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Marijuana: Arizona Court of Appeals Rejects Religious Defense

In a July 31 decision, the Arizona Court of Appeals has held that there is no religious right to possess marijuana. In so doing, the court rejected the appellant's argument that his right to possess marijuana for religious reasons was protected by both the Arizona and the US Constitution.

The ruling came in Arizona v. Hardesty, a case that began when Daniel Hardesty was pulled over by a police officer in 2005 and subsequently charged with possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia after the officer first smelled smoked marijuana in the vehicle, then found a joint Hardesty admitted tossing from his window. Hardesty, a member of the Church of Cognizance, argued at trial that he used marijuana for religious purposes and should be exempt from prosecution under both Arizona and federal law. The trial court disagreed.

Now, so has the appeals court. While the court accepted that Hardesty's religious beliefs were sincere, it rejected his arguments that under the free exercise of religion, he had the right to use marijuana as a sacrament. Hardesty had conceded that marijuana is a drug that could have harmful effects and that the state had a "compelling interest" in regulating it, but argued that it had not been regulated in a manner that was "least restrictive" when applied to religion.

In his opinion, Appellate Judge Sheldon Weisberg wrote that while the First Amendment guarantees an absolute right to hold a religious belief, it does not guarantee the same absolute right to put that belief into practice. Similarly, Weisberg held that provisions of Arizona law designed to protect religious freedom did not encompass the religious use of marijuana, citing the state legislature's outright ban on the use and possession of marijuana.

"This statute does not provide any religious exemptions nor does it contemplate an exemption for the use of marijuana that would be consistent with public health and safety," the judge wrote for the unanimous court. "By imposing a total ban, the legislature has deemed that the use and possession of marijuana always pose a risk to public health and welfare."

But the appeals court did leave open the possibility that it could decide differently if someone came before it persuasively arguing that marijuana is not as dangerous as the government suggests. In that case, the "compelling interest" of the state in maintaining a complete prohibition on marijuana would presumably be weakened.

Attorney Daniel DeRiezo, who represents Hardesty, told the Arizona Star after the decision that prosecutors had engaged in "Reefer Madness arguments" in alleging that marijuana use could result in serious harm. An appeal to the state Supreme Court is likely, he said.

Feature: US Drug Policies Flawed and Failed, Experts Tell Congressional Committee

The US Congress Joint Economic Committee yesterday held a historic hearing on the economic costs of US drug policy. The hearing, titled Illegal Drugs: Economic Impact, Societal Costs, Policy Responses, was called at the request of Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), who in his opening remarks described the all-too-familiar failure of US drug policy to accomplish the goals it has set for itself. It was the second hearing related to incarceration that Webb has convened under the auspices of this committee.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/jimwebb.jpg
Jim Webb at 2007 incarceration hearing (photo from sentencingproject.org)
"Our insatiable demand for drugs" drives the drug trade, Webb pointed out. "We're spending enormous amounts of money to interdict drug shipments, but supplies remain consistent. Some 86% of high schoolers report easy access to marijuana. Cocaine prices have fallen by about 80% since the 1980s," the freshman senator continued. "Efforts to curb illegal drug use have relied heavily on enforcement. The number of people in custody on drug charges has increased 13-fold in the past 25 years, yet the flow of drugs remains undiminished. Drug convictions and collateral punishments are devastating our minority communities," Webb said.

"Our current policy mix is not working the way we want it to," Webb declared. "The ease with which drugs can be obtained, the price, the number of people using drugs, the violence on the border all show that. We need to rethink our responses to the health effects, the economic impacts, the effect on crime. We need to rethink our approach to the supply and demand of drugs."

Such sentiments coming from a sitting senator in the US in 2008 are bold if not remarkable, and it's not the first time that Webb has uttered such words:

In March of last year, he told George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program This Week: "One of the issues which never comes up in campaigns but it's an issue that's tearing this country apart is this whole notion of our criminal justice system, how many people are in our criminal justice system more -- I think we have two million people incarcerated in this country right now and that's an issue that's going to take two or three years to try to get to the bottom of and that's where I want to put my energy."

In his recently-released book, A Time to Fight, Webb wrote: "The time has come to stop locking up people for mere possession and use of marijuana," "It makes far more sense to take the money that would be saved by such a policy and use it for enforcement of gang-related activities" and "Either we are home to the most evil population on earth, or we are locking up a lot of people who really don't need to be in jail, for actions that other countries seem to handle in more constructive ways."

