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Politicians And Pofessors Debate National Drug Policy

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
CANADA'S NATIONAL DRUG policy is in a state of flux. The former Liberal federal government made moves towards decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and instituted a medical-marijuana program during its last session in power. The current Conservative government has taken a tougher stance towards illegal drugs by taking steps to increase both the prosecution of drug offenders and penalties for drug offences.

These issues were discussed at the Public Forum on Drug Policy held at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Ottawa on Oct. 25. Sponsored and run by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and the HIV Prevention Research Team, the forum revolved around a discussion of harm-reduction policies and their effectiveness in Canada. There were a number of panellists representing academia and political parties in Canada. U of O criminology professor Eugene Oscapella and NDP deputy leader Libby Davies ( Vancouver East, B.C. ) both participated in the event.

Oscapella spoke about the idea of harm reduction in an international context.

"It's not only what we're doing in our communities, it's what we're doing in places abroad," he said, pointing out different approaches to drug enforcement around the world, from the law-enforcement-based methods in the United States to the more complex approaches taken in many European countries. "We know [law enforcement] doesn't work. We see this in the U.S.. You can't imprison your way out of the drug problem."

Oscapella also discussed the problems with drug policy as a whole, saying that often governments "treat users as the problem, when they are the symptoms of real social problems that aren't addressed."

Davies commented on the problems she faces in her riding, which includes the infamous Downtown East Side.

"[Drug use is] primarily a public-health issue. The consequence of pure enforcement policies is people dying in the streets," she said.

Davies' riding includes InSite, which is Canada's first and only supervised injection site for heroin and other intravenous-drug users. InSite started as a three-year pilot project in 2003, and has been rigorously studied by both Canadian and American policymakers to assess its impact and effectiveness. It operates under a special exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The exemption was recently extended to June 2008.

Davies supports the site and believes it should provide a model for other cities across the country.

"We need to move this from an ideological issue to a proper policy based on research and facts. If we want a pragmatic solution [for the drug problem], it should start with harm reduction," she said.

Other speakers at the forum included Jake Cole of the Green Party and Laverne Monette of the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS Strategy.

Source: Fulcrum, The (U of Ottawa, CN ON Edu)
Copyright: 2007 The Fulcrum
Contact: editor@thefulcrum.com
Website: The Fulcrum | The University of Ottawa's independent English-language student newspaper
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