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January 8, 2008 - Vancouver Sun (CN BC)

OpEd: Why Is Canada Copying Failure?

The Harper Government's U.S.-Style Tough Line on Drugs Benefits No One but Criminals and Their Syndicates

By Larry Campbell, Special to the Sun

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Is there really anyone anywhere in Canada who believes that U.S. drug policies are working? Or that they are deserving of being copied here?

This is the direction Prime Minister Stephen Harper would have us go.

More prisons and more people in prisons has not worked for our southern neighbours, and there is no logic behind the move to increase criminal penalties for drugs.

In fact, logic dictates that we move away from criminalization and focus instead on a policy that emphasizes medical intervention for those Canadians who abuse drugs.

What about our teens? In the pique of a rebellious phase they grow a few plants, get arrested and end up getting their higher education in prison rather then university. And the burden of a criminal record makes them pariahs in the job market.

Can we afford -- either financially or socially -- to emulate a system that has created in the U.S. the most incarcerated population on Earth?

Or should we continue to distinguish ourselves from our neighbour by continuing to exhibit humane and socially profitable measures that make our citizens some of the healthiest and most compassionate people on the planet?

This Conservative government refuses to look at the science, or even the simple facts.

Minimum sentences for non-violent offenders may play well with a hang 'em high crowd, but it will do nothing to solve drug problems in this country.

The Conservatives have spread their "big lie" for so long that they have begun to believe it, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

We should be putting our efforts into increased treatment for addiction, education and increased medical treatment for those with mental disabilities. We should also legalize marijuana in this country to keep the profits from being funnelled into criminal hands.

Did you know that in the U.S. the government produces and distributes about half a pound each month in marijuana cigarettes to medical patients?

The Canadian government could produce it like cigarettes, put the derived funds straight into health care and addictions treatment and programs. The pot could be sold in liquor stores where children will not have easy access and the quality can be monitored.

When drugs are produced by regulated industries, they cost a mere fraction of the price of the products produced and marketed by clandestine criminal organizations.

By leaving some drugs in the hands of criminals and their syndicates we leave control of the purity, dosage and pricing totally in the wrong hands. Why not take away their motivation for involvement in the drugs trade?

Regulated industries all have motivation for legitimacy. They hire working people who live in our communities and spend their income in our stores and shops. We all have an investment in the task of reducing drug harms and that investment is one that can either prove to be profitable, or costly.

Criminals have control of these substances only because we make the drugs illegal. Through legalization we have regulation and we remove the death grip the gangs and cartels have on the drugs black market.

If a poll were to be conducted among these drug dealing thugs and gangsters, asking if they prefer prohibition or legalization, prohibition would be the unanimous choice. Legalization runs counter to their needs.

It is truly prohibition that continues to line the pockets of those criminals who are the real threats to all our communities.

Prohibition is a failure that bears no resemblance to any logical solution to our drug problems.

We must end prohibition, not expand it.

Senator Larry W. Campbell is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international, non-profit educational organization made up of current and former members of law enforcement who believe the existing U.S. drug policies have failed.

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