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Fraser Institute publication proposes alternatives to the war on drugs

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Release Date: August 22, 2001

The war on drugs is lost and prohibition has been a complete failure. These are the conclusions of Sensible Solutions to the Urban Drug Problem a series of policy papers released today by The Fraser Institute.

Originally based on papers presented to two Fraser Institute conferences, the authors suggest a wide range of options to this failed war, from harm reduction and medicalization, through to the decriminalization or legalization of drugs from marijuana to heroin. Harm reduction, for example, changes the focus from policing to mitigating the negative effects of drug use through policies and programs that focus on addiction treatment.

Canadian governments-federal and provincial-have seldom given serious thought to drug policy, preferring instead to follow whatever variation on failure is being proposed during the latest 'crisis.'

"This thinking has only served to enrich organized crime, corrupt governments and law enforcement officials, spread diseases such as HIV, hinder health care, and feed into an ever-growing law enforcement and penal industry," says Fred McMahon, director of the Fraser Institute's social affairs center.

The authors of the papers argue that the evidence-societal, scientific, and anecdotal-shows that most of the serious problems we associate with illegal drug use are caused directly or indirectly, not by drug use itself, but by drug prohibition. It is only by separating drug use from drug prohibition that one is able to assess whether or not the harmful side effects of prohibition overwhelm the benefits of supposed lower drug consumption and the resulting lower social costs.

"Drug prohibition has all the characteristics of numerous other well-intentioned, yet expensive, counterproductive government programs that have outlived any usefulness," says Patrick Basham of the Cato Institute, in his introductory chapter.

"Drug prohibition reflects our failure to learn from history; drug prohibition causes crime; drug prohibition corrupts police officers; drug prohibition violates civil liberties and individual rights; drug prohibition throws good money after bad; and drug prohibition weakens-at times, even destroys-families, neighbourhoods, and communities," he continues.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy arising from the war on drugs is the devastation it has brought to the poor nations of Latin America and, to a lesser extent, Asia and the Middle East. It has undermined the growth of democratic institutions and trapped innocent civilians in a never-ending battle between terrorists, militias, and government forces.

"Canada's active support for prohibition is helping to destabilize countries around the world," says Eugene Oscapella, a prominent lawyer in Ottawa and a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy. Oscapella contributed "Witch Hunts and Chemical McCarthyism: The Criminal Law and 20th Century Canadian Drug Policy" to this collection of papers.

Papers contributed to this publication include:

· Swiss Drug Policy: Harm Reduction and Heroin-Supported Therapy

Martin Buechi is head of the Section for Policy and Research, and the deputy vice-director of the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. Ueli Minder is the drug policy coordinator in the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health.

· Drugs, Violence and Public Health: What Does the Harm-Reduction Approach Have to Offer?

Patricia Erickson is Senior Scientist at the Addiction and Mental Health Services Corporation in Toronto.

· The Empires Strike Back

The late Gil Puder was a decorated 16-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department and instructor at the British Columbia Police Academy.

· Psychoactive Substances in Canada: Levels of Harm and Means of Reduction

Robin Room is Professor and Director of the Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at Stockholm University, Sweden.

· Canadian Attitudes towards Decriminalizing The Use of Marijuana

Daniel Savas is Senior Vice-President of Ipsos Reid, Canada's leading market research and public opinion company.

· Medicalization: A "Third Way" to Drug Policy
Jeffrey Singer is a general surgeon in private practice in Phoenix Arizona, where he also served as Medical Spokesperson for Arizonans for Drug Policy Reform.

· The Economic Cost of the War on Drugs

Richard Stevenson directs the Health Economics Unit and lectures in the Department of Economics at Liverpool University.

For additional information on Canadian drug policy, contact Eugene Oscapella (613) 238-5909.



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