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Good politics, bad policy: drug prohibition ignores science, compassion, experience and logic.


When Prime Minister Harper introduced his National Anti-Drug Strategy (NADS NAD+
The oxidized form of NAD.
) in October 2007, drug policy experts braced for the worst. The NADS promised to put good electoral politics ahead of good policy through the reinvigoration of punitiveness, one of many imports from the American criminal justice model which the Conservatives have incorporated into their politics.

The NADS essentially proclaims that drugs cause crime, that crime is bad and that therefore government needs to do something about drugs. The Prime Minster signalled unambiguously that his government would not permit a vision for drug control to be clouded by complexities arising from patterns of use, the failure of existing policy, human rights, the concurrence CONCURRENCE, French law. The equality of rights, or privilege which several persons-have over the same thing; as, for example, the right which two judgment creditors, Whose judgments were rendered at the same time, have to be paid out of the proceeds of real estate bound by them. Dict. de Jur. h.t.  of drug abuse with mental illness and homelessness or other such distractions. The NADS was designed to harmonize with the government's chest-pounding on crime and social disorder generally and to signal to true believers--in Canada and Washington--that the "new government" was "getting tough." Drug prohibition--including the whole testosterone-fuelled "tough on crime" swagger so beloved by Conservatives--has the virtue of making elected officials appear to be "doing something" to address the violence that black markets invariably in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 produce. "Cracking down" creates the appearance of muscularity for governments that seem otherwise hapless in the face of social trends they neither understand nor seem to be able to control.

The new punitiveness was coupled with deemphasis of the public health piece that had dominated Ottawa's approach to drugs under Brian Mulroney and Jean Chretien. Previous Canadian governments had essentially decided that they could not--given the centrality of Canada-U.S. relations--substantially depart from a drug control strategy to which successive U.S. administrations were zealously committed, despite its obvious failure to deliver on its key objectives. So to blunt the harshest consequences of a full-blown American-style "war on drugs," they had recast Canada's drug control strategy by locating it, in effect, between law enforcement and public health until serious reform prospects opened up.


Governments had good evidence and arguments for rethinking prohibition. In its 1999 study Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base, the U.S. Institute of Medicine concluded that "cannabinoids Cannabinoids
The chemical compounds that are the active principles in marijuana.

Mentioned in: Marijuana
 likely have a natural role in pain modulation pain modulation Neurology An ↑ or ↓ of the sensation of pain, possibly due to a 2º neural pathway. See Opioid-mediated analgesia system. , control of movement, and memory" and that more research was warranted into the medicinal potential of cannabinoid-based drugs. (1)

In September 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, chaired by Conservative Senator Claude Nolin, released a substantial study of Canada's drug control experience and policy concluding that prohibition of cannabis--approximately 75 per cent of the entire illicit drug illicit drug Street drug, see there  trade--not only did not reduce demand but in fact made everything about drug use worse, and that far-reaching legislative changes could bring about a rational drug control policy that produced fewer harmful consequences for users, families and communities. (2)

Four months later the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by Liberal MP Paddy Torsney, released its report calling for a strategy tilted away from a focus on enforcement toward prevention, education, harm reduction and research. (3) The Senate and Commons reports essentially vindicated the 1972 conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, chaired by Gerald Le Dain Gerald Eric Le Dain (born November 27, 1924) is a Canadian lawyer and former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from 1984 to 1988.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, the son of Eric George Bryant Le Dain and Antoinette Louise Whithard, he served during World War II.
, that drug prohibition was more harmful than could be justified given that it could not produce the decline in drug use that its defenders repeatedly promised. On the basis of science, compassion, experience and logic the path toward drug law reform was clearly laid out by early 2003.

