Vancouver, British Columbia,
is on the cutting edge of drug reform in the Western Hemisphere.
The city's ambitious "Four Pillars" program to deal with the negative consequences
of drug use under prohibition integrates prevention, treatment, law enforcement,
and harm reduction in a comprehensive package that could be a model for
cities from Buenos Aires to Boston. Part of the Four Pillars program
was the September opening of the hemisphere's first safe injection site
for needle users, located in the heart of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside,
long notorious as the largest congregation of hard-core drug users on the
continent. But Vancouver's vanguard role in drug reform is not limited
to the hard drug scene; the city is also home to well-known cannabis cafes
where on-premise smoking is de rigueur, a cannabis-friendly bed and breakfast,
more than 30 shops catering to marijuana growers, and an estimated 10,000
marijuana grow ops.
While tolerance and liberalization
were a hallmark of the administration of former Mayor Phillip Owen, Owen's
failure to garner the political support to move fast on implementing the
Four Pillars strategy helped carry Larry Campbell and his Coalition of
Progressive Electors (COPE) to a smashing victory last year. Campbell,
a former Royal Canadian Mounted Police narcotics officer who became Vancouver's
coroner and saw the downside of prohibitionist practices staring up at
him from the morgue, made rapid implementation of the Four Pillars program
a central component of his campaign. While Owen and Campbell have
been political rivals, they share a common commitment to drug reform in
Vancouver, for which they were both honored at last weekend's Drug Police
Alliance conference in New Jersey. Campbell also impressed the crowd
in New Jersey with his wit, steadfastness in the face of American criticism,
and his humane approach to drug policy. DRCNet spoke with Campbell
-- END --
|Drug War Chronicle:
It's been two years or so since the Four Pillars plan was elaborated.
You've had a heavy police presence on the Downtown Eastside since April
and a safe injection site up and running since September. What is
the current status of the Four Pillars plan and what remains to be done?
Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell:
We have dedicated funding in place for the safe injection site through
the federal and provincial governments, but policing costs will be a city
responsibility. We had a meeting on that this morning. The
city is going through a real transition now because of all the baby boomers
retiring, and we need to reexamine city finances. As for treatment,
we will be having a conference later this month and we will be asking for
a catalog of treatment programs within the province. There is a widespread
sense that we don't have enough treatment facilities, but we don't know
if that is really true -- no one has a real handle on it. With prevention,
we need to move forward. All we have right now is D.A.R.E., and we
have seen that if you use science-based evaluations of D.A.R.E., it hasn't
proven its worth. We need to look at how we can better educate our
students, how best to tell them what drugs are, what they do and what will
happen if things go bad, while at the same time recognizing that some of
them will choose to use drugs.
Chronicle: Can you
talk a little about the process of coming up with the plan? We're
especially interested in the notion of the "stakeholder" and in bringing
drug users into the discussion. How and why did you accomplish that?
The involvement of drug users
is absolutely critical. When we talk about drug use and drug users,
all we're really talking about is what we think is going on. We needed
to talk to people who are actually on the street, and we did, and they
were very important in setting up the safe injection site, as well as being
of great benefit for their insights on treatment and prevention.
The drug users themselves formed an organization, the Vancouver Area Network
of Drug Users (http://www.vandu.org)
and brought themselves to the table and made sure they were heard.
It wasn't a matter of letting them in; they let themselves in. People
like VANDU's Anne Livingston and Dean Wilson were crucial to building the
coalition that created Four Pillars, because they could explain what was
going on from the addict's perspective.
Chronicle: On another
topic, there are an estimated 10,000 or so marijuana grow-ops in the city.
What is Vancouver doing about them, and what is the ultimate solution?
Should marijuana be not decriminalized but legalized?
should be legalized and controlled. We should tax the hell out of
it with the revenue earmarked for health care, but I don't foresee that
happening in my lifetime. We can't even get a decriminalization bill
through [Editor's Note: See newsbrief this issue], although if we did,
maybe people could grow it themselves. Now, most grow ops are controlled
by organized crime, and we do go after them. In fact, we bust grow
ops on a daily basis. But the main reason is not because they're
growing pot but because of neighborhood safety issues. These guys
typically cut into the electric power supply because they don't want their
high usage to show up on their bills, then they hook up lights and timers
and water systems. These houses catch fire frequently. And
sometimes the families who are put in to guard the grow ops have kids,
and those kids end up being exposed to high levels of carbon dioxide.
