A very establishment advisory group to British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell has advised the Liberal leader that if he wants to deal with crime and illegal drugs in the province, he has two starkly contrasting choices: Legalize it, or unleash an all-out drug war. The panel from the BC Progress Board made the recommendations in a research report released November 15, "Reducing Crime and Improving Criminal Justice in British Columbia: Recommendations for Change."
The BC Progress Board is a group of 18 businessmen and academics selected by the provincial government to provide advice on economic and social issues. Simon Fraser University criminologist Rob Gordon, a board member, was the report's primary author.
The report comes as BC grapples with crime rates higher than the Canadian average. The board identified illegal drug use and the drug trade as one of four motors driving crime in the province. The others were deficient child rearing and services, mental illness, and the "impoverished and unstable lifestyles" of many people living in inner urban areas.
In its second recommendation to Premier Campbell, the board said that "the provincial government must address the problem of the illegal trade in drugs in a clear and consistent manner." The first option it listed was to "lobby the federal government to legalize the trade, perhaps limiting access to products to adults in the same way that access to alcohol and tobacco is limited."
That would allow the government to treat drug use and abuse as public health -- not criminal justice -- problems and would allow the government to obtain revenue from taxing the sales of drugs.
But the BC Progress Board was careful to note that it was not endorsing drug legalization, merely providing options for the provincial government. The board's second recommendation on drug policy made that perfectly clear. In the event legalization proves impossible to implement, the board suggested, "the provincial government should provide the resources to eliminate the drug trade entirely in the province." Alternately, the board suggested a combination of recommendations one and two. The province should first spend 10 years trying to wipe out the drug trade, then move to legalization.
While the board's recommendations are not exactly a clarion call for legalization, the panel put the idea squarely on the table.