Canada’s Drug Policy Review
Bad News: It’s being done by the same bunch of prohibitionists that gave us
THE SECRET PUBLIC REVIEW
The Standing Committee on Health began a review of Canada’s drug policy on October 8. Although there has been no media coverage of the hearings at all, the Committee has already heard testimony from the drug war bureaucrats who run Canada’s prohibitionist regime, and also from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, and the Harm Reduction Coalition.
The committee is scheduled to begin travelling across the country in late November, and will continue receiving testimony and evidence until spring of 1997. Their final report is due in June, but these kinds of committee reports are often months late.
This drug policy review is being done because there was dissent against the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, both from within the Liberal party and from public interest and drug policy groups. The promise of a future drug policy review was the government’s way of eliminating and postponing debate until after the Act had become law.
THREE REASONS FOR CYNICISM
There are many reasons to be cynical and expect that this review is not going to recommend any substantial changes to the mindless prohibition that passes for Canada’s national drug policy. It will require a great deal of public action and media attention for the committee to even acknowledge that Canadian drug policy is causing a great deal of harm and damage to Canadians.
The first and most significant reason to doubt the objectivity of the review is that the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act was passed by a subcommittee of the Standing Committee on Health. They already gave that bill the rubber stamp once, so it seems unlikely that they will oppose it now.
Even more discouraging is that most of the Committee members have been publicly quoted as supporting the status quo of criminal prohibition. On the following pages I have provided a list of the committee members, and a quote on the subject of prohibition from most of them.
Although there are a few MPs on the committee who have quietly expressed mild anti-prohibitionist sentiments, most of the members of the committee have already stated their opposition to change. Unless we can educate and enlighten of the committee members during the next six months, there seems little hope for any progressive recommendations.
Another reason for cynicism is that the Committee has rejected any participation in the review by the more open-minded Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, which also examined the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The Senate Committee asked to participate in the review, and also threatened to hold their own drug policy review if not permitted to join Parliament’s. Despite this, they’re not in on Parliament’s review, and have shown no signs of preparing for their own.
The final reason for dismay is the language used by the Standing Committee on Health to describe the review and their goals. What was supposed to be “a comprehensive review of Canada’s drug policies” is now called “A Review of Policies on the Misuse and Abuse of Substances.” This is hardly an encouraging change of terminology.
The terms of reference which the Committee has created for itself make no mention of “harm reduction” or the idea that prohibition itself can cause harm. Instead, the committee only wants to “reduce the demand” for illegal drugs. Just as the phrase “supply reduction” means jailing growers and dealers, so “demand reduction” is a common euphemism for jailing users.
There is also apparently no intent to investigate the legitimate medical use of currently banned substances, particularly marijuana. Given the recent legalization of medical marijuana in California and Arizona, and the need for medical marijuana in Canada, this sort of wilful ignorance is inexcusable.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
What can we learn from the slow but unstoppable passage of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and this subsequent farce of a drug policy review? Apparently that our government can’t be trusted, and that it will postpone and delay and stall and lie, but that it will not act to end the numbing war on drugs unless we absolutely force it.
Why are we having this review anyway? Does Parliament expect to learn anything that hasn’t already been heard over and over again? It’s going to be the same parade of groups that have already come before both Parliament and the Senate to testify against the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and their testimony was totally ignored the first time through.
It’s important to remember that although Parliament is the place where most of Canada’s laws are written, public opinion is formed elsewhere. The futility of the war on people who use banned drugs is being recognized by more and more Canadians, and this changing public attitude is creeping into the pages of mainstream media on a more regular basis.
As an enlightened reader of Cannabis Canada, you have an added duty to spread the word about how harm reduction and decriminalization are succesful policies which should be adopted in Canada. I urge you to write a letter to the newspaper at least once a week, responding to current news from the standpoint of tolerance and anti-prohibitionism. Also let your newspaper know that you want more coverage of Canada’s national review of drug policy.
Anyone who is interested in learning more about what’s going on with the drug policy review committee hearings should call Committee Clerk Paul Rodrigue at (613) 992-1775. You can also call (613) 992-3150 and ask for Paul Rodrigue to call you back if you don’t want to pay for long distance.
Paul should be able to provide you with a schedule of the Committee hearings, and also tell you when the Committee will be coming to your region. The Committee will be travelling around Canada to receive public input, so make sure that you show up when the Committee comes to your area, and bring as many people with you as possible.
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