Legalize to Curb Crime Rates


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Last week's column touched on crime rates, which the B.C. government tracks by health region.

If you look at violent crime, serious property crime and non-cannabis drug crime, the safest place to live in B.C. is Vancouver Island. The highest serious crime rates are in Vancouver Coastal, which includes Vancouver, Richmond, the North Shore and Sunshine Coast.

The good news is that the rate of serious crime has been going down in most parts of the province, the exception being the north, where serious crime went up by more than eight per cent from 2001 to 2004.

The bad news, as I'm reminded by a new discussion paper just released by the B.C. Progress Board, is that despite improvements in recent years, B.C. still ranks in the top third of Canadian provinces in all categories of major crime.

The discussion paper, prepared by Simon Fraser University criminology professors Robert Gordon and Bryan Kinney, contains some provocative suggestions. When it comes to illegal drugs, for example, the professors conclude that B.C. has only three choices:

1. Lobby the federal government to legalize the drug trade, controlling it as tobacco and alcohol are regulated today.

2. Eliminate the organized criminal drug trade by way of a major expenditure in new police teams, legislation targeting money laundering and proceeds of crime, increased penalties and construction of new jails.

3. Combine options one and two, with a crackdown on organized crime followed by a phased-in decriminalization and legalization.

Of course the Conservatives in Ottawa will embrace legalization when Hell opens for public skating.

Stephen Harper is reputed to be a libertarian at heart, but his justice and public safety posse, Vic Teows and Stock Day, are hang-'em high "social conservatives" and would likely only support increased drug penalties.

I disagree with that approach, but it's preferable to the previous government, which repeatedly promised to decriminalize pot but never followed through, while opening its own low-grade grow-op in an abandoned mine.

Criminologists argue that legalizing drugs isn't likely to increase demand much more.

Nearly all the street crime, the car and house break-ins, is perpetrated in the pursuit of drugs. As for violent crime, if you take away the drug-related shootings and stabbings, you're left mainly with those crimes of passion that are themselves so often committed in a fog of intoxication.

The report warns there is a fourth option, which is to maintain the status quo. For B.C. that means continuing to have Canada's most lenient courts, which combines with a benign climate to make B.C. the destination of choice for Canada's sophisticated criminals.

As things stand, B.C. currently has twice the rate of drug crime as any other province. And since legalization is currently not a viable option politically, the practical choice would be to increase sentences for major drug crime.

The 'four pillars'

The SFU report endorses what has become known as the "four pillars" approach to drugs, those pillars being education, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.

NewsHawk: _qWERTY - 420 Magazine
Source: Nanaimo News Bulletin (CN BC)
Pubdate: Thu, 23 Nov 2006
Copyright: 2006 BC Newspaper Group
Website: Nanaimo News Bulletin
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