sun, "According to Simon Fraser University criminologist Neil Boyd, it could take up to two years before the trio face extradition hearings on the charges. In the meantime, Canadian criminal justice officials will have to answer an important question: Will they allow Emery and the others to face a much harsher U.S. criminal sentence than would be imposed under similar circumstances on this side of the border? 'My gut feeling is that he won't be handed over without some pretty serious negotiations about the approach to be taken . . . I would think that Canada would want to seek assurances with respect to the kind of penalty that will be sought against Mr. Emery,' Boyd said. Assistant U.S. attorney Jeff Sullivan said Friday Emery is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison."
Local officials expressed their outrage. The Sun noted that "The role of the DEA in Emery's arrest has sparked controversy. Many observers, including three city councillors who will likely compete to be Vancouver's next mayor, are concerned about the U.S.-directed raid. 'While there is a legitimate argument about the legalization of marijuana,' said councillor Sam Sullivan, 'I think bringing the American drug war issues into this debate in Canada isn't helpful.' Sullivan called Emery 'a helpful part of a legitimate debate,' adding that 'throwing him in jail doesn't help us in our understanding of the issue further.' Fellow councillor Peter Ladner said Emery's arrest 'sounded to me like an intrusion by American justice officials onto Canadian soil.' Ladner said he was alarmed to read that the assistant U.S. attorney justified Emery's arrest by saying that 'there are more kids in treatment for addiction to marijuana than every other illegal drug combined.' 'I find that statement extremely hard to believe,' Ladner said. Vision Vancouver mayoral candidate Jim Green called the DEA instigation of the arrest 'very troubling.' Green said the arrest goes against the increasingly liberal approach toward marijuana in Canada. 'It's a very definite intervention into what we are doing here,' he said. 'The mayor ( Larry Campbell ) has been strong in supporting legalization of marijuana. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is looking into it. I really don't understand it [the arrest].'"
The City of Vancouver, BC, issued "Preventing Harm from Psychoactive Substance Use" in June 2005. As the Vancouver Sun reported on June 8, 2005 ( "Vancouver To Press Ottawa To Legalize And Tax Marijuana"), "A City of Vancouver report backed by the mayor recommends Canada legalize and regulate marijuana as part of a comprehensive drug-abuse prevention strategy for everything from methamphetamine production to alcoholism among seniors. The marijuana recommendation, one of two dozen in the report being released today, would allow people trying to prevent drug abuse to talk to teenagers about it realistically, the way they do with alcohol and cigarettes, and also limit dangerous use. It's a strategy that Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell endorses wholeheartedly, saying it's preferable to decriminalization, which imposes a fine instead of a criminal charge for use, but doesn't address the issue of supply. 'I think the decriminalization doesn't do anybody any good. It sends the message that it's okay, but that it's a crime to obtain it.' He says if marijuana were legalized, the community could benefit by being able to tax production."
The plan has met with approval from a number of quarters. As the Sun reported, "Others say that putting marijuana on the same level as alcohol and tobacco legally would allow teachers and prevention counsellors to talk about it strategically, rather than just avoiding the topic. 'All that teachers can do now is say it's illegal,' says the city's drug policy coordinator Don MacPherson, who wrote the 67-page report. If marijuana was treated like alcohol, he said, teachers could provide the same kind of advice they do when trying to prevent teenagers from risky drinking behaviour. However, he also emphasized that Canada should learn from the mistakes it made with alcohol and tobacco, which have been turned into commercial products, heavily advertised and promoted, which has led to problems stemming from the abuse of those two substances that far exceeds those of illegal drugs."
The Sun noted that "The report is the latest offensive in Vancouver's attempt to tackle the city's drug problems, which have contributed to an epidemic of HIV and hepatitis infections unequalled in North America, the deterioration of the city's inner-city Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, and a property-crime rate among the highest in Canada. It's part of the city's Four Pillars strategy, which emphasizes an approach that is an equal mix of law enforcement, prevention, treatment and harm reduction for drug users. That policy was adopted four years ago, amid some controversy because of the harm-reduction aspects, which included a recommendation to create a health facility where users could go to inject drugs under the supervision of health-care workers. Campbell was elected as mayor in 2002, in part because he and his party said they would work to aggressively implement the policy. The supervised injection site was opened in the fall of 2003."
Ottawa put its concern for public health over the discomfort of a few who objected to an innovative harm reduction program designed to reduce transmission of Hepatitis C, HIV, and other blood borne diseases. The Ottawa Sun reported on April 22, 2005 ( "Put That In Your Pipe . . .") that "The city's free crack pipe program is here to stay -- at least for now. Dr. Robert Cushman came out on top yesterday after a marathon debate with Police Chief Vince Bevan and other critics over the city handing out crack pipes to drug addicts. 'I think when we look back five years from now, this program, like other things, they're tough to introduce, but over time their merit becomes apparent,' said Cushman. 'This will reduce the spread of hep C and HIV.' After spending seven hours listening to Cushman, Bevan and a long list of critics, residents, addicts and health workers, the city's health, recreation and social services committee voted 6-3 to maintain the program that gives safer crack pipe kits to addicts."
According to the Sun, "Bevan said there are more than 20 crack houses in the city's urban areas. While the police chief wondered whether the program was legal, he had no legal opinion to offer. But city solicitor Jerry Bellomo, noting that similar harm-reduction programs have been running throughout the country for more than a decade, said his research indicates the program doesn't violate provisions in the Criminal Code. 'It is rather unusual that no other charges have been laid in any of these other municipalities over the years,' he said."
The Sun noted that "After listening to Bevan, Cushman fired back, telling the committee that almost all of the money spent on fighting drug use in Canada ends up in the hands of police, courts and jails -- with little left over for drug treatment or harm reduction. 'Maybe we should actually look at what's happening with the 95% of the money we're spending on this problem and whether or not that is making a difference,' said Cushman. 'I applaud Chief Bevan and ( a police staff member ) for their description of the problems we face when it comes to drugs. I am here ... to talk to you about harm reduction. Harm reduction in this area is what I would call collateral damage. Collateral damage from the failure of enforcement.'"
GW Pharma's stock rose in mid-April 2005 on news that the Canadian government had given approval for the company's new drug Sativex® to be used by multiple sclerosis patients. The Toronto Globe & Mail reported on April 19, 2005 ( "Cannabis Spray Gets Go-Ahead") that "Canada is the first country in the world to approve a cannabis spray that relieves pain in people with multiple sclerosis, Health Canada said Tuesday. The announcement sent shares of the U.K. maker of the drug, GW Pharmaceuticals Plc, up as much as 14 per cent in London. Bayer AG will market the drug in Canada. Sativex®, which is administered through a spray in the mouth, relieves pain in patients that suffer from MS, the government agency said. It's expected to hit the shelves by late spring."
According to the Globe & Mail, 'Effective pain control and management are extremely important in a disease like MS,' said Dr. Allan Gordon, neurologist and director of the Wasser Pain Management Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, in a statement. 'The approval of Sativex® in Canada reflects the urgent need for additional treatment options in the field of neuropathic pain in MS.' Neuropathic pain, or nerve pain, is a common symptom of MS and can occur in as many as 86 per cent of people with the disease, Health Canada said. The drug is derived from two compounds, delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol."