But the Harper Conservatives were not interested in science, compassion, experience or logic where drugs were concerned. Within weeks of coming to power, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day Stockwell Burt Day, Jr., PC, MP (born August 16, 1950 in Barrie, Ontario), is a Canadian politician and a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. He is a former cabinet minister in Alberta, and a former leader of the Canadian Alliance.  killed a safe tattooing strategy which the previous government had asked the Public Health Agency to conduct, which an evaluation suggested showed promise for reducing the spread of HIV HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), either of two closely related retroviruses that invade T-helper lymphocytes and are responsible for AIDS. There are two types of HIV: HIV-1 and HIV-2. HIV-1 is responsible for the vast majority of AIDS in the United States.  and hepatitis C Hepatitis C Definition

Hepatitis C is a form of liver inflammation that causes primarily a long-lasting (chronic) disease. Acute (newly developed) hepatitis C is rarely observed as the early disease is generally quite mild.
 between prisoners, and which a majority of prison staff believed would make institutions safer. (4)

This hostility toward unwelcome science has continued most persistently with regard to Insite, Vancouver's safe injection facility. When the peer-reviewed evidence, published in places like The Lancet, (5) did not comport See COM port.  with the government's preferences, the government paid the RCMP to prepare a report denouncing harm reduction and endorsing a strategy that, in purpose and effect, would roll back the clock on compassionate and effective drug control policy and practice. "A Critique of Canada's INSITE Injection Site and its Parent Philosophy" replicates a tactic employed by the Bush administration toward scientific conclusions it did not like: create what appears to be a dispute among experts and then claim that the science is inconclusive. (6)

The spin surrounding the rollout of the National Anti-Drug Strategy criticized the near-relaxation of marijuana laws under Chretien and Paul Martin, and Harper took a shot at the Beatles' alleged endorsement of consciousnes-saltering drug use and the "do your own thing" ethic of the 1960s. The PM's October 2007 announcement in Winnipeg echoed all the old canards dating from Richard Nixon's first "war on drugs" in 1969, updated with some familiar mythology from the "just say no" Reagan-Bush era. One particular couplet couplet

Two successive lines of verse. A couplet is marked usually by rhythmic correspondence, rhyme, or the inclusion of a self-contained utterance. Couplets may be independent poems, but they usually function as parts of other verse forms, such as the Shakespearean sonnet,
 from the Prime Minister's NADS announcement smartly encapsulates the incongruity in·con·gru·i·ty  
n. pl. in·con·gru·i·ties
1. Lack of congruence.

2. The state or quality of being incongruous.

3. Something incongruous.

Noun 1.
 between good crime politics and good drug control policy:
   If drugs do get hold of you--there's help
   to get you off them. And if you sell or
   produce drugs--you'll pay with jail time.

Whoever wrote this text, or designed a strategy on this premise, either does not understand the nature of drug addiction drug addiction
 or chemical dependency

Physical and/or psychological dependency on a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance (e.g., alcohol, narcotics, nicotine), defined as continued use despite knowing that the substance causes harm.
 under conditions of prohibition or simply chose to disregard the public health and addiction science relevant to drug use and abuse. Anyone who actually studies how drug use and trafficking operate will immediately reply that the vast majority of low-level drug traffickers sell drugs to support their own habits--the "big fish" are well insulated behind layers of middlemen and are seldom apprehended. At the street level, traffickers and users are the same people: they are the low-hanging fruit on which the American prison empire has been built. (7) The NADS promises to both help and punish the same people at the same time--an unambiguous signal to the expert community that research on effective drug demand reduction would not be permitted to contaminate con·tam·i·nate
1. To make impure or unclean by contact or mixture.

2. To expose to or permeate with radioactivity.

con·tam·i·nant n.
 the government's approach.

Lest there be any residual confusion, the NADS omitted reference to "harm reduction" and "needle exchange," two concepts endorsed by every major scientific and expert body from the World Health Organization to the Canadian Medical Association The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), with more than 65,000 members, is the largest association of doctors in Canada and works to represent their interests nationally. It formed in 1867, three months after Confederation. . To the extent that the NADS is simplistic sim·plism  
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.

[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple
 and ill-informed, it constitutes two steps backward where good policy is concerned. To the extent that prohibition appeals to true believers, however, it is good electoral politics. Coupled with the advent of mandatory minimum sentences for "serious drug crimes"--which American evidence suggests will sweep up Aboriginal and inner-city youth--Canada now has a drug strategy that amounts to a decaffeinated version of the U.S. war on drugs. Meanwhile, as the 2008 UN World Drug Report (8) reveals, the long-term trend in street prices for both heroin and cocaine continues its downward slide--precisely the opposite of what prohibition promises.

