The Latest Failure in the Making

The latest in a long line of failed federal drug strategies, this one a redundant attempt to specifically target so-called synthetic drugs, is not needed and will not achieve its purported goals.

CN AB: Editorial: Drug Strategy A Good Step

The latest in a long line of federal drug strategies – this one aimed specifically at so-called synthetic drugs – is a much needed and welcome effort.

The Synthetic Drug Initiative, announced this month, is the first Canadian drug strategy to focus entirely on a single class of drugs.

If it succeeds in putting more illegal drug makers in prison and keeping more of these extremely dangerous drugs out of Alberta schools it will benefit everyone, including residents of West Central Alberta.

Synthetic drugs include MDMA, or ecstasy, as it is commonly known, and methamphetamine, both drugs popular among some Canadian youth; and in the case of methamphetamine, highly addictive and dangerous to the user’s health.

The aim of the new strategy is to do away, as much as possible, with the production and distribution of synthetic drugs and to reduce the overall influence of organized crime on drug trafficking in Canada, said Peter Van Loan, Minister of Public Safety.

“The production, trafficking and distribution of illegal drugs will not be tolerated. The initiative will target illicit synthetic drug industry on three fronts; enforcement, deterrence and prevention,” he said.

Justice Minister Nicholson added: “Our government recognizes that illegal drugs undermine healthy and safe communities, fuel organized crime and foster street-level gangs.”

Those goals appear, at least to your newspaper, to be twofold: putting more illegal drug makers in prison and keeping these “extremely dangerous” drugs out of Alberta schools. The initiative will certainly not achieve the drug-supply-reduction goal and, if history teaches us anything, arresting more drug producers will lower the price of drugs on the street while making the supply more plentiful and more potent. That is the way prohibition has always worked and the way it always will.

The reasons are at once complex and simple. Complex because, unlike Minister Van Loan’s pretty words (”illegal drugs will not be tolerated”!), the reality of drug markets in a prohibition-based system is hard to distill into a soundbite. Simple because, once explained properly, even a child (if not blinded by ideology) can understand the basics. As a bonus, the explanation answers the question posed at the end of your story: which is more important, organized crime profits or public health?

The answer is public health. Of course, the question poses a false dichotomy. It isn’t an either/or scenario. Critics say targeting illegal drugs is counterproductive precisely because it neither reduces organized crime profits nor benefits public health. In fact, prohibition achieves exactly the opposite results. Prohibition increases and guarantees the profitability of organized crime while at the same time undermining public health. This is because the illegal drug market is the biggest source of profit for these criminal groups. And because, despite decades of drug prohibition, the supply of drugs on our streets has never been greater, the demand for drugs by our people has never been greater, the price has never been lower and the potency has never been higher. Some strategy. No wonder the war against drugs “appears” to be an “endless, losing battle.” It is.

Why is this? Because prohibition hands over the control of these drugs to the people that we least want to have it: criminal gangs with no scruples, no age limits, no purity controls, nothing but the desire to profit. And profit they do. Tax-free profit, I might add. In fact, the more dangerous the drug the more important it is to take control of it and put the gangs out of business. But this new “strategy” won’t do that. Instead a few drug producers will be arrested, making room in the market for the competition to step in. And there are always plenty of people ready to take over the very lucrative markets. That process typically (again, because of prohibition) involves the risk of violent battles over the drug turf created by the arrests. Public health benefit? I don’t think so.

You know, I may have been wrong. Critics of drug laws may be able to create pretty soundbites just like politicians. Indeed, Justice Minster Nicholson’s soundbite was very close to being accurate. Let me see if I can fix it for him: “Our government recognizes that the prohibition of illegal drugs undermines healthy and safe communities, fuels organized crime and fosters street-level gangs.” There you go, Justice Minister. Now why don’t you do your job and come up with a new strategy that actually has a hope of creating positive change? Because this latest offering is as impotent as your long string of past failures.