Click here to watch over an hour of video (click the eight links under the video embed) on CTV about the drug war.
On June 12, police announced the results of their latest series of drug raids — “Project Spring Clean.”
When it was over, the police had some seemingly impressive numbers:
411 charges laid
12 crack houses and 16 marijuana grow-ops shut down
In addition, 1.5 kilos of crack cocaine were taken off the street, along with:
95 grams of crack cocaine
100 grams of heroin
385 grams of ecstacy
2.2 kilograms of marijuana
But in the longer term, is that simply one small tactical victory in an overall losing war on drugs? After all, the war has been raging for about 40 years with no end in sight.
“It really is everywhere. There is not an area of the city where we can’t buy drugs or where we haven’t bought drugs in the past,” Det.-Sgt. Paul McIntyre of the Toronto Police drug squad told CTV Toronto.
His job is to get dope and dealers off the street. One recent raid netted more than $30,000 of cocaine and marijuana.
“I’m saying right now that we’re reducing the harm on society,” McIntyre said. “For every guy that we lock up, that is one less dealer that is out there selling dope and causing more grief and misery for other people.”
However, despite the best efforts of officers such as McIntyre, drugs such as cocaine, heroin and marijuana are easier to get than ever before.
Defence lawyer Edward Sapiano thinks the so-called “war on drugs” has primarily benefited big-time dealers.
“The war on drugs, like the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan, has made some people very rich,” he said.
The economics are simple: Restricting supply in the face of constant demand means more profits for those in the dirty business of drugs, he said.
Because of the profits involved, criminals are willing to engage in violence to control the drug trade.
“We would almost certainly see a significant drop in crime rates if we not only decriminalized, but legalized, regulated and taxed” currently illegal drugs, Sapiano said.
The previous Liberal government had been moving to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana — something the Tories killed when they took power after the 2006 federal election.
But some who have worked in the system believe that decriminalization is an option that should be revisited.
“I think decriminalization of simple possession of every drug is the way to go,” said Robin Parker, who spent a decade as a federal drug prosecutor.
One of her major cases was the extradition of narco-trafficker and former Woodbridge resident Alfonso Caruana, who an RCMP officer once described as the Wayne Gretzky of organized crime. He was extradited back to his native Italy in late January 2008 where he had been convicted in absentia for narcotics trafficking.
Parker believes the Caruanas of this world are merely following in the footsteps of gangsters such as Al Capone, who got rich in Chicago while selling booze during Prohibition.
“We have this great historical event that we can draw upon, which is completely the same — which is Prohibition,” she said of the policy — which lasted from 1919 to 1933 — that banned alcohol sales in the United States.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that prohibition created Alfonso Caruana … If it were legal for people to possess cocaine, how could Alfonso Caruana make millions and millions of dollars?” she asked rhetorically.
Tough vs. soft
Drugs are in the federal jurisdiction, and the current Conservative government has made getting tough on crime a cornerstone of its policies.
The Tories want to toughen penalties for those who deal in drugs. Here are some proposed changes in Bill C-15, first tabled in February:
six-month minimum sentence for possession of even one marijuana plant
one-year minimum prison sentences for marijuana deals linked to organized crime
mandatory two-year jail sentences for dealing hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine to young people
stiffer penalties for big pot grow-ops, including doubling the maximum jail sentence for large marijuana production to 14 years
“I can tell you there is support for this bill from many ordinary Canadians who are quite concerned about drug abuse,” Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told a parliamentary committee in May.
McIntyre heartily endorsed a get-tough approach.
“You know, we’re paid to go out every night to keep arresting these guys,” he said. “I think you have to know that you’re going to face a jail sentence if you are dealing these serious drugs and you get caught.”
However, a retired judge begs to differ.
“I think we already lock up too many people in this country,” said Patrick Lesage, who was a prosecutor before he became a judge.
“It seems attractive to have mandatory minimums. And in many cases, what is the mandatory minimum is not inappropriate,” he said. “But there are many times where it will be inappropriate.”
Parker agreed, saying each case must be weighed on its individual facts.
Two decades ago, a mandatory minimum law compelled Lesage to sentence a 19-year-old man who had pleaded guilty to bringing five marijuana cigarettes into Canada to seven years in prison.
“No record, completely a good university student. You know, I’ve never been able to forget that. And it’s the sort of thing that happens when you have mandatory minimums,” he said.
Sapiano said this about drug enforcement efforts: “Taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars arresting the petty frontline drug traffickers.”
CTV Toronto’s Chris Eby noted that Portugal decriminalized possession of all drugs in 2001.
“Eight years later, the results are in — Drug usage rates have stayed constant or dropped. None of the doomsday scenarios about the country becoming a haven for drug tourists came true.”
– Article from CTV News.