The Independent newspaper reported on April 19, 2005 ( "Canada Approves GW's Cannabis Drug For Multiple Sclerosis") that "The approval in Canada comes after six years of work for the company, which grows cannabis at a secret farm in southern England and turns it into an under-the-tongue spray, Sativex®. And it marks a breakthrough for MS sufferers, who have long argued that cannabis relieves its symptoms, including pain and spasticity. The Canadian authorities will allow GW - through its marketing partner, the German drug giant Bayer - to sell Sativex® as a prescription painkiller, provided the company does additional clinical trials of the medicine over the next five years. GW must confirm the results of the studies to date, which have been promising, Health Canada said. The drug has so far been turned down by regulators in the UK, who say GW has not proven to their satisfaction that Sativex® is effective."
According to the Independent, "Bayer will pay GW a UKP2m milestone as a result of Health Canada's approval. Launch batches of Sativex® are already in the country, and the drug will be available within weeks. Analysts disagree on the likely sales potential in Canada, which has 50,000 MS sufferers, half of whom suffer from the neuropathic pain Sativex has been approved to treat. Smoked cannabis is also available in Canada for medicinal use, and proposals for its decriminalisation are being debated. Karl Keegan, an analyst at Canaccord, said: 'I think initially there will be a lot of hype over Sativex®, but I suspect that people will want to smoke cannabis rather than use a mouth spray.'"
For general information on Canada's medical cannabis policies, check out Health Canada's Office of Cannabis Medical Access.
Police in the city of Ottawa are trying to force local officials to reconsider some of the city's harm reduction policies. In October 2004, Ottawa expanded its needle exchange program to provide sanitary crack-smoking equipment to addicts as well as other sanitary equipment to be used by injection drug users. The Ottawa Sun reported on Oct. 8, 2004 ( "City Soon To Offer Addicts Free Gear") that "A city program that hands out free needles to injection drug users will soon begin distributing tourniquets, drug-cooking spoons and mouthpieces for crack pipes. The new items are part of a strategy to stop the spread of hepatitis C and HIV in a vulnerable population. 'This is a very cost-effective decision at the margins. If you make more of ( the paraphernalia ) available you're reducing the risk,' said Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Robert Cushman."
According to the Sun, "The total cost of the expansion of the program is $2,500, split evenly by the city and the province, compared to an estimated cost of $30,000 for one course of medication treatment for hep C sufferers, he said. According to a report from Cushman given to the health, recreation and social services committee 'crack smoking appears to be an increasing trend,' in the city. The report says the biggest problem for medical staff in the field of harm reduction is the sharing of drug paraphernalia and the likelihood of transmission through that sharing. By distributing the cooking spoons, which are aluminum bottle caps with a wire handle, the city hopes to provide a clean area for the preparation of drugs. The tourniquets are usually belts or a piece of clothing that are tied around an arm to expose veins in a user's arm. Studies have shown those implements can sometime be contaminated with blood and viruses, which could be transmitted to another person using the same device."
The Sun noted that "Cushman said the harm reduction program has seen some great gains in reducing HIV transmission, but the city is losing ground on hep C, which is much more contagious. The contagious nature of the disease is reflected in the drug-using population, according to the report. 'It is estimated that the prevalence rate of hep C is 75% among Ottawa's injection drug users, as compared to a prevalence rate of 21% for HIV in the same population," reads the report."
Unfortunately, some police officials in Ottawa have decided to oppose the plan. The Ottawa Sun reported on April 9, 2005 ( "Fired Up About Crack Pipes") that "One Of them fights disease. One of them fights crime. But the city's medical officer of health Dr. Robert Cushman and police chief Vince Bevan could soon have their own public showdown over a controversial new program that puts crack-pipe kits in the hands of drug addicts. More councillors are now calling for a more thorough debate on the program meant to stop Hep C from spreading in the community and are calling on the two to present their evidence. But one councillor says it should never have come to this. 'I think it's unfortunate they didn't get together and talk about this ahead of time,' said Coun. Maria McRae. McRae said Cushman and Bevan should have sat down and worked out their differences over the program long before Bevan held a news conference at which he criticized the idea on the very day the program was launched."
According to the Sun, "Several politicians appear to have been caught by surprise at the public reaction and outcry over the program. The decision to distribute the devices was made last October at a health, recreation and social services committee meeting and despite heavy media attention, few critics appeared. But now, Bevan has come out against the program and councillors Diane Deans and Rick Chiarelli, two of the councillors who were on the committee that allowed the program to go forward, say they want the issue to be reconsidered. One of the few councillors who spoke out against the plan last year has also switched sides. Coun. Alex Cullen was against the decision to hand out the kits but now says he's been convinced by Cushman's evidence. 'It is a difficult issue but in the end I'm convinced that more lives will be saved as a result of this program,' said Cullen. 'This notion of revisiting is damage control.'"
Activists in British Columbia also began distribution of crack smoking equipment in 2004. The Vancouver Sun reported on Nov. 2, 2004 ( "Free Crack Pipes Handed Out To Drug Addicts In Bid To Slow Spread Of Disease") that "Over 500 crack kits were handed out Friday and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users plans to hand out hundreds more in the coming days, said network president Rob Morgan on Sunday. Now the group is looking for public funding to maintain their crack kit program. 'In the same way as handing out needles, these kits advance harm reduction and prevent the spread of HIV and hepatitis C,' said Morgan, a self-described crack cocaine addict. Each kit contains a glass pipe, mouth pieces, condoms, alcohol swabs, matches, and smoking instructions. The money to buy the crack kits came from private organizations and street donations. Morgan said drug users are asked for a minimum one dollar donation for the kits. 'But we're not going to turn people away,' he said.
According to the Sun, "The Rock Users Group -- a branch of VANDU -- spearheaded the project and has asked the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to provide funding for the kits. But the authority maintains that more research is needed to determine whether the crack kits have potential health benefits before it supports such an initiative. RUG has also been lobbying for a crack smoking room to be included in the city's controversial safe injection site, the first of its kind in North America."
The first clinical trial of prescription heroin in North America began in Feb. 2005. As the Canadian health ministry, Health Canada, wrote in its news release of Feb. 9, 2005 ( "North America's First Trial Of Prescribed Heroin Begins Today"), "The North American Opiate Medication Initiative (NAOMI) is a carefully controlled (clinical trial) that will test whether medically prescribed heroin can successfully attract and retain street-heroin users who have not benefited from previous repeated attempts at methadone maintenance and abstinence programs. The NAOMI study will enrol 470 participants at three sites in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. The Toronto and Montreal sites are expected to begin recruitment this spring. Each site will enroll about 157 participants. About half of these volunteers will be assigned to receive pharmaceutical-grade heroin (the experimental group) and half will receive methadone (the control group). The prescribed heroin will be self-administered under careful medical supervision within a specially designed clinic. Those in the heroin group will be treated for 12 months then transitioned, over three months, into either methadone-maintenance therapy or another treatment program. The researchers expect a 6-9 month recruitment period, so that the total time to complete the study will be 21 to 24 months."
"According to Health Canada, "In 1973 the federal Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs recommended that heroin-assisted therapy be tested in clinical trials. More recently, large studies in Switzerland and the Netherlands have indicated that heroin-assisted therapy is useful in helping some chronic users to stabilize their addictions, reduce criminal activity and lead more healthy and productive lives. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is providing at total of $8.1 million and the study is approved by Health Canada. The principal investigator is Dr. Martin Schechter of the University of British Columbia Faculty of Medicine. Ethical review boards at each of NAOMI's three sponsoring institutions-the University of British Columbia, Toronto's Centre for Addictions and Mental Health and Université de Montréal-have approved the study. 'Results from the European studies suggest that medically prescribed heroin could greatly help our most troubled heroin addicts --those for whom we have no effective treatments,' said Dr. Schechter. 'But we won't know whether the same results hold true in the Canadian setting until we complete this carefully designed scientific study.' 'Heroin addiction afflicts an estimated 60 to 90,000 Canadians and the costs associated with it--in terms of human misery, public health, social problems and crime--are staggering,' said Dr. Alan Bernstein, President of CIHR. 'Canada, and many other countries, therefore, need studies such as NAOMI to investigate new approaches to reducing the harm caused by heroin addiction.'"
