Gangs Are A Symptom, Drugs Are The Disease

British Columbia Attorney-General Wally OppalBritish Columbia Attorney-General Wally OppalAttorney-General Wally Oppal spent the weekend focused on gangs — meeting first with his western provincial counterparts and then with Mexican officials to share intelligence.

There is no question the issue has risen to the top of his political agenda.

The four justice ministers emerged from their hand-wringing Saturday unanimously saying we need legal changes to combat the current wave of killings and shootings.

“We’ve seen more violence than we used to see,” Manitoba Justice Minister Dave Chomiak said, gravely supporting Oppal’s ideas for Criminal Code changes.

Everyone agreed.

Still, it will take a great deal more than singing a law-and-order version of We Shall Overcome to staunch the bloodshed. And I’m sure the A-G heard that from the Mexicans.

Oppal’s suggestions — stricter bail and looser wiretap laws — will do little to stem the carnage and it’s unlikely such amendments will even slow the growth of the gangs.

I’m sure the Mexicans on Sunday explained why such laws don’t help that much and why even their military has been unsuccessful in defeating the gangs.

But I’m also sure Oppal knows: Too much easy money.

Gangs are not a Vancouver problem, nor a Western Canadian problem. They are a global scourge.

We didn’t get any solutions from the justice ministers Saturday because they are avoiding the truth: The issue isn’t gangs; it’s illicit drugs.

Illegal drugs are big money precisely because they are prohibited: Marijuana grows like a weed and cocaine can be processed for pennies.

The U.S. and Mexico don’t have our legal niceties problem and neither is dealing with the burgeoning gangsterism any better than we are. No country is.

That’s because the gangs are a symptom, not the disease.

Whether you live in Tijuana, New York or Vancouver, murders and shootings have become common because of the illegal drug market.

There is only one solution that promises to reduce the violence — the end of the drug prohibition. We can only sap the strength of the gangs by removing the enormous profits reaped from drug trafficking.

No modern nation, however, has been able to move in that direction because of American hegemony.

That may begin to change under President Barack Obama; he has certainly made immediate and startling changes to American domestic drug policy.

Regardless, we need to think for ourselves and we need to consider a fundamental change to public policy.

In Mexico, the dead in the drug war are counted in the thousands and so they are actively debating legalization, Yankee sensibilities be damned. They have had enough.

We need to follow their lead.

There are more illegal substances on our streets today than when disgraced president Richard Nixon launched the War on Drugs. This public policy has been an overwhelming and abject failure. Worse — it made things worse.

Yet the provincial justice ministers focused on insignificant concerns rather than this elephant in the room.

By all means update the wiretap laws. Tighten bail restrictions and improve the custodial conditions of already crowded provincial remand centres so two-for-one credit isn’t awarded out of fairness.

But remember: For every gangster we put behind bars, there is a lineup to take his or her place.

There have been nearly 40 shootings in Metro Vancouver leaving 17 people dead since late January.

Chomiak is right. We are seeing more violence than we used to see. Each of us is at greater risk than ever as a result of the indiscriminate gunfire that accompanies the drug prohibition.

What we’re doing is exacerbating the situation and endangering our children — so let’s change our approach.

Let’s stop using the criminal law to regulate drug use. It doesn’t work. Let’s start talking about what comes next.

Removing massive drug profits from the underground economy won’t eliminate gangs, but it will reduce their number and scope considerably.

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– Article from The Vancouver Sun on March 23, 2009.