New voices

In 2009 there have been an increasing number of voices calling for a shift in drug policy. In January the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy admitted that "acknowledging the failure of current policies and their consequences is the inescapable prerequisite for the discussion of a new paradigm New Paradigm

In the investing world, a totally new way of doing things that has a huge effect on business.

The word "paradigm" is defined as a pattern or model, and it has been used in science to refer to a theoretical framework.
 leading to safer, more efficient and humane drug policies." Two months later the Economist concluded that "prohibition has failed; legalisation n. 1. the act of legalizing; same as legalization.

Noun 1. legalisation - the act of making lawful
legalization, legitimation

group action - action taken by a group of people
 is the least bad solution." In April, a white paper by Glenn Greenwald published by the Cato Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank, drew attention to Portugal's decriminalization decriminalization n. the repeal or amendment (undoing) of statutes which made certain acts criminal, so that those acts no longer are crimes or subject to prosecution.  of all drug possession and use--a move that had gone largely unnoticed in the mainstream press since it was undertaken in 2001. (9)

In May, Mexico's former President Vicente Fox told CNN CNN
 or Cable News Network

Subsidiary company of Turner Broadcasting Systems. It was created by Ted Turner in 1980 to present 24-hour live news broadcasts, using satellites to transmit reports from news bureaus around the world.
 that "it's time to open the debate over legalizing drugs." On August 25, Argentina's Supreme Court decriminalized the small-scale use of marijuana, opening the way for a shift in the country's drug-fighting policies to focus on traffickers instead of users. Colombia and Mexico have already decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. (10) Brazil and Ecuador are looking at an initiative to legalize le·gal·ize  
tr.v. le·gal·ized, le·gal·iz·ing, le·gal·iz·es
To make legal or lawful; authorize or sanction by law.

 some drug use.

Even in the United States, the Democratic Senator from Virginia, Jim Webb, is sponsoring a reexamination re·ex·am·ine also re-ex·am·ine  
tr.v. re·ex·am·ined, re·ex·am·in·ing, re·ex·am·ines
1. To examine again or anew; review.

2. Law To question (a witness) again after cross-examination.
 of drug and sentencing policy--they are inextricably in·ex·tri·ca·ble  
a. So intricate or entangled as to make escape impossible: an inextricable maze; an inextricable web of deceit.

 linked--and asking some long overdue questions concerning hyperincarceration of minorities and the policy costs and consequences of mandatory minimum sentences. (11) President Obama's drug czar, former Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, has called for an end to the language of "war on drugs." And this past summer, in a move that rocked the drug policy establishment, New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 State repealed its Rockefeller Drug Laws, considered the most punitive, expensive and ineffective in the democratic world.


At another level, however, little has changed. The current World Drug Report calls on member nations to say "no to crime" as well as "no to drugs" and argues that "termination of [prohibition] would be an epic mistake." (12) In March, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs Noun 1. Commission on Narcotic Drugs - the commission of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations that is concerned with drug traffic
Economic and Social Council commission, ECOSOC commission - a commission of the Economic and Social Council of the
 meeting in Vienna issued a "political declaration" which, at the urging of the American delegation, excluded the phrase harm reduction--resulting in 26 countries demanding explicit support for harm reduction in a footnote. In Ottawa our government introduced mandatory minimum sentences for "serious drug crimes" as part of a plan to grow Canada's rate of incarceration Confinement in a jail or prison; imprisonment.

Police officers and other law enforcement officers are authorized by federal, state, and local lawmakers to arrest and confine persons suspected of crimes. The judicial system is authorized to confine persons convicted of crimes.
, and continues to roll out its National Anti-Drug Strategy.

The singular status of drug prohibition as public policy

Since its Canadian debut in the Opium Act of 1908, drug prohibition has been the classic policy zombie--dead as an idea bur still walking around because it is useful to certain interests. It finds no support outside of the interests that benefit directly from it: law enforcement agencies and drug traffickers. Various Canadian governments of different partisan stripes have committed themselves with more or less enthusiasm to it, while acknowledging sotto voce that demand reduction was the only enduring way to reduce drug abuse. Canada is a signatory to the 1971 United Nations Single Convention on Psychotropic psychotropic /psy·cho·tro·pic/ (si?ko-tro´pik) exerting an effect on the mind; capable of modifying mental activity; said especially of drugs.

