#184 Ottawa Citizen Levels Drug War With Series

Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2000
Subject: Ottawa Citizen Levels Drug War With Series

Ottawa Citizen Levels Drug War With Series


DrugSense FOCUS Alert #184 Tuesday September 19, 2000

Press criticism against the drug war increases every day, but rarely
is the criticism as honest and sharp as the series “Losing The War On
Drugs” by Dan Gardner of the Ottawa Citizen. Over two weeks Gardner
published more than a dozen long articles that each shattered central
myths of drug prohibition. Read in whole, the series leaves drug
warriors with absolutely no defense. Below is the last article from
the series, but others are available at http://www.mapinc.org/gardner.htm.

Please write a letter to Ottawa Citizen thanking Gardner for his
important work.


It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


Phone, fax etc.)

Please post a copy your letter or report your action to the sent
letter list (sentlte@mapinc.org) if you are subscribed, or by
E-mailing a copy directly to MGreer@mapinc.org Your letter will then
be forwarded to the list with so others can learn from your efforts
and be motivated to follow suit

This is VERY IMPORTANT as it is the only way we have of gauging our
impact and effectiveness.



Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Contact: letters@thecitizen.southam.ca


We have a unconfirmed rumor that this important series may have also
run in the Vancouver Sun. Please consider send a copy of your letter
to them as well

Source: Vancouver Sun
Contact: sunletters@pacpress.southam.ca



URL: http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v00/n1385/a08.html
Newshawk: creator@mapinc.org
Pubdate: Sun, 17 Sep 2000
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2000 The Ottawa Citizen
Contact: letters@thecitizen.southam.ca
Address: 1101 Baxter Rd.,Ottawa, Ontario, K2C 3M4
Fax: 613-596-8522
Website: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/
Author: Dan Gardner, member of the Citizen’s editorial board,
Email: dgardner@thecitizen.southam.ca
Series: http://www.mapinc.org/gardner.htm
Related: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/national/drugs/
Losing The War On Drugs: Weighing The Costs Of The Drug War, Part 13


Legalization isn’t perfect, but it’s better than a drug

Humans have used psychoactive drugs in just about every society in
every time in history. There has never been, and can never be, a
“drug-free world.”

If drug use will always be with us, it follows that the harms drugs
can cause will also remain. There is no “solution” to the drug problem.

That might sound resigned, but it’s not. We still can, and must, make
important choices: Which drug-related harms will society cope with?
Some are worse than others. Given the range of possible drug policies
we could adopt, which policies will produce the fewest and least
destructive harms? We can’t choose solutions, but we can, and do,
choose our problems.

Beginning in the early 20th century, most countries chose the most
extreme policy available: Some drugs were banned and their production,
sale, or possession made a crime. The people who originally made this
choice believed prohibition would create a drug-free Utopia. By that
standard, drug prohibition has been a spectacular failure.

But the justification for prohibition has evolved. Officials who
seriously talk of “drug-free societies” are now rare. Instead,
government leaders claim prohibition at least keeps down the rate of
drug use and thus limits the damage of drugs. To withdraw the criminal
prohibition of drugs, they say, would send the number of drug users
and addicts soaring. Society would suffer horribly.

As I argued yesterday, I don’t believe that’s true. There is no
substantial evidence that prohibition keeps down drug use. But what if
it were true? Wouldn’t criminal prohibition then be the best drug
policy? The answer is still no.

In the broadest terms, there are two basic drug policies: The first is
prohibition, in which the production, sale and possession of drugs are
crimes. The second is legalization. Although many levels of
legalization are possible, most supporters of legalization want a
policy that regulates drugs at least to the degree that we regulate
(but don’t ban) other products that can be dangerous to health.
Alcohol regulation is often cited as a model.

What are the problems caused by these policies? Which is the least

As my series Losing the War on Drugs has tried to show, the harms
caused by prohibition are many and terrible. Third World countries,
where illegal drugs are produced, have to struggle with drug lords and
traffickers whose staggering wealth is used to corrupt institutions
and pay for private armies to murder opponents. Central governments
are weakened, fostering unrest. Billions of dollars that could go to
development are wasted on futile fights with traffickers and
producers. Eco-systems are ravaged by futile efforts to stamp out drug
crops. Many people, often desperately poor, are lured by black-market
wealth into a business where they risk prison or death. In this way,
Colombia stands at the brink of civil collapse. Mexico and other
countries on the traffickers’ routes have also suffered economic
distortions, violence and corruption.