Though the plan has some critics, particularly the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (the 'Drug Czar'), many are lining up in support of the NAOMI project. The Globe & Mail reported on Jan. 31, 2005 ( "Is Free Heroin Just A Quick Fix?") that "In Vancouver, the plan has the support of top politicians and law enforcers, including the mayor and the police chief. Mayor Larry Campbell, who was once a coroner and drug cop, said the trials are needed because current treatments aren't working for hard-core addicts. 'The critical thing is to accept this as a medical condition,' Mr. Campbell said. 'The side effects of this medical condition is that it forces you to . . . do things that you would never do, be it work as a sex-trade worker, be a B and E [break-and-enter] artist or a purse snatcher. So if I can mitigate that by putting you on heroin, imagine the changes you could have.'"
Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin renewed his party's commitment to marijuana decriminalization in summer 2004. According to a Canadian Press News Service report in the StarPhoenix dated July 22, 2004 ( "Gov't Committed To Decriminalizing Marijuana"), "The federal government is committed to marijuana decriminalization and will reintroduce legislation to make it happen, Prime Minister Paul Martin said in his first statement on the issue since winning re-election. The Liberal government will bring back a bill that died with the election call and re-table it after Parliament resumes sitting in October, he said Wednesday following a meeting of his new cabinet. 'The legislation on marijuana -- the decriminalization of minor quantities of marijuana -- that legislation will be introduced.'"
The bill, though significantly watered down from the original version, would still reduce penalties for minor possession amounts. The CP noted that "According to the original bill, anyone caught with 15 grams of pot or less would receive a ticket instead of criminal charges. But those caught trafficking more than 15 grams would receive harsher penalties. Critics say the bill could lead to more cases of intoxicated driving and cause traffic snarls at the Canada-U.S. border while American customs agents intensify their search for drugs. They also bemoan the 15-gram ceiling for non-criminal use, calculating that it would become legal for someone to carry more than 30 joints at a time. Detractors have already successfully lobbied the government to drive down the initial maximum amount from 30 grams."
Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal on May 11, 2004 ( "Displacement of Canada's largest public illicit drug market in response to a police crackdown") shows that a police crackdown on one of Canada's largest illicit drug markets has had unintended negative consequences and very few positive benefits.
According to the report, "In April 2003 the Vancouver Police Department embarked on a large-scale enforcement operation aimed at illicit drug users (IDUs) in the city's Downtown Eastside (DTES). The stated goals of the "crackdown" involved "disrupting the open drug market and interrupting the cycle of crime and drug use that marks the streets of the Downtown Eastside." The estimated cost of the crackdown to taxpayers was an additional $2.3 million. In the first several weeks of the operation an additional 236 trafficking charges against 162 individuals were reported."
The researchers note that "In an effort to identify effects of the crackdown, we investigated whether there were changes in the reported drug prices, patterns of drug use and general perceptions of the effect of police activities on the drug market. We also examined drug use in the community by evaluating statistics from the needle-exchange program, which is based in the DTES. Using statistics compiled by the City of Vancouver, we examined changes in the use of outdoor public boxes for the safe disposal of syringes and in unsafe syringe disposal. Since public injection drug use and dealing have historically been concentrated on the corner of the DTES's Main and Hastings streets, we defined the area within a 1-block radius of the corner of Main and Hastings as "the core" and peripheral areas in the DTES as "outside the core." Exchange and disposal data are available on only a monthly basis; therefore, we compared the 3 months before Apr. 1, 2003, with the 3 months after this date."
The researchers concluded that, far from being success, the increased law enforcement activity had a negative impact: "In summary, we detected no reduction in drug-use frequency or drug price in response to a large-scale police crackdown in Vancouver's DTES. Our results support anecdotal reports of increased public drug use and displacement of drug users,27 and they probably explain increases in drug-related sex-trade activity28 and crime in areas outside the DTES. The crackdown also increased the rates of unsafe syringe disposal and significantly reduced the proportion of syringes being returned to the city's largest needle exchange. The displacement of the drug market to new areas has substantial public-health implications, including the potential for an increased risk of new initiates into injection drug use."
The Canadian health agency Health Canada plans to begin a pilot project to distribute medical marijuana through pharmacies. The London Free Press reported on March 22, 2004 ( "Drugstores Will Carry Marijuana") that "Health Canada plans to make government-certified marijuana available in pharmacies, a move that could rapidly boost the number of registered medical users. Officials are organizing a pilot project in British Columbia, modelled on a year-old program in the Netherlands, that would allow medical users to buy marijuana at their local drugstore. Currently, there are 78 medical users in Canada permitted to buy Health Canada marijuana, which is grown in Flin Flon, Man. The 30-gram bags of dried buds, sold for $150 each, now are sent by courier directly to patients or to their doctors. But the department is changing the regulations to allow participating pharmacies to stock marijuana for sale to approved patients without a doctor's prescription, similar to regulations governing so-called morning-after pills, emergency contraceptives that can be obtained directly from a pharmacist without the need for a doctor's signature. A notice of the change is expected to be made public this spring, allowing for drugstore distribution later in the year."
The Free Press noted that "The pilot project is slated for British Columbia because the province's college of pharmacists issued a groundbreaking statement last fall supporting the distribution of medical marijuana in pharmacies, unlike most health-care organizations which have opposed easier access. Although the number of current approved users is small, O'Brien [Robin O'Brien, a consulting pharmacist who is organizing the pilot project for Health Canada] notes internal surveys for Health Canada have suggested up to seven per cent of the British Columbia population -- or about 290,000 people -- use marijuana for medical purposes, albeit illegally. Easier availability of certified marijuana might encourage more medical users to register with the government, rapidly boosting the number taking advantage of legal dope, says O'Brien."
Data released by Statistics Canada show that marijuana decriminalization could save the country millions. The Winnipeg Free Press reported on Feb. 24, 2004 ( "Pot Bill Likely To Save Millions, Stats Suggest") that "The federal government's plan to decriminalize pot possession would free up millions of dollars and thousands of police hours, the latest statistics suggest. Police laid a record number of drug-related charges in 2002 and most offences involved marijuana, Statistics Canada reported yesterday. Seventy-five per cent of 93,000 drug-related incidents in 2002 involved pot. Almost three-quarters of those were possession offences, and more than half of those convicted were fined. 'The police-reported drug-crime rate has risen an estimated 42 per cent since the early 1990s and now stands at a 20-year high,' the agency said. The numbers highlight a rift between police, who support tight enforcement of pot laws, and more tolerant attitudes by the public, politicians and the courts. The statistics were released as MPs on Parliament Hill began to debate a bill to decriminalize possession of less than 15 grams of pot -- about 15 to 20 joints. Instead of a criminal record, the bill proposes fines of between $100 and $400. The bill maintains or increases penalties for large-scale growers and traffickers."
As the Free Press noted, "If passed, the bill would appear to free police from laying most possession charges. Critics have long argued that officers could divert investigative hours and millions of dollars toward fighting other crime if they eased up on such anti-drug efforts."