 Substances--which, among other insults to common sense, presumes that all drug use is per se abuse--so Canadian officials have played along with the international consensus, largely dictated out of Washington.

What is most vexing, from the standpoint of one who has studied this issue for the past 20 years, is that drug prohibition cannot deliver on its objectives, yet no evidence of constant failure seems to damage its appeal to policymakers. It remains resistant to reform or revision because its defenders can answer every criticism with some version of "if prohibition does not produce the results we want, it's because of our collective unwillingness to do what is necessary to make it work."

Prohibition is supposed to function by driving up prices to end users so that these users, being rational economic actors, will make alternative choices which better maximize their personal utility. Not only will prices rise as a consequence of restricted supply, but criminal stigmatization stigmatization /stig·ma·ti·za·tion/ (stig?mah-ti-za´shun)
1. the developing of or being identified as possessing one or more stigmata.

2. the act or process of negatively labelling or characterizing another.
 will also create a disincentive for rational actors to purchase drugs, since rational actors can be expected to avoid something that will harm their short- and long-terra interests with regard to international travel, employment, education, access to the professions and other desirable eventualities. The logical conclusion is that there exists a quantum of pain which, if consistently and vigorously applied, will deter even the most hardcore drug addict because it's not rational to subject oneself to the prospect of harsh punishment and diminished future prospects as a consequence of criminal apprehension.

However, as was true of alcohol prohibition, the theory on which drug prohibition rests turns out to be defective. The flaw in prohibition theory is, first, that no authority or combination of authorities can adequately control all possible sources of supply and, second, that end users don't behave as rational actor theory predicts. What has happened in practice is precisely what happened during alcohol prohibition: the rise of a rapacious international criminal class so flush with cash that they are able to pay off or eliminate all who stand in their way, including police officials, heads of state and senior military leaders. (13)

In practice, artificially raising prices through restricting supply has the effect of attracting more market participants since, though risky, profits to suppliers can be expected to be higher too. On the demand side, drug users, even desperately impoverished ones, will do whatever it takes to acquire drugs at whatever price is demanded--and they will do so even from inside a prison in which they are already serving a harsh sentence. No quantum of punishment permissible under democratic principles and a Charter of Rights and Freedoms seems adequate to deter or dissuade.

What also happens in practice is what is currently unfolding in northern Mexico: open war between the trafficking gangs seeking to protect their supply routes into the United States and the Mexican police and army whose ranks and reputation have been savaged by targeted assassinations, bribery and scandal. (14)


In practice, prohibition increases the level of violence between competing traffickers and enforcement agencies as traffickers fight it out with one another over who will control the market. Writing in the American Law and Economics Review, Harvard's Jeffrey Miron documented a positive correlation between the intensity of prohibition enforcement and the use of violence. Miron calculated that, as of 1999, the U.S. homicide rate was "25%-75% higher than it would be in the absence of drug prohibition." (15) Furthermore, as police pressure on drug traffickers increases, the drug economy evolves according to "survival of the fittest" principles, stimulating traffickers to innovate at a rapid pace in order to survive. Sanho Tree has written of South America's recent history,
   By escalating the drug war, the kinds of
   people the police typically capture are
   the ones who are dumb enough to get
   caught. Thus, law enforcement tends to
   apprehend the most inept and least efficient
   traffickers. Conversely, the kinds
   of people law enforcement tends to miss
   are the most cunning, innovative and
   efficient traffickers. (16)

The big cartels associated with Medellin and Call have been smashed, but there are now so many smaller gangs and organizations that the police have neither the resources to combat them nor the personnel to penetrate them. Cocaine is more available today--at better purity and a lower price to end users--than it was during the heyday of the narco-cartels.

"But," prohibition's defenders reply, "prohibition is the morally correct policy because drugs destroy lives, devastate dev·as·tate  
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.