In drug-consuming countries such as Canada, police are frustrated by
the impossible task of stopping the flow of drugs, so they ask for and
get more powers, eroding everybody’s civil liberties in the process.
Some succumb to the unique opportunities for corruption presented by
black-market drugs. Others turn, in frustration, to vigilante justice
— lying under oath, planting evidence and committing other heinous
acts to win an unwinnable war.

Prohibition leaves users buying untested, unlabeled drugs that are
often tainted, fraudulent or even poisonous. It causes the purity of
drugs to rise. It encourages users to favour the fastest-acting, most
potent varieties of drugs and use them in the most cost-efficient way:
injection. It stigmatizes addicts as criminals, pushing them to the
margins of society where they can’t get the help they need. All of
this multiplies fatal overdoses and drug-related deaths, and spreads
infections among users. Drug prohibition is a major contributor to the
AIDS epidemic.

Prohibition fuels petty property crime by forcing addicts to pay
black-market prices for drugs. It turns what would otherwise be an
ordinary business like the alcohol industry into one run by criminals
who settle business disputes with bullets and bombs, turning streets
into battlefields. Prohibition gives organized crime its largest
source of revenue and power.

Prohibition has cost governments worldwide hundreds of billions of
dollars. The U.S. government’s anti-drug budget is now more than $20
billion U.S. a year. Of that, almost $13 billion is devoted to
fighting the production, distribution, sale and possession of drugs.
That doesn’t include drug-related state and municipal spending on
police, prisons and courts that, by one estimate, has topped $16 billion.

Canadian governments don’t itemize drug-enforcement costs, but there
are indications taxpayers are footing an enormous bill. The RCMP alone
has 1,000 officers devoted full-time to prohibition. There are drug
specialists in all police forces across the country. Add the time
spent by regular officers, in the RCMP and all other police forces,
dealing with illegal drugs in the course of their duties. And the
specialists who fight organized crime, including the many officers who
have spent years trying to cope with Quebec’s biker war. The customs
officers searching for drugs at borders — and putting a drag on the
economy as they slow cross-border traffic — are also part of the
bill. And the forensic accountants tracking money laundering. And the
judges and court officials processing almost 70,000 drug charges each
year. And the guards needed to watch over the nine per cent of
Canadian prisoners behind bars for drug crimes.

The loss of fundamental liberty is surely prohibition’s greatest

These direct monetary costs are only half of what we pay. There is
also all the good that could have been done if these vast resources
had been available for other priorities.

And lastly, there is the fundamental injustice of imprisoning people
simply for choosing to take a substance not approved by the state, or
for selling that substance to those who choose to buy it. If the right
to control one’s own life means anything, it must include the right to
choose what to ingest. The loss of fundamental liberty is surely
prohibition’s greatest harm.

This is a short summary of a much longer list. But it’s enough to
weigh against the harms of legalization. If legalization did not cause
an increase in drug use — and I do not think it would cause one —
the argument is over. But what if it did cause a significant increase
in drug use? Would legalization inflict equal or worse harms and costs
than prohibition?

To answer, we must distinguish between use and abuse. Drug-law
enforcers refer to all illegal drug use as “abuse,” but this is
inaccurate. Drug use that does not harm or impair one’s health, work
or relationships is generally considered mere “use.” Consumption that
hurts the user or others is “abuse.”

Most of us recognize the line between “use” and “abuse” of alcohol.
Dr. Harold Kalant, professor emeritus in the faculty of medicine at
the University of Toronto and researcher emeritus with the Centre for
Addiction and Mental Health, says that alcohol abusers make up between
10 to 15 per cent of the total number of drinkers. Between five and
eight per cent of problem drinkers are addicted, he says, while the
other alcohol abusers drink in ways that are harmful to themselves or
others — drinking and driving, for example, or binge drinking that
interferes with work or family life. That means 85 or 90 per cent of
alcohol users generally consume without significant harm.

The same line between use and abuse exists with illegal drugs. Dr.
Kalant estimates that the ratio of use to abuse of marijuana is
roughly the same as for alcohol. But drugs like cocaine and heroin are
more addictive than alcohol and so, Dr. Kalant says, instead of a 10
or 15 per cent abuse rate, “you’re more likely talking of 30 per cent
or more.” (Only one drug causes addiction among a majority of its
users: nicotine.)

That’s a rough estimate. Unlike alcohol, we don’t have detailed
pictures of illegal drug users and the effects of their use, for the
obvious reason that users tend to avoid attention. But it appears the
majority of users of illegal drugs do not abuse them, and their
consumption of drugs, like consumption of alcohol, generally has no
serious ramifications. “If you’re a light, casual user,” notes Dr.
Kalant, “you probably don’t have any significant health effects.”

