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Vancouver Safe Injection Site Saves Lives, Report Finds

Drug overdose deaths in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside fell dramatically after a safe injection site opened there, according to a study published online Monday in the British medical journal The Lancet. Fatal drug overdoses declined 35% in the vicinity of the Insite safe injection site in the two years after it opened, compared to only a 9% decline in the rest of the city.

Vancouver's Insite safe injection site on East Hastings Street (Image courtesy Vancouver Coastal Health)
"No one has ever been able to demonstrate a substantial reduction in overdose deaths due to the presence of a safe injection site, but we have done so," said Thomas Kerr of the Urban Health Research Initiative at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and one of the authors of the study.

The study examined 290 drug overdose deaths between 2001 and 2005, 89 of which occurred within 500 meters of the Insite location. Insite opened in 2003. After Insite opened, the overdose death rate within 500 meters dropped from 253.8 per 100,000 to 165.1 per 100,000, a 35% decrease. In the two years prior to Insite opening, 56 neighborhood drug users suffered fatal overdoses; in the two years after, only 33 did.

Previous research had shown that Insite reduced behaviors that could lead to blood-borne infections like Hepatitis C and HIV and contributed to public order by getting IV drug use off the streets and into a clinical setting.

It is not that drug overdoses do not occur at Insite; in fact, there have been 2,000 of them at the facility, but no deaths. In addition to providing injection booths and clean syringes, Insite has nurses on staff who can and do revive users who have overdosed.

Despite previously demonstrated benefits of Insite and the strong support of provincial health authorities, Canada's Conservative government has sought repeatedly to shut it down. The Canadian Supreme Court next month will hear the government's appeal of British Columbia courts' rulings that denying injection drug users such a service violates their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that the province has jurisdiction in the case because Insite is providing a health care service, a provincial function.

For the study's authors, the conclusion was obvious: "Safe injection facilities should be considered where injection drug use is prevalent, particularly in areas with high density of overdose."

Vancouver
Canada

Marc Emery Denied Transfer to Canadian Prison

Canadian marijuana legalization activist Marc Emery, currently serving a five-year federal prison sentence in the US, has been denied in his request to finish serving his time in a Canadian prison. His Canadian attorney, Kirk Tousaw, said Friday that Emery received notice that US authorities had denied the request on the grounds of "the seriousness of the offense" and "law enforcement concerns."

Marc Emery leading a rally in Calgary during happier times (image via wikimedia.org)
Emery, the self-proclaimed "Prince of Pot," is serving time for selling marijuana seeds. Emery used the profits from those seed sales to fund legalization campaigns in Canada, the US, and elsewhere. His supporters have long charged that his prosecution was politically motivated.

Emery is currently at the federal holding facility in El Reno, Oklahoma, while awaiting transfer to a medium-security prison in Mississippi. He had previously been held in a minimum-security prison in Georgia. It is unclear why he is being transferred to a higher security prison.

Under a bilateral treaty, Canadian prisoners serving time in the US can apply to serve their sentence in their home country, and vice versa. The guidelines for evaluating prisoner transfer applications are available here.

"This refusal is a terrible affront to the sovereignty of Canada," said Tousaw. "Marc is a target of political persecution that appears to have transcended his conviction and now infects the treaty transfer process. He qualifies under every relevant factor and should have been allowed to serve out his jail term in Canada, close to his wife Jodie and in the country in which all of his activity took place. We call upon Prime Minister Harper and the leaders of the Liberal Party and NDP to stand up for this Canadian hero and demand his immediate repatriation."

Emery's wife, Jodie Emery, said she was "shocked and sickened" by the denial. "He has been punished for speaking out for the rights of tens of millions of cannabis consumers here and in the US and it's truly frightening," she said in a statement. "Canadians who feel Marc has been treated unfairly with an unjust five-year US prison sentence for seeds should punish the Conservatives in the federal election on May 2nd for extraditing Marc in the first place."

Tousaw said the notification of the denial came through unusual channels. Neither he nor Emery's US attorney were notified of the decision, as would usually be the case. Instead, someone in the US government notified the Canadian government, and Emery was notified via a letter from the Canadian consulate.

"This is very unusual and should not have happened," Tousaw said. "It makes me wonder whether the US and Canada are engaged in ongoing dialogue about Marc and lends support to the belief that politics are still influencing the process."

Emery can reapply for a transfer to his homeland in two years. If that doesn't occur, he will remain imprisoned in the US until he does 85% of his sentence.