2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark.
 families and ruin communities." This is at least half true--drugs do wreak havoc on some people, families and communities--but it is not at all clear what the effect on these same individuals, families and communities would be were drugs not prohibited. In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, it may be that prohibition itself is the greater evil.

Editorializing on the war on drugs, Milton Friedman asked, "Can [prohibition], however high-minded, be moral if it leads to widespread corruption, imprisons so many, has so racist an effect, destroys our inner cities, wreaks havoc on misguided and vulnerable individuals and brings death and destruction to foreign countries?" (17) Friedman was far from alone in this sentiment, though it is too rarely expressed by people within the drug prohibition machinery. As Britain's former drug czar, Julian Critchley, put it, "I think what was truly depressing about my time in [Tony Blair's] Anti-Drug Coordination Unit was that the overwhelming majority of professionals I met, including those from the police, the health service, the government and voluntary sectors, held the same view: the illegality of drugs causes far more problems for society and the individual than it solves." (18)

The last defence of drug prohibition runs something like this: "If we legalize or decriminalize de·crim·i·nal·ize  
tr.v. de·crim·i·nal·ized, de·crim·i·nal·iz·ing, de·crim·i·nal·iz·es
To reduce or abolish criminal penalties for: decriminalize the use of marijuana.
, prices will fall and rates of use will skyrocket and we'll have a public health catastrophe on our hands." No evidence is offered for this assertion--and, as the experience of Portugal illustrates, it may not be true.

Portugal: Drug decriminalization in practice

"We all know that. We're all reading the Portugal paper," a member of Parliament told me in the opposition lounge this past April.

The "Portugal paper" is Glenn Greenwald's study for the Cato Institute that examines the consequences of Portugal's eight years of drug decriminalization (not legalization LEGALIZATION. The act of making lawful.
     2. By legalization, is also understood the act by which a judge or competent officer authenticates a record, or other matter, in order that the same may be lawfully read in evidence. Vide Authentication.
). Cato has long stood against drug prohibition because prohibition offends against principles of personal liberty, licenses police intrusion into the domain of personal choice and violates the constitutional separation of powers separation of powers: see Constitution of the United States.
separation of powers

Division of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government among separate and independent bodies.
 in the United States.

What Portugal did was decriminalize the possession--though not the trafficking--of all drugs from cannabis to cocaine, turning previously criminal offences into civil and administrative violations. Portugal took this step because all the relevant indicators that concern police, drug policy and public health officials were spiralling out of control during the 1990s--and the more they criminalized, arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated and punished, the more severe Portugal's drug problem became.

Policymakers were desperate enough to strike a commission to examine what was failing and why. Bur rather than assemble the usual gang of reliable partisans, the commission was charged with examining the country's drug crisis and potential responses through the lens of public health science and evidence. In 1998, the commission concluded that the principal barrier to effective treatment was criminalization crim·i·nal·ize  
tr.v. crim·i·nal·ized, crim·i·nal·iz·ing, crim·i·nal·iz·es
1. To impose a criminal penalty on or for; outlaw.

2. To treat as a criminal.
 of drug use and the resources it consumed--resources that could be more efficiently targeted at prevention, education, treatment and rehabilitation.

According to Greenwald, the commission's recommendations were intended to
   redirect the focus [of national drug
   policy] to primary prevention; extend
   and improve the quality and response
   capacity of health care networks so as
   to ensure access to treatment for all drug
   addicts who seek treatment; and, guarantee
   the necessary mechanisms to allow
   the enforcement by competent bodies of
   measures such as voluntary treatment of
   drug addicts as an alternative to prison
   sentences. (19)

Legalization was not viable given Portugal's international commitments, bur decriminalization--of an amount not greater than a typical user would consume in ten days--was. Decriminalization, the commission reasoned, would remove the threat of criminal stigmatization and increase the demand for treatment, for which there would now be more resources and options.