A full copy of the study can be purchased through the StatCan website.
Legislation to decriminalize marijuana in Canada has been reintroduced by the nation's new prime minister. The London Free Press reported on Feb. 13, 2004 ( "Government Reintroduces Marijuana Bill") that "The federal government reintroduced a bill yesterday to decriminalize possession of small quantities of marijuana, but failed to reduce the maximum threshold from 15 grams. Any changes would have to be proposed by MPs, an official in the Prime Minister's Office said. The government wants the law to pass before the next federal election, expected in the spring, in the hope of muting any criticism. The bill was reintroduced at third reading, meaning it won't have to be re-examined by a parliamentary committee. That would change if the House of Commons reduces maximum possession to 10 grams, as was suggested by some Liberal and Conservative MPs."
The Free Press noted that "As it stands, the proposed law wouldn't impose criminal sanctions for possession of enough pot to make about 20 joints. However, fines of up to $400 could be imposed for adults, less for youths. The legislation would increase maximum penalties for the producers of cannabis."
The legislation can be reviewed by clicking here.
The Canadian federal government will not proceed with the prosecution of two men arrested in connection with the Toronto Compassion Centre, the Toronto Globe & Mail reported on Jan. 28, 2004 ( "Ottawa Won't Prosecute Medical Marijuana Activists"). According to the Globe & Mail, "Citizen groups that provide medicinal marijuana to the chronically-ill are rejoicing today amid news that Ottawa will not proceed with trafficking charges laid against two men operating a well-known Toronto care centre. The Globe and Mail has learned that the federal government will refrain from pursuing a prosecution against two men who operated a Toronto organization whose workers were devoted to dispensing cannabis to patients suffering from persistent illnesses like AIDS and other ailments. The men's preliminary hearing was to have started today."
(For more background on the case, see for example "Compassion Centre's Future Unclear," Toronto Star, Aug. 16, 2002.)
The Globe & Mail noted that "Mr. [Warren] Hitzig, 27, and a colleague, Zach Naftolin, were charged in 2002 after the Toronto Compassion Centre they helped to operate was robbed and investigating police later found large quantities of marijuana on the premises. Mr. Hitzig said he was informed last week that the charges would not go ahead. However, sources were unclear whether they would be withdrawn or stayed. A stayed charged means police have the right to proceed for up to a year. He said many other such clubs across had been concerned they would be the next ones to face charges, and are encouraged now that they will be able to operate without that fear. 'I think that's the message, but they were also really scared. They don't want to go through the same thing that I did,' he said. He said that recently-established regulations that allow chronically-ill Canadians to access the drug are very onerous, necessitating the need for his organization and others like it. Mr. Hitzig and Mr. Naftolin no longer run the club, which has since begun operating in another location. 'The government has to do something. It's popping up all over the world,' he said. 'Health Canada get your act together.' The operator of a Vancouver centre said the decision may encourage others to provide the service. 'I think it's another note of recognition of the service we are providing,' said Hilary Black, co-director of the B.C. Compassion Club Society. Ms. Black, whose club currently provides marijuana to 2,800 individuals, said her organization regularly receives inquiries from individuals wanting to set up clubs but who are concerned about whether it's safe to do so."
An elite drug squad in Toronto has been the target of a major investigation into police corruption. The Toronto Star reported on Jan. 20, 2004 ( "New Drug Case Bombshell") that "Stunning new allegations in the drug squad scandal that has rocked the Toronto police force were unsealed by the province's highest court yesterday. A series of sworn affidavits from a task force that probed the central field command drug squad allege that police officers charged a "tax" on drug dealers to ply their trade in certain areas of Toronto. Other allegations against the officers are that they: Took up to $479,000 from safety deposit boxes, though charges filed later mention only $34,000. Beat up a drug dealer for information. Pocketed jewellery, narcotics and cash while doing searches. Lied in court to get convictions against drug traffickers. Some drug squad officers had suspiciously large bank balances while working with the squad, the documents stated."
According to a report in the Calgary Sun on Jan. 20, 2004 ( "Cop Probe Widens"), "Information contained in police affidavits suggests allegations go far beyond criminal charges laid against six former drug cops 13 days ago and also appears to contradict Chief Julian Fantino's statement that the scandal is 'isolated' and has been dealt with appropriately. The affidavits, released by the Ontario court of appeal, contain a statement by RCMP Chief Supt. John Neily, head of the probe, that 'evidence of criminal activity exists against 17 members' of the Central Field Command. In another affidavit, Neily stated 12 were involved in 'serious criminal behaviour.' 'I am attempting to identify only those who are alleged to have committed the most serious offences,' Neily wrote. The affidavits contain allegations officers were involved in the theft of 'large quantities of drugs and the later resale of drugs' to 'significant drug criminals and organized crime figures, including outlaw motorcycle gang associates.' One officer is alleged to have been 'actively involved' in drug trafficking in recent months."
Opponents of Paul Martin's Liberal government are getting political mileage from police searches of the offices of some government officials. The Globe & Mail reported on Jan. 6, 2004 ( "Rumours In Wake Of BC Raid 'Devastating'" ) that "Several people caught in the vortex of a police investigation that became public a week ago when two B.C. Legislature offices were searched, defended themselves yesterday in a bid to repair the damage caused by an information vacuum filled with rumours. Details of the 20-month investigation into drug smuggling and money laundering have been obscured by sealed search warrants, a lack of charges and by veiled comments from police, worried about jeopardizing the investigation. 'It's been devastating just dealing with it over the past week,' said Mark Marissen, campaign chairman for Prime Minister Paul Martin's leadership bid in British Columbia. Mr. Marissen was drawn into the scandal when he was visited by police seeking documents. Police had served search warrants at several locations, including on the offices of David Basi, an assistant to B.C. Finance Minister Gary Collins, and Bob Virk, an assistant to Transportation Minister Judith Reid. But Mr. Marissen said his premises were not searched. He was given a letter from police explaining that they believed he was the innocent recipient of documents they wanted to see. Media reports that stated documents were 'seized' from his home office were incorrect, he said, and unfairly indicated he was not assisting police." The Globe & Mail noted that "In a briefing yesterday, Victoria Police Chief Paul Battershill reconfirmed that the legislature raids were linked to organized crime and drug smuggling."
In a possibly related development, police are reported to have raided a marijuana growing operation in a home owned by one of the targeted assistants. The Ottawa Citizen reported on Jan. 11, 2004 ( "Police Find Marijuana Growing In House Owned By Fired Assistant") that "Police dismantled a marijuana-growing operation about two weeks ago in a Shawnigan Lake home owned by David Basi, the former assistant to Finance Minister Gary Collins at the centre of B.C.'s latest political scandal. The drug raid, at 3260 Shawnigan Lake Road, happened over the Christmas holidays. It was around the same time police raided Mr. Basi's office in the legislature as part of a 20-month investigation into organized crime, commercial crime and drugs. Mr. Basi, fired after the raid on his office, purchased the rural Shawnigan Lake property for $180,000 last March, but lives at another address."
The Canadian Supreme Court upheld the law against possessing marijuana in late December 2003. As reported by the Canadian Broadcasting System News on Dec. 23, 2003 ( "Supreme Court Upholds Marijuana Law"), "The highest court has rejected the appeal of three B.C. men who argued it is unconstitutional to use the law to punish a harmless activity. The court ruled 6-3 that making marijuana possession a criminal offence does not violate Charter of Rights guarantees of liberty and security of person. Lawyers for the three B.C. marijuana users - David Malmo-Levine, Chris Clay and Victor Caine - had argued that the government has no right to tell people what they can put in their bodies. Malmo-Levine is a Vancouver marijuana activist has fought for 10 years to legalize marijuana."
