Today the Vancouver City Council unanimously adopted ?Preventing Harm From Psychoactive Substance Use,? a plan that, among other things, calls for an end to prohibition and the regulated distribution of cannabis.
Kirk Tousaw, general counsel to the British Columbia Marijuana Party, was on hand to speak to Council about the plan and to unveil a proposed bylaw that would establish performance standards for retail cannabis establishments.
The Vancouver Plan
The prevention plan covers a wide range of substances. It includes recommendations on legal and currently-illegal substances. Importantly, the plan represents a major push forward on one of Vancouver?s ?Four Pillars? of drug policy: prevention. Worthy of note is that the plan?s definition of prevention deems it to be preventing harm, not simply preventing use. In fact, the plan recognizes the human reality that: ?Substance use occurs along a spectrum from beneficial, to non-problematic or casual use, through to problematic or harmful use.?
The concept of a spectrum of use is one key part of the underlying philosophy of the plan. Another is the recognition that regulated markets are an essential part of preventing harm to our society. According to the Vancouver Plan: ?The intent of creating regulated markets for currently illegal substances is to better control their public availability. Regulated markets support the idea that ?No drug is made safer left in the hands of organized criminals and unregulated dealers.?(Transform, 2005).?
The Vancouver Plan also recognizes the prohibition has failed: ?The results of alcohol prohibition and the current pervasiveness of drug-related harm demonstrate that prohibition has little control over the production, supply and use of illegal substances. There is no indication that prohibition reduces the prevalence or incidence of drug use, decreases drug traffic or stops the production of illegal substances.?
Because of this failure, the plan sets out a new category of harm, calling it ?policy-related harm.? This is what activists have been calling ?prohibition-related harm? for years. The Vancouver Plan breaks policy-related harm into four distinct types: (1) creation of crime; (2) a criminal justice system crisis; (3) wasted resources and lost tax dollars; (4) the undermining of public health and maximization of social harm. This recognition by a major Canadian city represents an important step forward in the path to progressive drug policy reform.
Specifically in the area of cannabis policy, the Vancouver Plan endorses major policy change (at the end of the article you can find a link to the plan itself):
Recommendation: That the Federal Government implement further legislative changes to create a legal regulatory framework for cannabis in order to enable municipalities to develop comprehensive cannabis strategies that promote public health objectives, include appropriate regulatory controls for cannabis related products, and support the development of public education approaches to cannabis use and related harm based on best evidence. (emphasis added)
In other words, the City of Vancouver believes that cannabis should be grown, sold and consumed in a legal environment.
BCMP Responds to the Vancouver Plan
The BCMP endorses the Vancouver Plan and its recommendations. For too long we have seen our society suffer at the hands of the drug warriors. We are now at a turning point and Vancouver is leading Canadian cities and towns toward a better future. Kirk Tousaw spoke to the Vancouver City Council about the plan.
?I told the Council that the plan represented a transformative vision and applauded the City for moving in the right direction,? said Tousaw. ?I had to point out, though, that the tragic irony of cannabis policy is that one of Vancouver?s four pillars ? enforcement ? has been recognized as the primary contributor to the harm associated with the plant. The Le Dain Commission recognized this in 1972 and the Senate, thirty years later, re-emphasized it. Because of this, I told the City that it should not wait for Ottawa to reform the law but should, instead, begin to take action to bring its transformative vision into the concrete world of the here and now.?
Tousaw described a draft bylaw to the Council. Drafted by Tousaw in connection with Don Briere?s bid for city council, the bylaw sets up ten performance standards for cannabis retail establishments. ?I told Council that the bylaw had standards that everyone would agree are important: no selling to minors, no sales of ?hard? drugs, odor control, security, basically the things that you would in any business. I also included a requirement that cannabis establishments be good neighbors by providing 24 hour contact information to other businesses in the area.?
The bylaw would achieve its goals by emulating a Seattle, Washington city ordinance. ?City council has no jurisdiction to change the law,? continued Tousaw, ?but the City does set the police budget and the Mayor, as chair of the Vancouver Police Board, has the ability to influence police priorities. The proposal, then, would be that the enforcement of cannabis-related offences at an establishment meeting the performance criteria would be the lowest police priority in Vancouver.?
Briere, a BCMP candidate in the last provincial election, also spoke to the Council. He told of his time in jail as a victim of prohibition, and the other men he met inside who were also casualties of the drug war. According to Briere, cannabis was available in prison at the rate of $100 per gram. In conclusion, he thanked the City for taking steps in the right direction.
For more information and a full text of the Vancouver Plan, view the PDF file here: http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20051103/documents/p2complete.pdf