Canada's Conservative Fraser Institute Declares Drug War Lost 8/31/01

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The Fraser Institute, based in Vancouver, usually concerns itself it with taxation, welfare reform, government restrictions on business and other themes dear to the hearts of free-market true believers but anathema to progressives, who deride it as a "wacky extreme right-wing think tank." But with the publication of a set of papers on drug policy released last week, the institute, one of Canada's most influential economic think tanks, has become the latest conservative institution to break with the drug war consensus -- and it has done so dramatically.

"The war on drugs is lost," director of the Fraser Institute's Social Affairs Center Fred McMahon said on announcing the studies. "It is completely lost. It is unambiguously lost. It is time to run up the white flag and start looking for more sensible solutions," he said.

Canadian governments, both federal and provincial, have seldom devoted serious thought to drug policy, said McMahon, instead lurching from crisis to 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," McMahon said.

"Sensible Solutions to the Urban Drug Problem" is based on papers presented at two Fraser Institute conferences in 1998 and 1999 and updated by the authors, who include Ottawa lawyer and founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy Eugene Oscapella, late Vancouver police officer Gil Puder, the Cato Institute's Patrick Basham, and Swiss drug policy officials Martin Buechi and Ueli Minder.

The seven papers collected in the publication argue that that the societal and scientific evidence show that many of the problems attributed to drug use and trafficking are in fact caused, directly or indirectly, by drug prohibition.

"Drug prohibition has all the characteristics of numerous other well-intentioned, yet expensive, counterproductive government programs that have outlived any usefulness," Basham wrote 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 weakens -- at times, even destroys -- families, neighborhoods, and communities," Basham continued.

In his paper, "Witch Hunts and Chemical McCarthyism: The Criminal Law and 20th Century Canadian Drug Policy," Oscapella argued that the negative effects of Canadian drug policy extended far beyond the country's borders. "Canada's active support for prohibition is helping to destabilize countries around the world," he wrote, by undermining democratic institutions and trapping innocent civilians in never-ending battles among guerrillas, militias, and government security and law enforcement forces.

"I'm not necessarily encouraging the use of drugs," Oscapella told the National Post. "We're just looking for a regime that doesn't import all those harms that are currently associated with the criminal prohibition of drugs."

Oscapella's paper and the six others in the series are available at online.

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