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François-Marie Arouet or Voltaire or was a French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher who was famous for his wit. One of his most famous quotes is “It is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one. ” This quote applies to one of the most disastrous campaigns in the 20th century and still to this day and that is the War on Drugs and Drug policies. These campaigns and acts have costed billions in Canadian taxpayer dollars. Additionally, the act of prohibiting drugs has only worsened violent crime and has created black markets and a drug trade worth over $300 billion. Furthermore, instead of protecting the public, it has caused public health crises such as the opioid epidemic and has increased the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV. Moreover, the drug war targeted people and caused them the most damage and ruined lives. Instead of treating people for addiction and mental illness, the government locked them away instead of helping them to become part of society. Ironically, one of the ways to fix the drug problem is to legalize drugs. In brief, Canada needs to reform its drug laws and end the disastrous war on drugs.
To begin with, currently the drug trade is worth over an astonishing amount of $300 billion USD which is more than the $283. 7 billion USD GDP of Pakistan. Canada has spent millions of dollars on a war that the U. S started in 1971, when President Nixon declared drug abuse to be the “public enemy”. From 2013-2014, the Harper government spent $7 million on a 12-week anti-drug advertising campaign. Furthermore, the $7 million spent on anti-pot advertisements surpassed the $5. 2 million that Health Canada spent advertising the previous year. Health Canada had advertised on a wide range of issues, which included food safety, immunization, unfavorable drug reactions, and the health and safety of Canadian citizens. In Canada, illicit drug sales are from $7 billion- $10 billion a year and to counter this, the government spends about $2 billion a year on law enforcement that has not been working. Just like the U. S, Canada’s war on drugs also extends into South America trying to dismantle drug cartels.
In 2012, the Harper government announced CISCA or Canada Initiative for Security in Central America which is a $25 million program designed to give aid and train troops in South America to fight these cartels. Currently, Canada has a presence in Brazil, Columbia, Belize, and Central American states. In addition, $50 billion is spent annually by the Canadian government in policing Canadian citizen’s drug habits which is about 3 times as much spending on inmates than students. The combined spending more than the total amount spent on First Nations health services, veterans health care, health research, and public health programs combined. In short, Canada has wasted billions of dollars each year to fight drugs while the Canadian government could have spent the money elsewhere such as the education system, fixing the healthcare system, or even updating the outdated military equipment used by our men and women who serve. As a matter of fact, the reason why the drug war is costing Canada billions of dollars is because of prohibition.
Another reason why Canada needs to reform its drug laws and end the drug war is that prohibition doesn’t work. In 1920, when the national ban of alcohol took effect, it created a black market for alcohol and organized crime spiked. In a study of more than 30 major U. S cities during the Prohibition years of 1920-1921, crimes spiked by 24%. Furthermore, theft and burglaries rose by 9%, homicides increased by 12. 7%, assaults and battery rose by 13%, drug addiction increased by 44. 6%, and the cost of police department rose by 11. 4%. This was largely contributed to the rise of” black-market violence” and the spread of law enforcement resources elsewhere. Despite the Prohibition movements hope that outlawing alcohol would reduce crime, the reality was that it led to higher crime rates than what were experienced prior to Prohibition. One of the most famous incidents during Prohibition was The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, which produced seven deaths and is contemplated to be one of the deadliest days of mob history and was done by one the most infamous mob bosses in history, Al Capone. Ever since 1971 when the drug war started, the drug trade has rose to an estimated worth of $300 billion and has increased violence.
Additionally, black markets motivates criminals to protect their secrecy. For many drug dealers, the most effective way to do so is to “get rid of” potential leaks of their organizations. Moreover, black markets require disputes to be resolved with violence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has stated “‘You can’t sue somebody for drug debt; the only way to get your money is through strong-arm tactics, and violence tends to follow that. ’”Also, without black markets created by drug policies from the war on drugs, nations like the United States or Canada would most likely not have drug traffickers, the black market, drug importers and the infamous drug cartels. Although criminal gangs would endure, it would be just like after the appeal of Prohibition, organized gangs would wield less power and maim or kill fewer people. In addition, the opioid crisis started even though the Canadian government had drug policy laws in place.
The opioid crisis claimed nearly 30,000 lives out of the 72,000 overdose deaths in the U. S last year according to the CDC and in Canada, opioids claimed a record high of 4,000 deaths last year. The opioid crisis started in the 90’s when big pharmaceutical companies started aggressively marketing these painkillers towards doctors and patients. As a result of that, patients got addicted and if they couldn’t get their painkillers legally through a prescription, sadly, they would get it off the streets. This resulted in patients trying different drugs to ease their pain and one of the most infamous drugs for easing pain is Heroin. Heroin is three times more potent than morphine and has always been a problem. However, recently, the main culprit for opioid related deaths is Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Additionally, fentanyl is illegally produced in China and trafficked through Mexican cartels into the U. S and ends up making its way into Canada. Fentanyl is frequently laced into heroin or substituted completely for it. Also, it’s used in counterfeit pills labeled as other substances, such as Xanax or Vicodin (which is another painkiller). For this reason, fentanyl users are frequently unaware of its presence, therefore increasing the risk of an overdose. Furthermore, fentanyl is easier and less expensive to make than heroin, which transcribes to popularity among drug dealers to maximize their profits. Altogether, prohibition has produced more harm than good such as an increase in violent crimes and public health crises such the opioid epidemic. However, there could be a solution if we change our drug policies and help the people that are addicted.
