Nazlee Maghsoudi

It’s no secret that Canada has lost its international leadership role in drug policy. The passing of Bill C-2 in the House of Commons this week reminds us how far off course the government has come from evidence-based and public health driven policies for illegal drugs. Canada’s statement at this month’s 58th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs is another look into the bleak future of drug policy in our country under the current government.

“At UNGASS [United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs] 2016, Canada is concerned about calls for decriminalization and legalization. Believe this underplays the power of organized crime and the danger they pose to communities.”

If this is Canada’s stance at the UNGASS, the biggest meeting the UN has had about drugs since 1998, we can forget about regaining our reputation as a global leader in drug policy. Canadians have an obligation to demand that our government take a serious look at the evidence, rather than make statements based on little more than political rhetoric.

Removing criminal penalties for the personal use of any drug should no longer be a controversial topic. Evidence has increasingly told us that decriminalization leads to reductions in the harms caused by drugs. The benefits experienced in Portugal, such as the significant reduction in the number of people with drug-related diseases, is perhaps the most cited example. In reality, decriminalization is a policy that has been increasingly adopted by countries that prioritize public health. The World Health Organization has even recommended decriminalization, indicating that decriminalization is a best practice in drug policy.

Legalization is another crucial component of a public health approach to drug policy. By allowing governments to impose strict regulations, legalization allows government to take control of inevitable drug markets. Governments, like in Uruguay, are beginning to realize that regulation can be much more effective than prohibition in reducing the harms caused by drugs. The Global Commission on Drug Policy, which is made up of high-level leaders including former presidents of several countries, “call on governments…not to shy away from the transformative potential of regulation.”

It isn’t just the caution against decriminalization and legalization in Canada’s statement that is troubling. Although the statement is not explicit, the Canadian government seems to be implying that the power of organized crime would not be weakened by a reform in drug policies. Yet, legalization would eliminate a major revenue source for organized criminals. Even if their revenue sources are highly diversified and the impact on organized crime is minimal, taking control from the illegal market and putting it in the hands of government can improve the outcome that we must be most concerned with: the health and safety of our communities.

Stephen Harper has said, “I think what everyone believes and agrees with, and to be frank myself, is that the current approach is not working, but it is not clear what we should do.” We at CSSDP don’t think it could be any clearer. Canada needs to put people’s health first. And any policy that does so must include decriminalization and legalization.

As the UNGASS approaches, we cannot stop reminding our government that if anything is concerning, it’s Canada’s current approach to drug policy.