There may be more involved in these numbers, cautions Dr. Kalant, than
just the effects of illegal drugs. He says the very fact that some
drugs have been made illegal gives them an anti-social image which may
attract people inclined to seek novelty and danger. And “people like
that,” he says, “may be more at risk (of problem use) than others.”
Thus, the abuse rates we see with illegal drugs may be higher than
they would be if the drugs were legal.

None of this detracts from the real dangers of drug use. It’s
difficult for a drug user to know in advance, for example, if he is
one of the minority of users who is susceptible to addiction. And some
methods of drug-taking are dangerous in themselves; injection, for
example, risks infection. And even casual, light use of some drugs may
pose small risks of serious harms. Synthetic drugs like ecstacy, for
example, haven’t been well-studied, but there is evidence that even
one dose has, on rare occasions, done grave harm. These risks alone
are reason enough to avoid drug use.

But the distinction between use and abuse puts things in perspective.
In the unlikely event that legalization led to an increase in drug
use, the majority of that increase would be casual use; health and
social consequences would not be daunting.

Those who see drugs as a moral issue may still consider an increase in
casual use unacceptable. But for people concerned only with limiting
the individual and social damage of drug use, such an increase should
not cause great alarm. How many people are having a Saturday night
toot of cocaine doesn’t matter nearly so much as how many people are
ending up in the morgue. Current drug policy cares far too much about
the former, and not nearly enough about the latter. The American
government, for one, celebrates the fact that casual cocaine use is
down from its peak — while staying remarkably silent about the fact
that drug-related deaths are at a record high.

Of course, a rise in casual drug use might also be accompanied by a
smaller rise in addiction. That would obviously be a major concern,
but that, too, must be put in context. As I tried to show in this
series, most of the horrific harms that we now associate with
addiction — overdose deaths, crime, homelessness, infections,
marginalization — stem for the most part from the criminal
prohibition of the drugs that the addict depends on, not from the
drugs themselves. Eliminate prohibition and these harms will go as

This is not to treat addiction lightly. Even with legal access to
clean drugs and good health care, addiction is a serious burden on
health and relationships. But addiction would not mean, as it so often
does now, squalour, fear and early death. With the proper health care
and social programs, individuals and society could cope. It would not
be an overwhelming crisis.

So let’s compare the harms of two drug policies, prohibition and
legalization. Prohibition inflicts a horrendous cost, in lives and
suffering and wasted effort, all over the world. And legalization?
Even under the false assumption that it would cause an increase in
drug use, legalization would lead to an increase in casual use,
perhaps accompanied by a rise in addiction; the former would inflict
modest personal and social harms, while the harms of the latter would
be more painful but still manageable.

Which policy causes the least harm? For anyone who looks at the
question intently and honestly, the answer is clear.

A 1998 letter sent to the United Nations by hundreds of statesmen,
Nobel laureates, and drug experts put the answer bluntly: “We believe
that the global war on drugs is now causing more harm than drug abuse
itself.” That’s a conclusion that more and more public health experts,
researchers, and even politicians are coming to as well. “The
criminalization of drug use does not achieve the goals it aims for,”
said Dr. David Roy of the University of Montreal when he and others
released a major report in 1999 looking at drug use and AIDS. “It
causes harms equal to or worse than those it is supposed to prevent.”

In 1933, Americans came to exactly that conclusion about the attempt
to ban alcohol. They remembered the real harms done by alcohol before
it was banned in 1920. But they also saw that those harms weren’t
nearly as terrible as the damage done by Prohibition itself. Being
able to contrast the two situations, Americans decided to legalize

We can’t draw on personal memory as Americans did in 1933, but we can
look carefully at the evidence. It’s a difficult task. It may mean
uprooting comfortable assumptions and old ways of thinking. But so
many have needlessly suffered and died. More will follow. Surely we
owe them at least the willingness to try.



To the editor of the Ottawa Citizen:

I don’t understand how anyone who read all of Dan Gardner’s series
“Losing the War on Drugs” could possibly still support drug
prohibition – unless they were making a living from it.

As encyclopedic as the series was, the horrors of the drug war
continued to rise to even more extreme levels. Here in the U.S., a
police officer killed an innocent 11-year-old boy in the midst of a
drug raid last week. Even more young people will die in Colombia as
U.S. military aid is unleashed. Prohibitionists often say their
crusade is worthwhile if just one child is saved from the horrors of
drugs. But as Gardner proved, no one is being saved by prohibition.
Some day the drug warriors need to sit down and count how many real
children have died in an effort to protect that single symbolic child.

Stephen Young

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