The decision was immediately criticized by medical marijuana activists. The CBC reported that "A Victoria medical marijuana advocate says the Supreme Court made the wrong decision, and says Tuesday's ruling won't make society any safer. 'It's a great early Christmas present for the black market and for the criminal gangs involved in cannabis distribution because this guarantees their lock on profits for the holidays,' says Philippe Lucas of the Vancouver Island Compassion Society."
The text of the Court's decision is available by clicking here.
Canada's new Prime Minister, Paul Martin, announced in mid-December 2003 that he plans to reintroduce in the 2004 legislative session his predecessor Jean Chretien's bill to decriminalize marijuana. The Toronto Star reported on Dec. 18, 2003 ( "Martin Promises To Revive Pot Bill") that "The bill brought in under Chretien, which died on the House of Commons order paper last month, will be reintroduced when MPs return to work in the new year, Martin said. He suggested some changes are in the works: 'I think that one's got to take a look at the fines. I think that you have to take a look the quantities, and I think that there has to be a larger effort against the grow-ops and against those who distribute.'"
According to the Star, Martin "hinted he'd like to see the legislation toughened and invited a parliamentary committee to consider amendments on several points, including lowering the limit for non-criminal possession from the currrent proposal of 15 grams. Martin said today that he sees a health risk in pot use and observed that 'any doctor will tell you it's far from the best thing for you.' However, he insisted that it achieves 'absolutely nothing to give a criminal record to young people caught with minimal amounts.'"
US officials had pressured the Canadian government during the 2003 session to drop the decriminalization effort. The Star noted that "the bill provoked the ire of hardliners in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. John Walters, the White house director of drug policy, complained Canada was out of step with the rest of the western hemisphere. Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Ottawa, warned of long lineups at border points as American customs officers scrutinize visitors from the north."
The Canadian government announced that it will begin distributing medical marijuana to eligible patients. The Toronto Star reported on July 9, 2003 ( "Medical Marijuana Can Be Distributed") that "The federal government will ask doctors to distribute medical marijuana grown in a Manitoba lab, CTV News reported yesterday. While officials had claimed the quality of the marijuana was too inconsistent to use, they now say 370 kilograms has passed the test, sources told CTV."
According to a story on the Reuters News Service wire dated July 9, 2003 ( "Canada To Sell Medical Marijuana To Seriously Ill"), "Ottawa announced in July 2001 that some patients would be able to use marijuana provided by the government. But plans to grow official pot hit a series of snags, prompting a court in Ontario to give Ottawa until July 10 to come up with a solution. The new plan is Ottawa's response to that ruling. Federal officials said more research into the claimed benefits of medical pot was needed and they would therefore appeal the court ruling, a decision that angered critics. 'My first obligation is to ensure the safety and efficacy of this product. Marijuana is not a proven therapeutic product,' said Health Minister Anne McLellan. I remain committed to ( Ottawa's ( medical marijuana research program, which promotes research on the medical value of marijuana while taking a compassionate approach to Canadians who suffer from serious medical conditions.' The 582 sufferers granted dispensation from criminal laws to use the drug will be able to buy dried marijuana for $3.70 per 0.04 ounce -- about half the current black-market rate -- or a pack of 30 seeds for $20 so they can grow their own plants. 'Although this interim policy can be amended or suspended at any time, it is anticipated that it will remain in effect until...( Ottawa's ) roles and responsibilities with respect to a supply of marijuana for medical purposes have been clarified by the courts,' the health ministry said in a statement."
A bill was introduced in the Canadian Parliament in late May, 2003, to reduce the penalties for some small-scale marijuana offenses while at the same time increasing some other penalties. The Detroit Free Press reported on May 28, 2003 ( "Canada Bill Eases Penalty For Having, Growing Pot") that "Under the bill, anyone caught with up to 15 grams -- enough for 15 to 30 joints -- would only be fined, and criminal penalties would be reduced for people growing up to 25 marijuana plants. 'We have to ask ourselves as a society: Does it make sense that a person who makes a bad choice can receive the lasting burden of a criminal conviction?' said Justice Minister Martin Cauchon. He said police would have more resources to go after large growers. Under the bill, the maximum sentence for illegal growers would increase from 7 to 14 years in prison. Trafficking would remain punishable by up to life in prison. The bill also would include about $150 million for an education, research and treatment program aimed at persuading young people to not use drugs. 'The bottom line of this proposal is to create the most effective way to deal with the drug problem through a number of ways,' Cauchon said."
According to the Free Press, "Canada would levy a fine -- about $110 in U.S. dollars -- on adults and about $73 U.S. for youths possessing up to 15 grams. Possible penalties would increase for possession of 15 to 30 grams, for 'aggravating factors' such as driving a car while in possession and for possession of cannabis resin, a more concentrated version of marijuana. For 15 to 30 grams, police would have the discretion of handing out a fine or pressing for a summary conviction, which could result in up to 6 months in jail -- though that is rarely imposed."
Yet though these are minor changes, opponents still are casting the law as a major loosening of the rules. The Free Press reported that "Though Chretien's Liberal Party has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, the bill's passage is not assured. Several Liberal lawmakers have spoken out against the legislation, saying minimum sentences for growers and traffickers aren't tough enough and that it sends the wrong signal to youth. 'It is by no means a done deal,' said Dan McTeague, the Liberal member of Parliament from Ontario. 'This bill is going to have a difficult time.'"
The organization Human Rights Watch in May, 2003, issued a report criticizing the Vancouver, BC police for their treatment of drug users. According to an Associated Press story in the Wilmington, NC Morning Star on May 8, 2003 ( "Report Assails Vancouver Police"), "A police crackdown on drug dealers in downtown Vancouver is causing more harm than good for the neighborhood's AIDS and hepatitis epidemic, a Human Rights Watch report says, asserting addicts are being driven away from needle-exchange programs and other services. Called Operation Torpedo, the crackdown has gotten some pushers off the streets, 'but at a high cost,' said the report issued Wednesday by the New York-based rights group. Its findings were echoed by health care workers, activists and addicts in the city, known for its progressive drug policies."
According to Human Rights Watch's news release of May 7, 2003
"Vancouver Police Persecuting Drug Users"):
A copy of the report, "Abusing The User: Police Misconduct, Harm Reduction and HIV/AIDS In Vancouver," can be downloaded from the HRW website or directly as a PDF by clicking here.
The Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, expressed his support for decriminalization of marijuana in late April 2003, at the same time specifying that he is not calling for its legalization. As the Toronto Star reported on April 30, 2003 ( "Chretien Ready To Ease Pot Possession Law"), "Calling his government 'activist' and 'not afraid to take on controversial issues,' Prime Minister Jean Chretien cast a nod at youth last night and vowed that marijuana would soon be decriminalized. It was the first public pronouncement from Chretien that possessing small quantities of marijuana would be decriminalized in Canada. 'We will soon introduce legislation to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana,' he told a Liberal party fundraiser. Amid applause, he quipped, 'Don't start to smoke it right away! We're not legalizing it.'
