A few days ago, I published an item about misguided Canadian drug policies. This week, the British Columbia Coroner reported that Fentanyl was involved in 12 deaths in BC during the past month, 54 in the past five months and 90 during 2014. It’s reported that 145 Albertans died using this easy to manufacture synthetic opiate in the first seven months of 2015. Large numbers of people are dying in other provinces too but there appears to be no coordinated tracking of related statistics.
The Harper Government is spending huge sums to wage war on terrorism, including $1.2 billion on an Ottawa building described as an “architectural wonder.“ Government employs 2,000 staff there to hack into computers, read emails and intercept phone calls. While funds are available for authoritarian spy actions, there is little money for tracking the current toll of illegal drug distribution. Of course, there’s no political interest in doing that work since the Prime Minister previously expressed fear that someone might “commit sociology.“
Stephen Harper’s response to hundreds of young people dying from a new dangerous substance on the street is creation of a “help line” and rededication of his government’s opposition to relaxed marijuana laws. This policy exists even though polling done for Conservatives in 2014 showed 71% of Canadians believe the government should either legalize marijuana or decriminalize possession of small amounts.
The foolishness of Harper’s position was demonstrated in Tuesday’s account of one teenage boy’s near-fatal encounter with Fentanyl. The 18-year-old son of CTV News journalist Anthony Hampton is in hospital with an uncertain future. His family spoke with CTV News, which reported:
Police looked through Anthony’s cell phone, and told the parents they found texts showing he tried to buy pot before his overdose.
His drug dealer claimed he was out of marijuana and suggested Anthony try harder drugs instead: supposed oxycontin, which police believe was likely fentanyl.
“From all accounts, he tried this once,” Hampton said. “He just tried this pill that he thought was oxy, one time.”
More dead from illicit drugs in BC last weekend than from terrorism in Canada in last 30 years. #cdnpoli http://t.co/bhBKxfllE3
— Norm Farrell (@Norm_Farrell) August 6, 2015
The following was first published August 4, 2015.
Reading of another tragic Fentanyl death — this time Jack Bodie, a Burnaby youth on the cusp of adulthood — I began to think it is time for each of us to have a Howard Beale moment, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
“This” is the insane Canadian drug policy that satisfies no one, except perhaps for people in the police, justice and prison industries and villains involved in distributing drugs, laundering money or trading in Conservative Party votes.
According to BC’s Chief Coroner, almost 200 residents of the province suffered Fentanyl related deaths since 2012. The justice ministry reports 322 died from illicit drug use in BC during 2013, more than twice the victims five years before and also double the number of fatalities from motor vehicle collisions.
The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition advises:
The current approach to Canada’s “drug problem” is not working. It relies far too heavily on the criminalization of people and punitive policies. It’s expensive, wasteful, ineffective and damaging to those who are most in need. It is time for innovative solutions.
The ACLU summarized:
After decades of criminal prohibition and intensive law enforcement efforts to rid the country of illegal drugs, violent traffickers still endanger life in our cities, a steady stream of drug offenders still pours into our jails and prisons, and tons of cocaine, heroin and marijuana still cross our borders unimpeded.
Not only is prohibition a proven failure as a drug control strategy, but it subjects otherwise law-abiding citizens to arrest, prosecution and imprisonment for what they do in private. …The ACLU believes that unless they do harm to others, people should not be punished — even if they do harm to themselves. There are better ways to control drug use, ways that will ultimately lead to a healthier, freer and less crime-ridden society…
Forbes quoted the economics textbook by Cowen and Tabarrok:
The more effective prohibition is at raising costs, the greater are drug industry revenues. So, more effective prohibition means that drug sellers have more money to buy guns, pay bribes, fund the dealers, and even research and develop new technologies in drug delivery (like crack cocaine). It’s hard to beat an enemy that gets stronger the more you strike against him or her.
The disquieting impulse the anti-drug crusaders share is the puritan wish to control desires and create a drug-free Utopia by excommunicating sinners behind steel bars. The Conservatives are tapping into a well of religious sentiment in this country to advance policies that have proved ineffective elsewhere. Ottawa should refocus its attention instead on creating opportunities for Canadians born into broken families and neglected neighbourhoods, and initiate new programs to combat poverty. Attempting to create heaven on earth is a fanciful dream, and like all wars on sin, it too will end in abject failure.
In 2007, Stephen Harper announced his government’s crackdown on drug crime and, despite admitting failure of the program in 2012, he committed to another five years and another $500 million for extra measures of enforcement. This time though, increased budgets for police and prosecutors were accompanied by deep cuts in Health Canada spending on drug treatments.
Author Paula Mallea considered different drug policies in her book The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment:
We have to begin by rejecting the rationale behind criminalization. It is essential that we stop considering drug users as “the other.” When we set up this kind of dichotomy, it becomes easy to justify harsh treatment of people whom we consider to be “lesser.” Yet far from being the demented, dangerous individuals that we seem to fear, drug users are our friends, neighbours and family members. It behooves us to treat them as we would want to be treated — with care, respect and compassion.
Root causes of drug use and addiction must be a part of this discussion. Our current prime minister thinks a consideration of root causes is an offence in itself — “committing sociology,” as he puts it. But we as a society need to put resources into identifying and alleviating these root causes…
When Stephen Harper claims to wage war on drugs, he has mixed motivations. One is that vested interests invariably prefer the status quo, which is a drug trade now worth between 100 and 300 billion dollars in the Americas. Low level enforcement is tolerable, even helpful to the drug leaders by ensuring a constant churn within the ranks of dealers and mid-level distributors. As a result, few drug business operators gain sufficient power to threaten the insulated top layer. Money, once laundered, is available for consumer goods, real estate and investment in “legitimate” enterprises and political parties. Additionally, billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on police, courts, prisons and parole systems that deal with drug offenders. Decriminalization would severely affect these interests.
Another reason for continuation of current policy is social inertia, the resistance to change in societies or social groups. Describing political inertia, Jay Ulfelder noted that norms and institutions may be social manifestations of an inborn and profound preference for routine and regularity. Even failed policies pursued for decades can remain comfortable while radical solutions seem likely to be dangerous.
With Harper, we cannot underestimate his comfort with the fundamentalist base that believes moral rules, drawn from a Christian God, are absolute and unchallengeable. As the Southern Baptist Convention explains, “God Himself made us free. But He didn’t intend for us to use our freedom in destructive ways.”
Edmund Burke wrote, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If you believe the philosopher’s statement a truism, you might do well to wonder how far unsympathetic moral supremacists will go in fighting against drugs and drug users. There is a shocking example of what American liquor prohibitionists were willing to do.
The little-told story of how the U.S. government poisoned alcohol during Prohibition with deadly consequences, Deborah Blum, Slate Magazine, February 19, 2010:
[Within a few days of Christmas 1926, New York City’s Bellevue Hospital] tallied up more than 60 people made desperately ill by alcohol and eight dead from it. Within the next two days, yet another 23 people died in the city from celebrating the season.
Doctors were accustomed to alcohol poisoning by then, the routine of life in the Prohibition era. The bootlegged whiskies and so-called gins often made people sick. The liquor produced in hidden stills frequently came tainted with metals and other impurities. But this outbreak was bizarrely different. The deaths, as investigators would shortly realize, came courtesy of the U.S. government.
Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.
Categories: Harper Government