Canada’s war on drugs bucks the global trend: negatively

Some excerpts from an article by Carlito Pablo in the Georgia Straight, October 22, 2009:

As recently as August 20 … Mexico decriminalized the possession for personal use of substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, and methamphetamine. Five days later, Argentina’s Supreme Court declared unconstitutional legislation that punishes possessors of marijuana with prison sentences ranging from one month to two years.

Elsewhere in Latin America, according to [Philippe] Lucas, a first-term Victoria city councillor, countries like Colombia and Peru have set aside policies that regard drug use as a criminal offence.

“We’re seeing Canada and the U.S. increasingly isolated in the maintenance of a prohibition-based policy,” Lucas told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Within the western world, we see examples of very successful alternatives to a law-and-order approach to substance abuse. The best recent examples are Portugal and Spain.”

The following statistics came out of the Cato Institute, which may describe itself as non-partisan, but is anything but an advocate of so-called left wing welfare state ideas (like the right isn’t statist!—has anybody seen the war bill/bail-out cost lately?). I use that Left Wing description advisedly, by the way.

The Cato Institute advocates, as a rule, free-market principles (again so-called) and libertarianism of a certain strain. Anyway, its pronunciations on recent drug policy changes in Portugal (from the GS article):

Since decriminalization in 2001, lifetime prevalence rates, which measure how many people have consumed a particular drug or drugs in their lifetime, have decreased among youth, the think tank noted in Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies.

For Portuguese aged 13 to 15 years, the [drug usage] rate fell from 14.1 percent in 2001 to 10.6 percent in 2006. Among those aged 16 to 18, the rate dropped from 27.6 percent to 21.6 percent.

With the fear of criminal punishment gone, more addicts have availed themselves of drug-substitution treatments. The number of people accessing these services rose from 6,040 in 1999 to 14,877 in 2003, an increase of 147 percent.

Drug-related deaths declined, from about 400 in 1999 to 290 in 2006, while newly reported HIV cases among drug users in Portugal diminished from nearly 1,400 in 2000 to about 400 six years later. New AIDS cases among the same group dropped from about 600 in 2000 to approximately 200 in 2006.

The percentage of drug addicts among newly diagnosed HIV and AIDS patients decreased over the same time. In 2001, HIV-positive drug users accounted for more than 50 percent of new HIV cases; this fell to 30 percent in 2006. Addicts diagnosed with AIDS made up almost 60 percent of AIDS patients in 2001; their percentage was cut to less than 40 percent in 2006.

The Cato Institute report notes that decriminalization in Portugal applies to purchase and possession for personal consumption. The allowable personal-use amount is defined as the average quantity sufficient for 10 days’ usage by one person.

Granted, Portugal is not Canada, let alone Vancouver, but the statistics are compelling. Will anything stop drug use? Clearly no. Had a drink lately? A cigarette? Coffee? Chocolate? Okay, coffee and chocolate aren’t exactly crack cocaine, but cigarettes and alcohol?

Recently I even heard (I think on CBC) that when the Russians occupied Berlin and supposedly 2 million women were raped, and some 200,000 children were born from that horror, alcohol played a massive and integral role in the soldiers’ actions. History, war, deprivation and revenge, I am sure, also chipped in.

But alcohol—and I am no prohibitionist—undoubtedly increases violent and reckless behavior, not to mention death-by-driving. Talking about cigarettes and its cost to longevity and the health care system is too known to repeat.

To finish:

In conversation, Lucas noted that although B.C., and Vancouver in particular, have a reputation for being liberal on drug use, they have the highest rate of drug-related arrests in Canada. “Out of those high rates of drug arrests, 80 percent are for personal possession—they’re not for trafficking—and 60 percent of the overall arrests are cannabis-related,” he said.

Courage to believe in harm reduction, less crime and less disease! Who would have thought that would be a hard sell? I need a drink.

Lots of love,



One Response to “Canada’s war on drugs bucks the global trend: negatively”

  1. philip McCormack says:

    Dear Gregory Hartnell, Lets assume Dare, 4Pillars, HRT etc are not working. What is working? From the Cato Inst. Drug decriminalisation in Portugal has been followed by drop in drug usage, decline in drug related deaths, HIV and aids. Increase in drug substitution services. Legalisation, decriminalisation seem to be working. Let’s go for it! Cuts back taxes for courts, police, prisons and many other ‘services’. What do you suggest to bring taxes down? Philip.

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