The Canadian PM displayed a refreshingly honest, realistic, and compassionate attitude regarding marijuana users in his speech. The Star reported that, "Chretien said that, in his youth, marijuana wasn't known. 'I never tasted it.' But he smoked cigarettes, when his father told him not to. 'When he gave me permission at 16, I stopped.' Youth today are charged criminally for possession of marijuana. 'Some might have a criminal record that will be a shadow over his ( her ) life for years to come,' the Prime Minister said. That makes decriminalization important so 'young people do not have unnecessary criminal records for the rest of their lives.'
Not surprisingly, US drug war officials are not pleased with Canada's new direction, and are making their displeasure known. The Toronto Sun reported on May 1, 2003 ( "Critics: New Pot Law Will Bug US") that "John Walters, director of the White House office of National Drug Control Policy, said decriminalization makes little sense. 'When you make the penalties minimal you get more drug use, you get more drug addiction, you get more drug production, you get more drug crime,' he said."
One of Walters' assistants, David Murray, was somewhat more direct. As noted in a Boston Globe column by Alex Beam on May 6, 2003 ( "To Canada, US Diplomacy Is High Comedy"), "On Friday, a Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reporter asked David Murray, assistant to White House drug czar John Walters, what he thought of all this. Murray fired off the rhetorical shot heard from Kitimat all the way to Kippokok: 'We would have to respond. We would be forced to respond,' Murray said. Why? Because pot legalization is dangerously anti-American. Just look at the longhair maniacs who support decriminalization, wild men like financier George Soros, Nobelist Milton Friedman, and former Secretary of State George Schultz."
According to the CBC on May 2, 2003 ( "US Warns Canada Against Easing Pot Laws"), "Murray tried to express the feeling in the US that looser drug laws go hand-in-hand with an increase in crime and drug addiction among youth, and used some apocalyptic language to do it. 'You can't wall this off saying, 'We're only talking about a little cannabis.' Our experience is they come together like the Four Horsemen,' he said. Murray said Canada's reputation in the global community would be forever altered if it decided to decriminalize pot. 'It's not just Canada's relationship with the United States that would change; it's Canada's relationship with the world,' he said. In fact, many countries, notably in Europe, have already decriminalized marijuana, but none of them share a border with the US, where the policy is zero tolerance for smoking pot."
The Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs of the Canadian House of Commons issued its final report, "A Policy For The New Millenium, on Dec. 12, 2002." The committee's final report does call for decriminalization of cannabis, as had previously been reported. According to the Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 12, 2002 ( "Committee To Recommend 30-Gram Pot Limit"), "Possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana should not saddle someone with a criminal record, a Commons committee will recommend today. But it will not support an amnesty for people with records for past possession convictions. The report from the special parliamentary committee on the non-medicinal use of drugs won't propose that pot be legalized. Rather, it will recommend that small amounts be sanctioned with something other than the full weight of the criminal justice system -- likely a fine."
The Committee report issued the following
recommendations regarding cannabis:
The Select Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs of the Canadian House of Commons issued its Interim Report on Dec. 9, 2002. The report endorsed harm reduction as a core component of drug control policy (Recommendation 25), in addition to a number of harm reduction measures including methadone maintenance (Recommendation 19), syringe exchanges (Recommendation 22), safe injection facilities (Recommendation 23) and prescription heroin (Recommendation 20). A full list of the Interim Report's Recommendations can be found by clicking here.
Also among its recommendations, the Committee calls for creation of
"a Canadian Drug Commissioner, statutorily mandated to
monitor, investigate and audit the implementation of a renewed
Canada's Drug Strategy and to report and make recommendations
annually to Parliament, through the Speaker of the House of
Commons." (Recommendation 3.) The
Committee also recommends that drug policy be coordinated through
the Canadian government's Health Ministry (Recommendation
5) -- unlike the US, which has its drug policy mostly set by its
Justice Department and Judiciary committees. Specifically,
according to the report:
The Committee also recommends that some harm reduction measures, including methadone maintenance therapy and syringe exchange, be implemented within the Canadian prison system (Recommendations 31 and 32, respectively).
Earlier media reports had indicated that the Committee would give its support to cannabis decriminalization (see "Canadian Special Parliamentary Panel To Issue Report Supporting Cannabis Decriminalization, Safe Injection Rooms; Also Calls For Canadian 'Drug Czar'", below). However the Committee decided against taking such a step. They did however note that "The licit or illicit status of substances has little impact on their use," and that "It is astounding that cannabis offences accounted for approximately three-quarters of all drug-related offences in 2001." (Chapter 2, Part 3)
The Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs of the Canadian House of Commons is preparing to issue a report supporting major reforms in Canada's drug policy, according to news reports. According to the Ottawa Citizen on Nov. 19, 2002 ( "MPs Demand A Drug Czar"), "A special parliamentary committee will recommend that Canada hire a national drug czar -- similar to that in the U.S. -- to tackle the country's multibillion-dollar problem of illegal drugs. The committee on non-medical use of drugs will also recommend that Canada relax its laws against marijuana possession and that the government sanction sites in which addicts can safely inject drugs."
The impetus for the creation of a Drug Czar's office may be found in an earlier report by the Canadian Federal Auditor. The Citizen reports that "Federal Auditor General Sheila Fraser, in a scathing report last December, reported that Canada is ill-informed on the size of its drug problem because nobody is in charge. Ms. Fraser found that illegal drugs are costing the federal government alone an estimated $5 billion annually through the harmful effects of drug use. These effects include lost productivity, property crime, law enforcement and health care. She singled out the Justice Department and the RCMP for failing to articulate what they have accomplished in pursuing drug files."
One committee member opposed to some of the reforms attacked moves by the Canadian executive branch to begin considering safe injection rooms prior to the report's release. The Toronto Globe & Mail reported on Nov. 18, 2002 ( "Drug Panel Was Upstaged, MP Asserts") that "The Chretien government has pre-empted the work of a special Commons committee that spent more than $500,000 and two years travelling the world to study the non-medical use of drugs, the committee's vice-chair charges. Randy White, a Canadian Alliance MP, pointed last week to the recent announcement by Health Minister Anne McLellan's office that her department is reviewing criteria for safe-injection sites as evidence that the Liberal-dominated committee is simply following the wishes of the minister. Though he does not support safe-injection sites, Mr. White said the committee is 'leaning toward' adopting them as part of promoting the European model of 'harm reduction.' The committee is also expected to recommend that marijuana be decriminalized. The report, which is more than 100 pages long and includes 30 recommendations, is to be finalized at a committee meeting today. It is to be made public early next month."
The Canadian Senate's Special Committee on Illegal Drugs issued its long-awaited report on Canadian cannabis policy on September 4, 2002. According to the Committee's news release of Sept. 4, 2002 ( "Senate Committee recommends legalization of cannabis"), "In an exhaustive and comprehensive two-year study of public policy related to marijuana, the Special Committee found that the drug should be legalized. The 600 plus page Senate report is a result of rigorous research, analysis and extensive public hearings in Ottawa and communities throughout Canada with experts and citizens. 'Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue', said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, in a news conference today in Ottawa. 'Indeed, domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis. At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption. Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties. But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization.'"
A great deal more information about this historic report can be
at the Committee's website, including a copy
of the Committee's report, by section, in HTML or PDF. Links to
the report in HTML follow:
Canadian Health Minister Anne McLellan is feeling heat from statements she made in mid-August regarding Canada's medical cannabis program. As the Toronto Sun reported on August 21, 2002 ( "McLellan Relights Ottawa's Medical Pot Plan"), "On Monday, she told the Canadian Medical Association in Saint John, N.B., she felt uncomfortable with the idea of Ottawa providing pot to relieve pain. She told the gathering she was considering putting an end to the federal government's controversial $5.7-million project to grow medical-grade marijuana in an disused Manitoba mine. But yesterday she denied ever suggesting it might not go forward."
