#376 Legalization In Disguise

Date: Sat, 19 Jul 2008
Subject: #376 Legalization In Disguise


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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #376 – Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Globe and Mail is the leading Canadian national newspaper –
available everywhere in Canada. With a circulation of about two
million copies the newspaper reaches an audience which is about seven
times larger as a share of the population than that of the largest
United States newspaper, USA Today.

Today the Globe and Mail printed the fourth column, below, of a series
started last Saturday authored by columnist Margaret Wente.

The first column of the series, titled ‘They’re Sick of Watching
People Die’ is at www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n668/a05.html

The second ‘We Still Await the Scientific Proof of Harm Reduction’s
Success’ www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n683/a02.html

The third ‘Europe’s Approach to Drugs Is More Enlightened … It’s
Tougher’ www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v08/n687/a03.html

Letters to the editor should address either the column below or the
entire series.

Letters published by the Globe and Mail are short and pointed. The
average printed letter is about 100 words. Printed letters that exceed
200 words are very rare.

Every letter sent to the newspaper is important. Even letters that are
not printed send a message to the Globe and Mail editorial board.


Contact: letters@globeandmail.ca

Pubdate: Sat, 19 Jul 2008
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2008 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Margaret Wente


VANCOUVER – Billy Weselowski has seen it all, and he hates what he
sees on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “You can’t go a block without a
bicycle pulling up and giving you all the syringes you want,” he
growls. Mr. Weselowski knows this world all too well. He grew up here.
His childhood was a nightmare of violence and abuse. At 13, he blacked
out from booze for the first time, and quickly wound up on the
streets. He injected, snorted, stole, pimped women, stabbed men and
became an accomplished felon. He was the hardest of the hard core.

Today, he runs rehab programs for drug addicts that borrow from the
tough-love model of AA. He has successfully treated thousands of
people, using an approach that emphasizes structure, personal
responsibility and abstinence.

But this approach to addiction is deeply out of fashion. The experts
who make drug policy, allocate public money, dispense research funds,
advise politicians and push for reform aren’t interested in hearing
from people like him. Instead, they’re interested in “harm reduction”
– which, among other things, means giving people all the syringes they

In Mr. Weselowski’s view, harm reduction is a farce. “They’re killing
people by the truckload,” he says.

Canada’s official drug policy is known as the Four Pillars approach:
prevention, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. In practice,
prevention and treatment have been neglected, while harm-reduction
measures have steadily gained ground. Free needle and methadone
programs are now widespread. (The term “needle exchange” is obsolete;
needles are now handed out by the boxful.) Hundreds of addicts a day
visit Vancouver’s supervised injection site, which has become ground
zero in an angry war of words.

Yet, harm reduction remains the orthodoxy of the day. “The supervised
injection site is beyond questioning,” says one Vancouver resident.
“You are branded unprogressive, unfeeling and everything else ‘un’ if
you criticize it.”

David Marsh, the Vancouver region’s medical director for addictions,
says harm-reduction policies are often misunderstood. “Essentially,
harm reductions are interventions that help reduce the harms
associated with drug use, without necessarily requiring that drug use
be decreased or stopped.” They are a compassionate way to help the
most addicted and marginalized of them all, to tide them over until
they’re able and willing to seek help. “It’s part of Canadian
tradition not to turn our backs to people at their lowest.”

Harm-reduction advocates now rule the drug policy establishment. They
dominate Health Canada, addiction research centres, drug policy
groups, and the public health services of local governments. Nowhere
is this more true than B.C., where social attitudes toward drugs are
the most liberal in Canada. Public officials have fought tenaciously
for the supervised injection site. For some, it represents a crucial
step toward a far more sweeping form of harm reduction –

Many harm-reduction advocates believe the real harms are done by drug
laws, not drugs. Prohibition is impossible, prevention is futile, and
abstinence is unattainable for many. Therefore, if we stop
criminalizing drugs, we’ll get rid of most of the drug problems – the
international gangs, the billions wasted on interdiction and
enforcement, the crimes committed by addicts who need drug money, the
imprisonment for petty drug crimes, and so on.

It’s an attractive theory, at least on paper. Drug-law reformers have
ideological allies around the world, in think tanks and at major
universities. Among them is financier George Soros. Because of his
deep pockets, he’s been called the Daddy Warbucks of drug

All of this is spicy stuff. Harm reduction is a hot research field
that attracts major money and offers major career opportunities. At
Vancouver’s international drug conference last year, no one was
interested in reactionary things like 12-step programs, rehab or recovery.

The noisy marijuana lobby provides a lot of fuel for this crusade,
despite the fact that pot is not the issue. Marijuana use is not what
creates the lion’s share of crime, public disorder, massive costs to
the health system, and ruined lives. The real problem is hard drugs,
especially cocaine.

Vancouver’s last three mayors have been outspoken advocates for
legalizing marijuana (and the source of a certain civic pride for
Vancouverites). The current one, Sam Sullivan, has called for medical
versions of hard drugs to be available to addicts. The city’s official
drug policy calls for the federal government to legalize marijuana,
and also to review its prohibition policies for other illegal drugs.

Three years ago, B.C.’s public health officers – the same ones who’ve
cracked down on smoking – released a detailed report calling for
“government controlled supply” for formerly illegal drugs.
“Harm-reduction strategies have not been as effective as possible due
to their implementation within the prohibition model.” It laid out an
ambitious model for “post-prohibition harm reduction,” where the
government, guided by its wise public health officers, would supervise
the production and distribution of legal heroin and crack.

Cuckoo? Not so much. Top health officials in B.C. already endorse the
use of medical heroin, and a trial program has just wound up. Some of
them belong to groups lobbying for legalization, and least one
influential official is a vocal advocate for the benefits of
psychedelic drug use.

Not surprisingly, the group that runs Insite, Vancouver’s
safe-injection site, stridently opposes current drug laws, as does the
publicly funded drug users’ lobby, VANDU. These two groups are
notorious for the noisy lengths they go to in order to silence their
critics. They’re also good at high-profile PR stunts, such as the
recent demonstration on Parliament Hill where they planted 868 wooden
crosses to symbolize the 868 people who overdosed at Insite.

“Insite was about people dying – friends and neighbours!” spokesman
Mark Townsend told me in an interview. In fact, the research found
that Insite averts around one overdose death a year, not 868. When
asked about this discrepancy, Mr. Townsend brushed it off as irrelevant.

Given the current government in Ottawa, it’s unlikely that the push
for legalization will make headway any time soon. There’s also another
obstacle: the public. Health officials have faced citizen revolts in
cities where people don’t want free needles passed out in their

Sadly, all this theatre has deprived Canadians of a genuine debate
over drug policy. The question isn’t whether Insite is good or bad.
The question is what steps we can take that really will reduce the
harm drugs do.

Despite the shouting, it’s not too hard to guess where the moderate
majority stands on drugs. They don’t want people prosecuted for
smoking a little weed. (After all, plenty of them do it, too.) But
hard drugs are different. We don’t want to decriminalize them. But we
also don’t want to punish addicts by throwing them in jail. We want a
humane drug policy that will help them get better – and if that means
giving them a choice between rehab or jail, then maybe that’s okay.

So maybe what we need is not more Insites but more Billy Weselowskis –
people who can give drug addicts a shot at dignity and a life. Mr.
Weselowski knows that even hard-core junkies can recover. After all,
he did. “We help get them connected to a spark of hope inside their


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