Still, drug reformers may be impatient with the level of rethinking presented at the hearing. While witnesses including University of Maryland criminologist Peter Reuter, author of "Drug War Heresies," and John Walsh, director of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) offered strong and familiar critiques of various aspects of US drug policy, neither of the words "prohibition" or "legalization" were ever uttered, nor were the words "tax and regulate," and radical alternatives to current policy were barely touched upon. Instead, the emphasis seemed to be on adjusting the "mix" of spending on law enforcement versus treatment and prevention.

The other two witnesses at the hearing, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, Assistant District Attorney Anne Swern and community coordinator Norma Fernandes of the same office, were there to talk up the success of drug court-style programs in their community.

[The written testimony of all four witnesses is available at the hearing web site linked above.]

"US drug policy is comprehensive, but unbalanced," said Reuter. "As much as 75% of spending goes to enforcement, mainly to lock up low-level drug dealers. Treatment is not very available. The US has a larger drug problem than other Western countries, and the policy measures to confront it have met with little success," he told the committee.

Reuter said there were some indications policymakers and the electorate are tiring of the drug war approach, citing California's treatment-not-jail Proposition 36, but there was little indication Congress was interested in serious analysis of programs and policies.

"Congress has been content to accept rhetoric instead of research," Reuter said, citing its lack of reaction to the Office of National Drug Control Policy's refusal to release a now three-year-old report on drug use levels during the Bush administration. "It's hardly a secret that ONDCP has failed to publish that report, but Congress has not bothered to do anything," he complained. "We need more emphasis on the analytic base for policy."

But even with the paltry evidence available to work with, Reuter was able to summarize a bottom line: "The US imprisons too many people and provides too little treatment," he said. "We need more than marginal changes."

"US drug policies have been in place for some time without much change except for intensification," said WOLA's Walsh, noting that coca production levels are as high as they were 20 years ago. "Since 1981, we have spent about $800 billion on drug control, and $600 billion of that on supply reduction. We need a stiff dose of historical reality as we contemplate what to do now," he told the committee.

With the basic policies in place for so long, some conclusions can now be drawn, Walsh said. "First, the balloon effect is real and fully relevant today. We've seen it time and time again, not just with crops, but also with drug smuggling routes. If we want to talk about actually reducing illicit crops and we know eradication only leads to renewed planting, we need to be looking for alternatives," he said.

"Second, there is continuing strong availability of illicit drugs and a long-term trend toward falling prices," Walsh said, strongly suggesting that interdiction was a failed policy. "The perennial goal is to drive up prices, but prices have fallen sharply. There is evidence of disruptions in the US cocaine market last year, but whether that endures is an open question and quite doubtful given the historical record," he said.

"Third, finding drugs coming across the border is like finding a needle in a haystack, or more like finding lots of needles in lots of different moving haystacks," he said. "Our legal commerce with Mexico is so huge that to think we can seal the borders is delusional."

With respect to the anti-drug assistance package for Mexico currently being debated in Congress, Walsh had a warning: "Even with US assistance, any reduction in the flow of drugs from Mexico is unlikely." Instead, Walsh said, lawmakers should adjust their supply-control objectives and expectations to bring them in line with that reality.

Changes in drug producing countries will require sustained efforts to increase alternative livelihoods. That in turn will require patience and a turn away from "the quick fix mentality that hasn't fixed anything," Walsh said.

"We can't expect sudden improvements; there is no silver bullet," Walsh concluded. "We need to switch to harm reduction approaches and recognize drugs and drug use as perennial problems that can't be eliminated, but can be managed better. We need to minimize not only the harms associated with drug use, but also those related to policies meant to control drugs."

"It is important to be able to discuss the realities of the situation, it's not always a comfortable thing to talk about," Webb said after the oral testimony. "This is very much a demand problem. I've been skeptical bout drug eradication programs; they just don't work when you're supplying such an enormous thirst on this end. We have to find ways to address demand other than locking up more people. We have created an incredible underground economic apparatus and we have to think hard about how to address it."

"The way in which we focused attention on the supply side has been very much mistaken," agreed Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) were the only other solons attending the hearing. "All this focus on supply hasn't really done anything of any value. The real issue is demand, and prevention and dealing with people getting out of prison is the way to deal with this."

