Note: This interview has been edited for clarity, readability, and concision.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you get involved? How did you get an interest in Canadian drug policy?
Elazar Ehrentreu: I became involved after reading the book, Why the Drug War Has Failed, by Judge James Gray. A former judge, Gray provided me with an understanding of how problematic the criminal justice system in the United States has become in lieu of the war on drugs.
People are incarcerated for extensive periods because they used, or supplied, small amounts of drugs. Some are addicts and putting them behind bars can worsen their condition. Incarcerating individuals for non-violent crimes is not only expensive, but ineffective in reducing drug use and harm in society.
A more sensible approach would be decriminalization or legalization – depending on the drug, and focusing on rehabilitation, preventative measures, and harm reduction strategies. Money spent incarcerating people can be used in many helpful ways. For example, it can be to help drug users struggling with addiction overcome it.
Jacobsen: With respect to the CSSDP, what are your tasks and responsibilities?
Ehrentreu: I am the chapter leader for CSSDP at Western working as a team with eight other students. Each have specific responsibilities. At present, our main focus is increasing membership and presence on campus through tabling, social media, and other events including roundtables, film screenings, and presentations.
Jacobsen: What seems like the main or central principle, or value, of CSSDP?
Ehrentreu: The overarching principle of CSSDP is addressing the problematic drug use as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice issue. The first step to address the issue of drug prohibition is by informing and convincing the public about why change is needed. This approach is multifaceted: there is much to learn about the failures of the war on drugs and through which such knowledge can be used to better structure our drug policies.
Jacobsen: Where do you hope CSSDP goes into the future?
Ehrentreu: I hope CSSDP grows further and see its influence on the Canadian federal government increasing into the future. I look forward to heading a new chapter and have members participate in future CSSDP initiatives, events, and drug policy update as well as encouraging them to become more involved on the national level. While maintaining a grassroots structure, CSSDP’s sphere of influence can be increased to make large changes to drug policy in Canada, which is along with the various other organizations.
Jacobsen: There are two strategies for drugs, drug use, and drug policy in Canada. One is punitive, by which I mean punishment, called the zero tolerance approach or strategy. The other is a harm reduction or harm minimization approach or strategy. What is the preferable methodology to you, and why?
Ehrentreu: The preferable strategy is harm reduction. When you make drugs illegal, it has a minimal effect on deterrence. In addition, while criminalizing drugs keeps drugs out of reach from the public, it creates a black market as the demand for drugs makes its supply a lucrative business.
If drugs were decriminalized or legalized, they would be supplied via open markets or through government programs, which might be taxed. This would channel the profits from criminals to the public. If taxed, it will provide the government a revenue stream to use for harm reduction programs and other preventative measures.
We can think of the ‘drug problem’ this way: it is not a question of how we are to completely end drugs use, rather, it is how we are to ensure the safety of the public and of the people who use drugs.
That is, if one is to use drugs, how can he or she do so as safely as possible? Harm reduction does not question whether or not a person should or should not use a drug, but it respects the choices of the individual.
Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Elazar.