So what has happened since July 2001? The most important outcomes--viewed from a public health perspective--have been a sharp rise in demand for treatment and a steady decline in lifetime prevalence rates (numbers of people who have consumed a particular drug or drugs over the course of their lifetime) for various age groups. The number of newly reported cases of HIV and AIDS among drug addicts has declined substantially every year since 2001, as have deaths from drug overdose Drug Overdose Definition

A drug overdose is the accidental or intentional use of a drug or medicine in an amount that is higher than is normally used.
. When treatment rates increase, crime driven by drug addiction trends downward, as fewer people are breaking into cars or houses, stealing from stores or committing similar offences. As hoped, decriminalization has blunted the worst effects of Portugal's 1990s heroin epidemic while other relevant indicators--related to age of initiation, drug-related crime rates and spread of disease--have reversed their alarming pre-decriminalization climb. None of the horror scenarios promoted by defenders of the former "get tough" regime have come to pass.

Portugal has not "solved" its drug problem. In fact cannabis use has increased--as it has across Europe over the same period. But what Portugal has done is trade one set of big problems for a set of smaller and more manageable problems. (20)

What's the lesson for Canada? Could what worked in Portugal produce similar results in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver? Drug policy and addictions experts argue that, with minor variations, the behaviour of chronic drug abusers is comparable across different jurisdictions. What Portugal demonstrates is that demand for treatment grows where availability of treatment options is greater and the fear of seeking treatment is reduced. Rand Corporation econometric modelling has demonstrated that treatment is up to seven times more effective at reducing demand than supply suppression. (21) A net reduction in demand translates not only into reduced reliance on the criminal justice system, but into a range of other positive outcomes as well. Decriminalization does not affect drug supply--so it has no impact on the influence of organized crime. Trafficking is, in any event, still criminalized. If a jurisdiction wanted to combat both demand and supply, it would require a strategy that sought to take the profits out of drug supply.


Toward the evidence-based reregulation of drugs

Drug prohibition is the last surviving experiment in social engineering from the benighted 20th century, outliving the temperance movement temperance movement

International social movement dedicated to the control of alcohol consumption through the promotion of moderation and abstinence. It began as a church-sponsored movement in the U.S. in the early 19th century.
, eugenics, National Socialism and, with a few holdouts, Communism. It is a model of regulation that falls into the utopian trap of pretending that governments can socially engineer what individuals choose to ingest.

By regulation, I mean deliberate management of quality and access according to some set of principles and enforced by some set of authorities. Modern societies regulate almost everything that comes into contact with citizens to minimize the harm that such substances may produce if their purity, integrity, safety and access is not administered in the public interest. By and large these models of regulation work well, whether for bike helmets, food products or uranium isotopes. Not all regulation is welcomed by everyone, of course, but we are better off as a society for the deliberately intelligent management of that which touches us. Seen in this light, it is precisely because illicit drugs pose harm for some users that we should wrest control of their production, distribution and consumption from organized crime, which does not have any stake in the intelligent and humane management of our polity, and turn it over to authorities who do.

Prohibition operates in every essential respect by delegating all aspects of illicit drugs and the drug trade to a perpetual contest between suppliers and traffickers on one side and law enforcement on the other. Bur it is no less a form of regulation just because we don't call it that, or because it's unintelligent and irrational. So what would a new model of regulation look like? On what principles would it be based? Would it treat all drugs the same way?

While a full answer to these questions is beyond the scope of this article, a few points can be made. First, prohibition already treats all drugs the same way because it regards all drug use as per se abuse. A reassessment of drugs based on scientific evidence of actual harm to users and communities would rapidly conclude that cannabis should be treated differently from other drugs--indeed this has been the conclusion of all evidence-based analyses of drugs and drug policy since the Le Dain Commission of 1972. So the first issue is how to treat different drugs differently according to criteria established by public health authorities rather than the ideology of one or another group of moral entrepreneurs.

Drugs should be regulated according to principles grounded in evidence regarding their social, not individual, potential for harm and in a way that would minimize their social impact--including the violence that arises from trying to suppress drug business transactions between black market suppliers and their adversaries in law enforcement. Drugs should be regulated in such a manner to suppress, as much as possible, the potential for police corruption--which is everywhere a feature of black markets characterized by high volumes of cash transactions. (22) And finally, drugs should be regulated according to principles that seek not to punish their users or abusers, but to make their use as safe as possible to everyone around them with multiple options for treatment on demand.

