Drug Policy Review

Now that they regressively passed bill C-8, there’s

GOOD NEWS:Canada is going to have a drug policy review!

BAD NEWS: It’s being done by the same bunch of prohibitionists that gave usthe Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.


When the Parliamentary Committee that examined the Controlled Drugs andSubstances Act brought their recommendations back to Parliament in October1995, they recommended that a “comprehensive review of Canada’s drugpolicy” be undertaken by the Ministry of Health, but only once the bill hadbecome law.

Although it would clearly have made much more sense to have a review ofdrug policy before passing a new drug policy bill, the Senate Committeethat examined the bill came to the exact same conclusion as Parliament. TheSenate Committee recommended that the bill become law as is, but that theirSenate Committee be allowed to participate with Parliament in the”comprehensive review” of drug policy.


As it stands right now, the Ministry of Health has agreed to have theStanding Committee on Health launch a drug policy review. This review isscheduled to begin in the October, and will conclude in the spring of 1997.

There has been no formal participation by the Senate in this process sofar, and it seems unlikely that Parliament will want the more open-mindedSenators to be involved. The Senate Committee on Legal and ConstitutionalAffairs has claimed that if they are not allowed to participate inParliament’s review then they will hold a separate review themselves. Itremains to be seen what will come of this.

Even though the Senate passed the Controlled Drugs and Substances Actwithout significant amendments and made essentially the samerecommendations as the Parliamentary Committee, there is still many reasonsto believe that the presence of Senators on the Parliamentary drug policyreview committee would be of great benefit.

During the Senate hearings, Senators were generally attentive and openminded, and apparently learned a great deal about drugs and drug policythat they didn’t know before. This is in direct contrast to theParliamentary hearings on the bill, in which witnesses were harassed andchallenged by the Parliamentary Committee, often being told that they couldnot discuss the harmful effects of prohibition because “this is only ahousekeeping bill.”

Further evidence that the Senate will be a sympathetic participant is thedifference in the way the two drug policy reviews are described.Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health describes their review as beingon “Policies on the Misuse and Abuse of Substances,” while the Senatedescribes their review as being “a review of all of Canada’s existing druglaws, and policies and programs.”

The federal Minister of Health, David Dingwall, has stated that theParliamentary review should focus on “demand reduction”, which is oftensimply a euphemism of harassing and jailing users. Nowhere in theParliamentary Committee’s terms of reference is the term “harm reduction”used, and there is no mention of potentially harmful effects ofprohibition.

In contrast to theie, the terms of reference for the review as recommendedby the Senate include explicit references to “harm reduction” and asuggestion to “view drug use and abuse as primarily a health and socialpolicy issue.”


What follows are the four Terms of Reference of the Parliamentary HealthCommittee Review of Policies on the Misuse and Abuse of Substances. Notethat there is no mention of harm reduction, or even a “comprehensivereview” of Canada’s drug policies.

  1. To receive evidence about the harmful impact of misuse and abuse oflegal and illegal drugs on the social behaviour and physical health ofCanadians;
  2. To identify the relevance of variables such as age, sex, ethnicity,socio-economic status and geographic area on the demand for and effect ofsuch substances;
  3. To examine effective measures for reducing the demand for and use ofsuch substances through education, prevention, treatment, andrehabilitation;
  4. To make appropriate recommendations on future policy actions to reducethe demand for such substances.


I have already presented the complete senate recommendation in CClist post#40, and so what follows is just a reminder of a few of the key points.

To receive the full text of the Senate Committee’s report on Bill C-8,including the technical amendments it proposed to the Bill, please call theSenate at 1-800-267-7362, email [email protected], or web