When it comes to drugs, the White House is singing loud and clear: Blame
Canada. But many Americans are singing a different tune: Praise Canada.

As the Bush administration tries to bully you into submission on drug-policy
matters, please keep the following in mind.

First, everything under way and under consideration in Canada is
well-grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights, as well as
taxpayers' interests. Every independent commission to examine marijuana
policy, from Australia to the United States, has concluded that punitive
prohibitions do more harm than good.

The medicinal value of marijuana is beyond dispute. As well, safer injection
sites (such as Vancouver's) have proven effective in reducing drug
overdoses, infections, risky injection practices and public nuisance. The
White House may not like what you're doing, but you've got the evidence on
your side.

Second, Canada's drug policy initiatives may be progressive by North
American standards, but not by those of the advanced industrialized world.
Switzerland is poised to leapfrog the Dutch cannabis policy and establish a
legal regulatory system. Belgium just decriminalized marijuana. (Jamaica
plans to as well, but like you, faces U.S. intimidation.) Dozens of safer
injection sites now operate successfully in Western Europe and Australia.
It's the United States, not Canada, that's out of step.

Third, there's no evidence that the drug policy reforms under way in Canada
increase drug abuse. The best U.S. study of marijuana decriminalization (by
a Canadian scholar, Eric Single) found no difference in use rates between
the 11 states that decriminalized marijuana during the 1970s and others that
did not. Ditto for needle exchange, heroin maintenance and safer injection
sites.

Fourth, the principal impact of drug policies is not on levels of drug use
but on death, disease, crime and the criminal justice system. By and large,
the more punitive the approach, the greater the harms that result. Thus, the
United States represents 5 per cent of the world's population and 25 per
cent of the world's prison population. Almost half a million people are
locked up for violating a drug law (more than all of Western Europe locks up
for everything). This brutal incarceration rate is part and parcel of U.S.
drug policy. Canadians, beware.

Fifth, don't underestimate the extremism of the Bush administration on drug
policy. The medical marijuana issue is most revealing. Almost 80 per cent of
Americans believe marijuana should be legally available as a medicine, when
recommended by a doctor. Every state ballot initiative on the issue has won.
Now even state legislatures are approving medical marijuana. The U.S.
Institute of Medicine says marijuana has medicinal value. Yet the Bush
administration disagrees -- and also says needle exchange doesn't reduce
HIV/AIDS, notwithstanding the scientific studies and consensus that it does.

This isn't the first time the U.S. government has tried to bludgeon Canada
into adopting backward U.S. policies. In the 1920s, it tried to compel
Canada to help enforce U.S. alcohol prohibition. Canada resisted -- as you
had the century before, when you rejected U.S. demands for the return of
fugitive slaves. Think of the war on drugs as America's addiction. Canada's
obligation, as friend and neighbour, is to speak to power.

Ethan Nadelmann is executive director of the U.S.-based Drug Policy Alliance
(http://www.drugpolicy.org) and author of Cops Across Borders: The
Internationalization of U.S. Criminal Law Enforcement.


Pubdate: Tuesday, May 20, 2003
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Page: A13
Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca
Website: http://www.globeandmail.ca/
Author: Ethan Nadelman