El Reno, OK
United States

Study Casts Doubts Over Canada's Strategy on Illicit Drug Use

Location: 
Canada
Much like the American approach to drug policy, it's not clear Canadians are getting a whole lot of bang for all the bucks thrown at the illicit drug problem, a new report says. "In the case of the strategy, many programs do not have the means to demonstrate the incremental impact of their activities...Many programs report output information...but the validity of the information remains questionable from an impact measurement perspective," the document says.
Publication/Source: 
CTV Television Network (Canada)
URL: 
http://montreal.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110317/study-drug-use-ottawa-strategy-110317/20110317/?hub=MontrealHome

Tommy Chong Lights Up Canadian New Democratic Party Campaign

Location: 
BC
Canada
Other contenders for B.C.'s NDP leadership race might be making campaign promises and rolling out platforms, but candidate and pot activist Dana Larsen is bringing out actor and comedian Tommy Chong. The celebrity marijuana user — one half of the former movie duo Cheech and Chong — has publicly endorsed Larsen for the leadership.
Publication/Source: 
CBC Radio-Canda (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/03/07/bc-larsen-ndp-tommy-chong.html

Health Canada Proposes Ban on Salvia Divinorum

Salvia divinorum extract (Image via Wikimedia)
In an official notice published Saturday in the Canada Gazette (scroll down), Health Canada has proposed banning the potent, fast-acting hallucinogen salvia divinorum and its active ingredient, salvinorin A. It wants to add both to Schedule III of Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, making it illegal to possess, produce, sell, import, or export the substances.

Although the notice was dated February 4, it was not posted in the Gazette until February 19. Interested parties, or stakeholders, have 30 days from the date of publication to comment.

Salvia is currently considered as a natural health product in Canada. Natural health products are not legal to sell in Canada without authorization from Health Canada. Health Canada has never authorized the sale of salvia, but neither has it taken any steps to enforce that regulation.

Salvia and salvia extracts are widely available in Canadian head shops and via the Internet. The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey in 2009 found that 7.3% of 15-to-24-year-olds had tried salvia at least once. [Editor's Note: Given the powerful, even scary, nature of the salvia high, it is probably safe to assume that many of them tried it only once.]

Salvia-inspired art (Image via Wikimedia)
Salvia is "reported to be one of the most prevalent herbal products used as an alternative to illicit drugs," Health Canada said. "Health Canada is concerned that the ready availability and use of salvia divinorum poses a risk to the health and safety of Canadians, particularly youth." Adding it and salvinorin A to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act would "enable law enforcement agencies to take action against suspected illegal activities involving these substances," it added in the notice.

Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden are among countries that have already regulated or banned salvia, as have some dozen states in the US. The DEA has considered salvia a substance of interest for nearly a decade now, but has not yet moved to classify it as a controlled substance.

Ottawa
Canada

Liberals Block Canada Mandatory Minimum Bill

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been thwarted once again in its effort to pass a bill that would impose mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. The opposition Liberals announced February 10 that they will not support the legislation.

Tough luck, Mr. Harper
Because Harper's Conservative government is a minority government, it needs the support of opposition parties in the House of Commons to pass the crime bill, S-10. But the other opposition parties, the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois, have been staunch opponents of the measure. With the Liberals announcing they will vote against S-10, Harper's government doesn't have the votes to pass it.

The bill would have enacted mandatory minimum sentences for growing as few as six pot plants. The Liberals took their stand against it after Conservatives refused to say how much it would cost.

"This bill isn't tough on crime, it's dumb on crime," said Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. "We're all in favor of cracking down on serious criminals, but this bill doesn't distinguish between massive grow-ops and a first-time offender with a small amount. What's more, the Conservatives won't tell us what the fiscal implications of this bill are. How many billions will it cost? How many mega-prisons will have to be built? For these reasons, we just can't support it," he said.

The bill had already passed the Senate, where the Conservatives hold a majority, but opposition had been growing as it headed for the House of Commons. Earlier this week, more than 550 health professionals signed an open letter opposing the bill.

"The scientific evidence shows that mandatory minimum sentences will not cut violent crime, reduce drug use or improve public safety," said Dr. Thomas Kerr, co‐director of the Urban Health Research Initiative, one of the groups behind the letter. "To turn the tide on organized crime and drug use in Canada we need illicit drug policies based on the best available scientific evidence. Unfortunately, Bill S‐10 turns its back on evidence‐based research in favor of misguided political appeal."

Canadian anti-prohibitionists welcomed the move by the Liberals. "We are extremely pleased that the Liberal Party has made its decision on the basis of evidence," said Kirk Tousaw, executive director of the Vancouver-based Beyond Prohibition Foundation. "This punishment plan would not have reduced crime, nor would it have made Canadian safer from the influence of gangs. In fact, the foundation has long argued that the evidence is clear that ramping up a war on drugs has the perverse effect of making drugs more available, cheaper and more potent while simultaneously increasing the profitability and violent tendencies of organized criminals. Today the Liberal Party of Canada decided to be smart on crime."