Chronicle: US drug
czar John Walters and other American political figures have been harshly
critical of the safe injection site in Vancouver and of Canadian "leniency"
on drug policy. How much attention do you pay to the Americans?
Campbell: As I told
the people in New Jersey, Walters and I are no longer exchanging Christmas
cards. But seriously, I pay no attention whatsoever to Walters.
He is probably the most misinformed person in the whole United States.
Most US states have more liberal policies on marijuana than we do.
I do pay attention to Americans; they're my friends and I don't want to
cause them any harm. But Walters is just the latest in a long line
of failed generals in a war they claim isn't even being fought adequately.
But if this were a real war, they'd all be fired.
Chronicle: In New Jersey,
you talked about the progressive role of the Vancouver police in implementing
Four Pillars. But there have been allegations of police misconduct,
such as the Stanley Park beatings, as well as critical reports from the
Pivot Legal Aid Society and Human Rights Watch over the police crackdown
on the Downtown Eastside (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/canada/
What do you say to those criticisms?
Campbell: The Vancouver
police force is the only force in all of North America that has bought
into harm reduction and the Four Pillars strategy. They understand
that we need to approach this as a medical problem, but at the same time
we have to enforce the laws against drug trafficking. As for Pivot
and Human Rights Watch, Pivot is a well-known organization in this city.
When I became mayor, I told them to bring complaints forward to me, but
they didn't. And Human Rights Watch should be cleaning up their own
backyard. I dismiss them out of hand because they just blew into
town, didn't speak to anyone with the city -- only those involved in the
seedier side -- then left and issued an unfair report. I met with
them after they issued their report and told them that, and they barely
responded. I don't have any time for them now.
Chronicle: You are
a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We heard rumors
that you will be joining Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (http://www.leap.cc).
Is that true? And does that mean you support legalization and regulation
for all currently illicit drugs?
Campbell: I'm thinking
about it. I just got back from New Jersey and I'm looking at their
brchures, but I still have to do some research on this. I know one
Vancouver police officer who already joined up. They certainly lend
credibility to what we are trying to do. As for legalization, ending
prohibition would be the logical way to go, but at the end of the day I
know it's not going to happen. If we can't even legalize marijuana,
the chances of legalizing the rest of it are pretty slim, but I agree with
the idea of legalization. We have to continue thinking in a progressive
manner when it comes to drugs. If we don't, we won't be able to have
a healthy society and we won't be able to keep our people alive.
And that's what it's all about.
Issue #311, 11/14/03
DRCNet Interview: Larry Campbell, Mayor of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada |
South Carolina: High School Drug Raid Sparks Incredulity, Outrage |
DRCNet Honchos Challenge DC with CD -- Borden and Guard Refuse to Report for Jury Service in Protest of Drug Laws |
Drug Policy Alliance 2003 Conference |
BUSTED: Special Video Offer for DRCNet Members |
Newsbrief: Canada Decriminalization Bill Dies Quiet Death |
Newsbrief: Bolivian Intellectuals Issue Call for Debate on Coca Law |
Newsbrief: FAMM Study Show States Embracing "Smart on Crime" Reforms |
Newsbrief: Illinois Targets Ecstasy, Speed on Campus |
Newsbrief: Texas Drug Task Force Prosecutor Plays "Let's Make a Deal" With Wealthy Defendants |
This Week in History |
DRCNet Temporarily Suspending Our Web-Based Write-to-Congress Service Due to Funding Shortfalls -- Your Help Can Bring It Back -- Keep Contacting Congress in the Meantime |
Perry Fund Accepting Applications for 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 School Years, Providing Scholarships for Students Losing Aid Because of Drug Convictions |
The Reformer's Calendar
Mail this article to a friend
Send us feedback on this article
This issue -- main page
This issue -- single-file printer version
Drug War Chronicle -- main page
PERMISSION to reprint or
redistribute any or all of the contents of Drug War Chronicle (formerly The Week Online with DRCNet is hereby
granted. We ask that any use of these materials include proper credit and,
where appropriate, a link to one or more of our web sites. If your
publication customarily pays for publication, DRCNet requests checks
payable to the organization. If your publication does not pay for
materials, you are free to use the materials gratis. In all cases, we
request notification for our records, including physical copies where
material has appeared in print. Contact: StoptheDrugWar.org: the Drug Reform Coordination Network,
P.O. Box 18402, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-8340 (voice), (202)
293-8344 (fax), e-mail [email protected]. Thank
Articles of a purely
educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of the DRCNet
Foundation, unless otherwise noted.