My own preference for how to regulate drugs arises from my democratic values, informed by a "do less harm" ethic that prioritizes the well-being of our democratic polity over the essentially consensual behaviour of individuals. From this perspective, state action to regulate what individuals ingest--beyond assuring its quality, purity and age-appropriate access--is an unreasonable intrusion. The state's proper role is to ensure that harm, where harm arises, be confined to the individual rather than socialized across the polity through the use of the criminal justice system, higher insurance rates and other mechanisms which externalize externalize

see exteriorize.
 the cost of individual behaviour to the community. This is harm reduction writ large- the state employs its powers to reduce harm to the community by, as much as possible, confining the harm to the individual drug user. The recognition--long understood by drug policy experts and epidemiologists--that much drug use produces no harm to users is effaced by the logic of prohibition.

The "do less harm" ethic can be extended. It would be a catastrophic mistake, comparable to drug prohibition, to turn over the production, distribution and marketing of all currently illicit drugs to the free market. This form of regulation would instantly give rise to economic groups with an incentive to grow the rate of use of various drugs in which they have a business interest, as happened with tobacco and alcohol. Rather, the state could cause to have produced and sold under evidence-based restrictions on age all substances currently supplied by the black market. I do not endorse growing the rate of use of currently illicit drugs. I endorse the safe and responsible use of currently illicit drugs by persons who have attained the age of majority.

My objective here is--as much as possible--to lessen the influence and role of organized crime, the largest beneficiary of the prohibitionist pro·hi·bi·tion·ist  
1. One in favor of outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.

2. often Prohibitionist A member or supporter of the Prohibition Party.
 status quo [Latin, The existing state of things at any given date.] Status quo ante bellum means the state of things before the war. The status quo to be preserved by a preliminary injunction is the last actual, peaceable, uncontested status which preceded the pending controversy. , and refocus public resources currently consumed by the criminal justice system on treatment, rehabilitation, education and research. Thus, the "do less harm" model of regulation seeks, in this order:

* to minimize the influence and role of organized crime;

* to reduce reliance on the criminal justice system;

* to use public health strategies to reduce the harm to the community that arises from drug use and abuse bur protects the user's right to safe enjoyment.

Obviously there would be legal consequences where one person's use conflicts with another person's right to security of the person (such as driving under the influence). But the first step is to honestly admit that we already regulate drugs, bur we do so in an unintelligent and irrational way that does not get us what we want. If we can't have zero drug use, then we should aim for informed and moderate drug use by people who have access to a wide range of treatment options. Given that treatment is considerably more effective at reducing demand than supply reduction, there would likely be economic benefits from such a regulatory regime. (23) A regulatory model premised on doing less harm Would be more compassionate and humane too.

After prohibition: Beyond utopian drug control fantasies

Reducing the role of the criminal justice system in drug regulation is a reform that can be expected to meet with resistance. It would require depoliticizing our drug policy, relieving our elected officials of the compulsion to grandstand, distort, fabricate and prevaricate pre·var·i·cate  
intr.v. pre·var·i·cat·ed, pre·var·i·cat·ing, pre·var·i·cates
To stray from or evade the truth; equivocate. See Synonyms at lie2.
 for short-term electoral advantage. But from a public policy standpoint--that is, from the standpoint of good policy trumping good politics--such a reduction would greatly minimize the individual harm that arises from a criminal record. And that is more consistent with our broader democratic principles, principles that have taken a beating under the impact of prohibition.

We need, it seems to me, to get over the delusion that we can "solve" social problems, including those that arise from drug abuse, through "feel good" measures like punishment and mandatory sentencing. Prohibition makes the best--complete abstinence--the enemy of the good, and as a policy response it has been failing at least since Adam and Eve Adam and Eve

In the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, the parents of the human race. Genesis gives two versions of their creation. In the first, God creates “male and female in his own image” on the sixth day.
 were banished for altering their consciousness by eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Let it not take Canada another hundred years to abandon it.


(1) Janet E. Joy, Stanley J. Watson, Jr., and John A.

