OTTAWA (AFP) – Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed Thursday to change what he called a 1960s drug culture in Canada, proposing mandatory jail sentences for drug traffickers and added border security to stem drug imports.
“If you’re addicted to drugs, we’ll help you. If you deal drugs, we’ll punish you,” Harper said, outlining a spending plans for a national awareness campaign targeted at youth; updated treatment services; and more investigations and prosecutions of drug crimes.
The new anti-drug strategy would cost 64 million dollars.
“A simple war on drugs is not going to be successful, but neither is simply being soft on the question going to be successful,” Harper said.
“We are up against … a culture that since the 1960s has at the minimum not discouraged drug use and often romanticized it, or made it cool.”
“My son is listening to my Beatles records and asking me what all these lyrics mean … I love these records. I’m not putting them away … But we have to change the culture,” he said.
Harper likened the challenge to the shift that led to diminished tobacco use in Canada over the past two decades by rendering it “less and less socially and culturally acceptable.”
According to Statistics Canada, only 19 percent of Canadians (less than five million) smoke — the lowest level in decades. But the proportion who admit to using marijuana nearly doubled to 12.2 percent since 1989, with the highest rate among teens.
More than 10 million Canadians reported having tried cannabis at least once in their lifetime.
As such, drug dealing has become a “highly lucractive business” worth “tens of billions of dollars a year” in Canada, said Harper, blaming two previous governments for “sending mixed messages on drugs.”
“They’ve tacked back and forth between prohibition and legalization so many times that Canadians hardly know what the law actually says anymore. It’s time to be straight with Canadians so Canadians who use drugs can get straight.”
Two previous Liberal governments introduced bills to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana three times in recent years, but each effort was thwarted by the calling of general elections before the legislation completed the parliamentary process.
The plan to treat the possession of 15 grammes (half an ounce) or less of marijuana like a traffic ticket — with no criminal record being incurred — was widely praised at home, but strained relations with Washington over fears of increased trafficking.