Criticism of Minister McLellan came swiftly. A Winnipeg Sun
op-ed on August 26, 2002 (
"Health Minister Is On A Bad Trip")
"What has federal Health Minister Anne McLellan been
smoking?" The author, Penni Mitchell, wrote:
The mounting criticism seems to have had an impact. The Toronto Star reported on August 27, 2002 ( "Feds Will Supply Medicinal Pot: McLellan") that "The federal government is not backing away from its plan to supply patients with medical marijuana, Health Minister Anne McLellan said today, bristling at earlier reports that the project has been shelved. Her department hopes clinical trials on research-grade pot can begin at the end of fall or in early winter, McLellan said, refuting suggestions she is not keen to go ahead with the controversial plan to distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes."
Yet questions still persist. Many resent Health Canada's decision to withhold from patients the cannabis produced by the government's official marijuana farm in Flin Flon, Manitoba. The Star reported that "Ottawa signed a $5.7-million, four-year contract in 2000 with Saskatoon-based Prairie Plant Systems to grow marijuana for the government. The pot is being grown deep in a former mine in Flin Flon, Man. The government couldn't go ahead with an earlier crop because it wasn't standardized and therefore not suitable to use in trials, she said. 'They've grown a second crop and we're testing it,' McLellan said. 'We believe that we have overcome that problem. We have a standardized crop which can be used.' However, a Health Canada official said in December the first crop was quality-tested and was ready for distribution to patients and researchers. A department spokesman said later Monday he couldn't account for the comment made in December. Prairie Plant Systems declined to comment, saying all information must come from Health Canada."
US pressure on the Canadian government may be to blame for the hassles. As the Star reported, "Some observers have suggested the government has backed away from medicinal pot because, in part, it raises cross-border issues with the United States. A noted pain specialist was quoted as saying he suspected Canada didn't want to get ahead of the United States in this area. McLellan revealed to a Commons committee in the spring that American drug-enforcement authorities wouldn't allow Health Canada access to pure, research-quality marijuana seeds from U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse. An assistant deputy minister for Health Canada conceded at the time there are people in the U.S. government opposed to research on the benefits of marijuana."
The US Drug Czar, John Walters, has put Canada on notice that it must change its drug policies to fall in line with US dogma. The Associated Press reported on June 13, 2002 ( "US Drug Czar Warns Canada On Plan") that "Canada should get tough on marijuana instead of decriminalizing the drug or allowing people to use it for medicinal purposes, U.S. drug policy chief John Walters said Wednesday. 'Canada's decision about how it handles this or other issues of regulated substance is its decision. We respect that,' Walters told reporters during a two-day visit for an international meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. But he made it clear the American government disagrees with recent moves in Canada to liberalize drug policies."
According to the AP story, "A Canadian Senate committee has expressed initial support for decriminalizing marijuana, with its final report due in August following public hearings. A preliminary report released in May said no scientific evidence exists that marijuana use leads to harder drugs, or that it is more dangerous to society than alcohol. Canadian federal agencies spend about $326 million each year to fight drugs and more than 30,000 people are charged with simple possession annually, the preliminary report said. If Canada follows the committee's initial recommendations, marijuana would still be illegal, but users would not be penalized. That would differ from the zero tolerance policy of the U.S. government."
The Drug Czar's comments were made during a conference of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. Walters also spoke to the Canadian Parliamentary panel investigating drug policy mentioned above. According to the Toronto Globe & Mail on June 12, 2002 ( "Include US In Drug Discussions, Panel Hears"), "Canada needs to include the United States in discussions on the creation of a new drug policy, a Senate committee on illegal drugs heard this week. As part of its efforts to table a final report addressing Canada's policy on cannabis, the committee held meetings with several U.S. officials including John Walters, director of the U.S. national drug policy. Committee chair Pierre Claude Nolin said Mr. Walters told the group that if Canada adopts some form of decriminalization of marijuana, the U.S. would not want to encroach on Canada's legislation. However, 'the two neighbours would influence each other's policy,' Mr. Nolin told globeandmail.com. Mr. Walters also said that information must flow freely across the border, said Mr. Nolin, who heads the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, which is looking specifically at the use of cannabis in Canada."
The Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs issued a report on Canadian cannabis policy on May 2, 2002. The Toronto Star reported on May 3, 2002 ( "Prohibition Has Little Effect On Pot-Smoking: Report") that "Efforts to prevent marijuana use are having little impact, and young Canadians are smoking up in greater numbers than ever, a Senate report says. An estimated 30 to 50 per cent of people 15 to 24 years old have used cannabis despite its illegality, the report, released Thursday by the Senate committee on illegal drugs, says. 'When you examine cannabis usage among youth, you realize that public policy has absolutely no effect,' Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, committee chairman, told a news conference."
As noted by the Star, "After studying the pros and cons of pot use for 14 months, the committee also concludes that scientific evidence suggests marijuana isn't a so-called gateway drug that leads to the use of harder drugs. The discussion paper, intended to guide public consultation on the marijuana issues, indicates that millions of dollars in public money being spent to combat pot is wasted. The arguments in the paper are far from new - many were made in the Le Dain report of 1973. Yet the federal government has been reluctant to change the law and Health Minister Anne McLellan has backtracked from a plan to give severely ill patients access to government-grown marijuana. There's a widespread perception that the federal government is reluctant to decriminalize pot because of opposition from the United States, which remains committed to prohibition."
The Committee will hold several meetings around Canada to get
citizen input. According to the Committee's news release (
"Senate Committee discussion paper sets agenda for public
meetings across Canada"):
According to the Committee's news release, "'Our Committee has reached a stage in our deliberations where preliminary conclusions are becoming more apparent to us. For example scientific evidence seems to indicate that cannabis is not a gateway drug. It may be appropriate to treat it more like alcohol or tobacco than like the harder drugs,' said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Special Committee Chair. 'We now need to add the views of Canadians to expert testimony and evidence we've received to date to see where we should go from here. In fact we're trying out some non-traditional approaches such as this interim discussion paper and town hall meetings to establish a more effective dialogue with Canadians.' Details will be provided in advance of each meeting in each community. Further Special Committee hearings will also take place in Ottawa later in June before the Committee writes its report."
Copies of the Committee report as well as other documents and research from the Committee's work can be downloaded from the Senate Special Committee's website. The report itself can be downloaded as a PDF directly by clicking here, or a summary of the report is available by clicking here.
The new chief of the Canadian health ministry, Anne McLellan, has decided not to release any of the medical cannabis being grown at the governmentally-approved marijuana farm. The Winnipeg Sun reported on April 23, 2002 ( "Medical Pot In Limbo?") that "Health Minister Anne McLellan won't release any of the marijuana being grown for the government to distribute to sick and dying patients until it has been tested in clinical trials, her spokeswoman said yesterday." According to the Sun, "The stipulation suggests the marijuana, being grown in an old mine in Flin Flon, won't be made available to severely sick or dying patients for years, if ever. It also suggests McLellan is taking a much tougher line on the use of medical marijuana than her predecessor Allan Rock. Clinical trials usually involve giving one group of people a drug and another group a placebo and observing differences. Such studies can take years to design and conduct."