Benson, Jr., Eds., and Institute of Medicine, Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base (Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1999).

(2) rep-e/summary-e.htm

(3) ?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=37&Ses=2&Stac=626199

(4) Wayne Kondro, "Report Supports Cost-Effective Prison Tattoo Program," Canadian Medical Association Journal The Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) is a general medical journal that is published biweekly by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

It is considered to be one of the top six general medical journals; the others being the
, February 13, 2007, online at

(5) See Evan Wood et al., The Lancet, "The war on drugs: a devastating public-policy disaster," March 11, 2009.

(6) Colin Mangham, "A Critique of Canada's INSITE Injection Site and its Parent Philosophy," Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice, online at Colin Mangham is listed as Research Director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada. The Journal of Global Drug Policy and Practice shows no evidence of peer review.

(7) Ryan King and Marc Mauer, "A 25-Year Quagmire: The War on Drugs and Its Impact on American Society (Washington, DC: The Sentencing Project, 2007), online at publications/dp_25yearquagmire.pdf

(8) WDR WDR Westdeutscher Rundfunk (German radio and TV station)
WDR World Development Report (World Bank)
WDR Wide Dynamic Range (cameras) 
_2008_eng_web.pdf at p. 215.

(9) Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, Drugs and Democracy: Toward a Paradigm Shift A dramatic change in methodology or practice. It often refers to a major change in thinking and planning, which ultimately changes the way projects are implemented. For example, accessing applications and data from the Web instead of from local servers is a paradigm shift. See paradigm. , online in English at http://www. Latin_American_Commission.EN.pdf; "How to Stop the Drug Wars," The Economist, March 5, 2009, online at story_id=13237193; Glenn Greenwald, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies, online at

(10) Sara Miller, "Mexico Quietly Decriminalizes Drug Use," Christian Science Christian Science, religion founded upon principles of divine healing and laws expressed in the acts and sayings of Jesus, as discovered and set forth by Mary Baker Eddy and practiced by the Church of Christ, Scientist.  Monitor, August 24, 2009.

(11) See

(12) World Drug Report 2009, p. 3, online at

(13) See Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (New York: Random House, 2008).

(14) See Marc Lacy, "In Mexico Drug War, Sorting Good Guys From Bad," New York Times, November 1, 2008. See also Tim Golden, "A War on Terror This article is about U.S. actions, and those of other states, after September 11, 2001. For other conflicts, see Terrorism.

The War on Terror (also known as the War on Terrorism
 Meets a War on Drugs," New York Times, November 25, 2001.

(15) Jeffrey A. Miron, "Violence and U.S. Prohibitions of Drugs and Alcohol," American Law and Economics Review, Fall 1999, p. 79.

(16) Sanho Tree, "What Darwin Could Tell Us About the 'War on Drugs,'" Institute for Policy Studies, December 27, 2007, online at what_darwin_could_tell_us_about_the_war_on_drugs

(17) New York Times, January 11, 1998. In 1991, Friedman sat down for a long interview on drug policy and its unintended consequences:

(18) Quoted in "Ex-Drugs Policy Director Calls for Legalisation," The Guardian, August 13, 2008.

(19) Greenwald, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal. Greenwald discusses the Portugese experience at a public forum, online at

(20) Greenwald, Drug Decriminalization in Portugal.

(21) Jonathan P. Caulkins et al., Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences: Throwing Away the Key or the Taxpayers" Money (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corporation, 1997), online at

(22) See on the Rampart Scandal in the Los Angeles Police Department "LAPD" and "L.A.P.D." redirect here. For other uses, see LAPD (disambiguation).

This article or section is written like an .

(23) The Rand Corporation has done some econometric modelling on this: RB6002/index1.html

Craig Jones is the Executive Director of the John Howard Society The John Howard Society is a Canadian non-profit organization that seeks to develop understanding and effective responses to the problem of crime and prison reform It is named after John Howard. External links
  • Official site
 of Canada, based in Kingston, Ontario. He holds a doctorate in political studies from Queen's University.
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Title Annotation:LEGALIZE DRUGS
Author:Jones, Craig
Publication:Inroads: A Journal of Opinion
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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