This year's effort to pass the crime bill was the third by the Harper government. Perhaps now the Tories will give it a rest.

Ottawa, ON
Canada

Canada: Grits Block Jail Time for Growing Marijuana

Location: 
Canada
The Canadian government bill that would impose mandatory jail time for offenders caught growing a handful of marijuana plants appears doomed. The Liberals announced they will not support Bill S-10, which has already been passed by the Senate.
Publication/Source: 
The Ottawa Citizen (Canada)
URL: 
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/National+Grits+block+jail+time+growing+marijuana/4254926/story.html

Beyond Prohibition Foundation Commends Liberal Party of Canada for Opposing Bill S-10 (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2011

CONTACT: Jacob Hunter at 604.803.4085 or jacob@jacobhunter.org, or Kirk Tousaw at kirktousaw@gmail.com

Beyond Prohibition Foundation Commends Liberal Party of Canada for Opposing Bill S-10

Today the Liberal Party of Canada announced that it would vote down Bill S-10, a cornerstone of the Harper Conservative’s incarceration agenda, which would have imposed mandatory jail sentences on non-violent minor drug offenders. The Beyond Prohibition Foundation commends the Liberal Party for standing up to Mr. Harper’s false “soft on crime” slurs and defeating this dangerous, enormously expensive and ideologically-driven legislation.

“We are extremely pleased that the Liberal Party has made its decision on the basis of evidence,” noted Kirk Tousaw, Executive Director of the Foundation, “This punishment plan would not have reduced crime, nor would it have made Canadian safer from the influence of gangs. In fact, the Foundation has long argued that the evidence is clear that ramping up a war on drugs has the perverse effect of making drugs more available, cheaper and more potent while simultaneously increasing the profitability and violent tendencies of organized criminals. Today the Liberal Party of Canada decided to be smart on crime.”

The legislation had previously been the subject of intense criticism during two rounds of testimony before committees of the Senate and House of Commons. Experts from Canada, the United States and abroad testified that other jurisdictions using mandatory jail terms have worse crime and drug problems than Canada, and that these experiments have been expensive failures. Despite this, the Harper Conservatives have been pushing for the legislation for years.

“The Foundation knew that the Conservatives would not listen to expert advice and, therefore, we made a strategic decision early on to appeal to the Liberal Party,” explained Jacob Hunter, the Foundation’s Policy Director. “We believed that the Liberals would understand that making economically and socially smart decisions with Canadian’s tax dollars would be a political benefit, not a liability. Everyone knew that Mr. Harper would attempt to fool Canadians with ‘soft on crime’ rhetoric but the Foundation believes that our citizens are smarter than that. We are very pleased the Liberal Party agrees.”

Earlier this week, the government refused to tell the House how much its incarceration agenda would cost Canadians. “Mr. Harper tried to use fear to sell Canadians on a multi-billion dollar legislative boondoggle by hiding the costs and falsely describing it as targeting only major criminals.

Instead, it would have almost exclusively punished non-violent small time drug offenders. Now that the legislation appears doomed, we urge all Parliamentarians to conduct a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of drug prohibition. Its time to reject the failed approaches of the past and, instead, to work toward putting criminals out of business by ending the war on drugs,” Tousaw continued.

Location: 
Canada

Canadian Doctors Decry Crackdown on Drugs

Location: 
Canada
A large group of doctors, HIV researchers and other public health officials has just released a letter lambasting the Canadian government’s bill S-10, which would overhaul illicit drug laws. The principle target of the 564 signatories – which includes doctors, nurses, social workers and law professors – is a provision that would impose minimum prison sentences of at least six months for a variety of drug offenses, including operating small-scale marijuana grow operations.
Publication/Source: 
National Post (Canada)
URL: 
http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/02/07/blackwell-on-health-doctors-decry-crackdown-on-drugs/

Canadian Patients Ask Ottawa to Fix Flawed Medical Marijuana Program

Location: 
Ottawa, ON
Canada
A group of medical marijuana patients traveled to Parliament Hill to draw attention to the government's "wildly dysfunctional and onerous medical marijuana regulations" and the effects they are having on sick Canadians. "Ten years ago, we put in place a government program, a legal government program, that would allow sick patients to have access to a medicine that worked for them," said Member of Parliament Dr. Carolyn Bennett. "We now are seeing a perfect storm of administrative delays that have these patients with a licence waiting four to six months till the point that it expires – and then they are criminalized because they don't have a licence because the government's backlogs and lack of resources have put them there."
Publication/Source: 
Cannabis Culture (Canada)
URL: 
http://cannabisculture.com/v2/content/2011/01/31/Patients-Ask-Ottawa-Fix-Flawed-Medical-Marijuana-Program

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