Medical marijuana activist and former Libertarian Party candidate Steven Kubby was released from custody by Canadian authorities. The Sacramento Bee reported on April 23, 2002 ( "Medical-Pot Activist Freed") that "Canadian authorities released Steve Kubby on bail after three days in jail but have added new drug charges against the medical-marijuana activist and his wife, Michele. Sgt. Bryon Hodgkin of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said a search of the Kubbys' residence in British Columbia resulted in the seizure of what he called 'a sophisticated marijuana grow.' Authorities said they discovered 'approximately 160 marijuana plants.' The Kubbys have been living in the community of Sechelt since July 2001 when Steve Kubby failed to report to the Placer County jail to begin serving a 120-day sentence on two misdemeanor drug convictions."
According to the Bee's story, "Kubby, a cancer patient whose doctor testified at his California trial that marijuana therapy probably saved his life, contends that a 120-day jail term without the therapy would be tantamount to a death sentence. Kubby won his marijuana possession-for-sale and cultivation trials in Placer County but was convicted of having a trace of two illegal substances, peyote and a psychedelic mushroom stem, in his Olympic Valley home. He appealed the convictions and moved to Canada, but shortly after the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled April 12 that a fugitive 'has forfeited his right to appeal,' Kubby was arrested in Canada on immigration warrants."
Declaring that " Canada is in the midst of a public health crisis concerning HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and injection drug use," The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network is calling for establishment of safe injection facilities on a trial basis. Their new report, "Establishing Safe Injection Facilities In Canada: Legal And Ethical Issues," concludes that "Federal, provincial, and municipal governments cannot continue to ignore the health risks associated with injection drug use and with the prevailing criminal law approach to combating drug use. Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Germany have demonstrated that the provision of safe injection facilities is possible and effective. Australia has recognized the need and is experimenting." The report is also available as a PDF by clicking here. d
In the Network's April 11, 2002 news release ( "New Report Calls For Trials Of Safe Injection Sites") Ralf Jürgens, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, said "We cannot continue to close our eyes to the staggering amount of avoidable disease and death resulting not just from injection drug use but also from governments' failure to put a comprehensive prevention and treatment strategy in place."
According to the Network, "in 1999, 34 percent of the estimated 4,190 new HIV infections were among injection drug users. Over 60 percent of the approximately 4,000 yearly new hepatitis C infections are related to injection drug use. The number of deaths from drug overdose is equally alarming. In British Columbia alone, more than 2,000 illicit drug overdose deaths have occurred since 1992, and overdoses have been the leading cause of death among people aged 30 to 49 in the province for five years in a row. 'Safe injection facilities offer drug users a place to inject their drugs using clean equipment and with considerably less stress with the available care of medically trained personnel, helping to prevent the transmission of blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C, and offering referrals to social, health and addiction treatment services,' explains Benedikt Fischer, Assistant Professor at the Department of Public Health Sciences and Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto. 'Such facilities are successfully in operation in several countries in Europe and in Australia. The available evidence suggests that including safe injection facilities as one component of a broader public health-oriented policy response to injection drug use has the potential of producing significant benefits for both drug users and the general community,' Fischer adds.
The Network's release continues:
As reported by Canada's National Post on September 1, 2001 ( "HIV Spreads While Ottawa Ponders Drug Policy") that "A federally funded research organization has criticized Health Canada for its 'vague' response to a report that recommends radical changes to Canada's drug policies in order to reduce HIV and AIDS. In 1999, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network released a report commissioned by Health Canada that said HIV and AIDS is a crisis among injection drug users. It said Canada's drug policies make the problem worse by criminalizing drug use and forcing users to hide their addiction, share needles and avoid medical help. The report recommended sweeping changes to Canadian drug policies, such as the establishment of safe injection sites, medical prescriptions for heroin and cocaine, and the decriminalization of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use. Yesterday, after almost two years, Health Canada released a response to the report."
Regarding the report, the
Toronto Globe and Mail on September 1, 2001 (
"Ease Up On Heroin Addicts, Federal Study Says")
said of Health Minister Allan Rock that
"By publishing the report, Mr. Rock, sometimes mentioned as a
possible future prime minister, stepped deeper into a war zone
between those who favour strict drug enforcement and those who call
the current law outdated. It calls for sentences of up to seven
years for possession of heroin and life for possession for
purposes of trafficking." The Globe and Mail continued:
In its response to Health Canada's response, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network called the Health Canada report and another report, the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Committee on Injection Drug Use's "Reducing The Harm Associated With Injection Drug Use In Canada," "an important and significant step in the right direction. The federal and provincial/territorial governments have made important acknowledgements and commitments. It remains to be hoped that action will follow the words."
Canada is moving forward with regulations allowing medical marijuana. According to Health Minister Allan Rock, "Canada is acting compassionately by allowing people who are suffering from grave and debilitating illnesses to have access to marijuana for medical purposes." ("Rock to Unveil Proposed Regulations Governing the Possession and Production of Marijuana for Medical Purposes," Health Canada News Release, April 6, 2001) The draft regulations went into effect on July 31, 2001. The text of the regulations was published in the Canada Gazette Part I on April 7, 2001. A chronology of the development of Canada's official medical marijuana regulations is available on the Health Canada website. More information on the state of medical marijuana in Canada is also available from The Compassion Club of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's largest medical marijuana buyers' club.
The Canadian Medical Association Journal in its May 15, 2001 issue editorialized in favor of decriminalizing possession of marijuana for personal, non-medical use. A PDF copy of the editorial, "Marijuana: Federal Smoke Clears, A Little" is available by clicking here. According to the CMAJ, "Health Canada's decision to legitimize the medicinal use of marijuana is a step in the right direction. But a bolder stride is needed. The possession of small quantities for personal use should be decriminalized. The minimal negative health effects of moderate use would be attested to by the estimated 1.5 million Canadians who smoke marijuana for recreational purposes. The real harm is the legal and social fallout." The CMAJ noted further that "The decriminalization of marijuana possession for personal use does not mean making marijuana 'legal' or letting it be sold in every schoolyard. It does mean that possession of small amounts for personal use would become a civil offense, like a traffic violation, not a criminal one. The provisions of Canada's Contraventions Act make this a relatively simple legislative task. Mr. Justice Minister, let's decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use."
INCB Report Criticizes US Overprescription and Overuse of Psychopharmaceuticals, Also Slams Canadian and Australian Harm Reduction Policies
The UN's International Narcotics Board issued its 2000 anual report in early 2001. The report, available online in PDF format, details world consumption and production of both legal and illegal narcotic drugs and issues cautions based on their analysis.
According to the INCB, the US and many other nations face a problem of over-use of prescribed drugs. The BBC reported that according to the INCB, "Benzodiazepines are a major problem. In Europe, the forms of drug used as a sedative are used three times as often as in the US. But in the US, the forms of benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and obesity disorders are used 10 times more often than in Europe. Loose prescription regulations, aggressive marketing and unethical prescribing were highlighted as problems."
The INCB also singled out for criticism drug policies in both Australia and Canada.
The Australian Associated Press reports that "The United Nations has criticised Australian states for challenging the Federal Government's anti-heroin injection room stance." Also, the AAP story says that "the INCB also said it was concerned about the high social acceptance of illicit drugs and the large number of people in favour of the legalisation of drugs in Australia."
Regarding Canada, the Toronto Star reports that "The United Nations' International Narcotics Board has criticized Canada for its lax attitude toward illegal growers of cannabis and failure to control illicit production of drugs such as 'ice' and 'ecstasy'."