Reforming our laws on possession. We should help these people instead of locking them up. Pursuing this matter further, Dr. Gabor Maté, an expert on addiction has “stated that ‘There is no war on drugs since one cannot make war on inanimate objects. There is a war on drug users, who are often the most abused and traumatized people in society. In other words, our culture punishes people for having suffered, and for using substances to ease their pain. ’” Not only has the drug war targeted people but it has targeted the most vulnerable people of our society who use drugs such as war veterans, inner-city minorities, the homeless, people who are mentally ill, and young males. Furthermore, these groups are marginalized in society and tend to experience a general condition of anxiety and hopelessness, which in return, they turned to drugs to cope with their pain. Additionally, once they have turned towards drugs, they become addicted and either end up in one of two ways; lying dead in a ditch somewhere due to their pot or heroin being laced with fentanyl or end up in jail for 5 years for drug possession despite that they’re not a danger to society. However, there is one country that is leading the world in drug policy reform and that country is Portugal. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized possession of drugs and has done wonders for them.
First, drug use did not rise, but in fact, has declined. For example, the number of people using heroin before decriminalization was about 100,000 people. Today, the population is 25,000 which is a 75% decrease. Second, drug overdoses and HIV infection rates are down. In 2001, 80 people died in Portugal from what doctors determined to be drug-related deaths. Further, in 2012, that number had gone down to 16 drug-related deaths. Meanwhile, HIV cases recorded among injection drug users have also drastically decreased. There were 1,016 recorded cases in 2001 and that has gone down to 56 recorded cases in 2012. Uniquely important is that with fewer drug users in jail, there has also been a measurable downsizing in pressure on the Portuguese justice system which if Canada and the U. S go down this path, would result in less money spent on housing prisoners. Furthermore, experts are generally in agreement that Portugal’s drug policy has kept more people alive and prevented many others from getting bloodborne infections such as HIV. Third, drug use is still treated the same in Portugal as just like in other countries. However, instead of the user going to trial and ultimately, being convicted, instead, they go in front of a panel known as the “Commission for Dissuasion of Drug Addicts”. The panel consists of two medical experts and a person with a legal background to determine the extent of that person’s addiction and to determine treatment. Studies have suggested for a while that there is a link between mental illness and substance abuse. The majority of people with mental illness end up taking some sort of medicine to counteract their illness and in some cases they get addicted.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), mental health patients are responsible for the consumption of 38% of alcohol, 44% of cocaine, and 40% of cigarettes. NBER also reports that people that have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some time in their life are responsible for the consumption of 69% of alcohol, 84% of cocaine, and 68% of cigarettes. In Canada, the Criminal Code still makes hard drug possession a crime, which results in the most troubled people of society to get locked up. However, select police forces have been able to ease off on who they determine to charge with possession. This is especially the case in Vancouver, which is currently the epicenter of Canada’s current overdose crisis. The Vancouver Police Department has explicitly endorsed a “public health” approach to addiction and rarely if ever pursue possession charges against drug addicts, unless the charge is in connection with a more serious offence. Canada is turning around its drug policies starting with the legalization of marijuana on October 17, which will make it legal to grow, sell, and possess marijuana. The legalization of marijuana would actually reduce overdose deaths, as drug users would substitute safe cannabinoids instead of taking dangerous opioid painkillers such as heroin.
Additionally, this should start cutting down the deaths and crimes related to marijuana since it will be legal to procure. Also, Vancouver has created a safe injection site and needle exchange for drug users, which has already reduced the number of overdose deaths since it is supervised, has reduced the amount of crime related to buying drugs, has reduced the spread of infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C, and has provided these people who need help with people from social services and health care workers so they can be treated for their illnesses. Furthermore, it’s our job as a society to help out these people who are suffering and provide them with essential tools to cure themselves from their illness and to become a productive part of society. Instead of locking these people up and throwing away the key, we need to change our laws so these people can get the help they need to combat their addiction and mental illnesses.
To summarise, the Drug war has costed Canadians billions of dollars annually to fight the drug war and house drug offenders in prisons instead of putting the money to good use elsewhere. Additionally, prohibition hasn’t worked just liked it did before in 1920’s and has driven violent crimes up and has cause health epidemics such as the opioid crisis. Likewise, the government has been locking up non-violent offenders for simply having “a little pot” on them and a majority of these people are mentally ill. However, Canada is turning itself around by legalizing marijuana in the next few weeks and following in the footsteps in Portugal, who has seen decrease in drug related crime and deaths. Overall, the Drug War and the policies it brought were a failure and only did more harm than good.
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