Reuter suggested part of the solution was in increase in what he called "coerced abstinence," or forced drug treatment. Citing the work of UCLA drug policy researcher Mark Kleiman, Reuter said that regimes of frequent testing with modest sanctions imposed immediately and with certainty can result "in a real decline in drug taking and criminal activity."

That got a nod of agreement from prosecutor Swern. "How long you stay in treatment is the best predictor of staying out of trouble or off drugs," she said. Swern is running a program with deferring sentencing, with some flexibility she said. "The beauty of our program is it allows us to give people many chances. If they fail in treatment and want to try again, we do that," she said.

As the hearing drew to an end, Webb had one last question: "Justice Department statistics show that of all drug arrests in 2005, 42.6% were for marijuana offenses. What about the energy expended arresting people for marijuana?" he asked, implicitly begging for someone to respond, "It's a waste of resources."

But no one connected directly with the floating softball. "The vast majority of those arrests are for simple possession," said Reuter. "In Maryland, essentially no one is sentenced to jail for marijuana possession, although about a third spend time in jail pre-trial. It's not as bad as it looks," he said sanguinely.

"There's violence around marijuana trafficking in Brooklyn," responded prosecutor Swern.

WOLA's Walsh came closest to a strong answer. "Your question goes to setting priorities," he said. "We need to discriminate among types of illicit drugs. Which do the most harm and deserve the most emphasis? Also, given the sheer number of marijuana users, what kind of dent can you make even with many more arrests?"

And so ended the first joint congressional hearing to challenge the dogmas of the drug war. For reformers that attended, there were generally thumbs up for Webb and the committee, mixed with a bit of disappointment that the hearings only went so far.

"It was extraordinary," said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the DC-based Institute for Policy Studies. "They didn't cover some of the things I hoped they would, but I have to give them props for addressing the issue at all."

"Webb was looking for someone to say what he wanted to say with the marijuana question, that perhaps we should deemphasize law enforcement on that," said Doug McVay, policy analyst at Common Sense for Drug Policy, who also attended the hearing. "I don't think our witnesses quite caught what he was aiming for, an answer that arresting all those people for marijuana takes away resources that could be used to fight real crime."

Sen. Webb came in for special praise from Tree. "Perhaps because he's a possible vice presidential candidate, he had to tone things down a bit, but he is clearly not afraid to talk about over-incarceration, and using the Joint Economic Committee instead of Judiciary or Foreign Affairs is a brilliant use of that committee, because this is, after all, a policy with enormous economic consequences," Tree said. "Webb is clearly motivated by doing something about the high levels of incarceration. He held a hearing on it last year, and got the obvious answer that much of it is related to drug policy. Having heard that kind of answer, most politicians would walk away fast, but not Webb, so I have to give him credit."

Reversing the drug war juggernaut will not be easy. The Congressional Joint Economic Committee hearing Thursday was perhaps a small step toward that end, but it is a step in the right direction.

Drug Treatment: Idaho Senate Overrides Governor's Funding Increase Veto, Battle Continues

The Idaho Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to override a gubernatorial veto of a bill that would have increased funding for drug treatment and prevention programs. Now, the House must vote to override by a similar "supermajority" to complete the restoration of funding against the wishes of Republican Gov. Butch Otter.

Last week, Otter vetoed line items in two bills that would have provided $16.8 million for Idaho substance abuse programs. The Senate override vote on SB 1458 restores $2.4 million in supplemental funding. But Otter also vetoed $14.4 million in treatment funding for the coming year in HB 608.

The twin vetoes would cut in half the funding for drug courts and treatment for probationers and parolees, as well as some community-based treatment programs. The tussle at the statehouse is the latest round in fighting over how best to continue a three-year, $21 million dollar anti-drug effort originally funded by a federal grant. The federal money ran out last year, and lawmakers replaced it with state funds. Otter complained that the programs were unproven and had been expanded beyond their original scope.

But the state Senate seemed determined to do something other than just pay for more prison cells, and for several senators, Idaho's drug war has hit close to home. "I don't believe there is a family represented in this body who has not been affected by drugs or alcohol or mental health problems at some point," said Sen. Chuck Coiner (R-Twin Falls) in remarks reported by The New West magazine.

Sen. Brent Hill (R-Rexburg), also speaking in support of the override, told of a family member "almost ruined" by methamphetamine. "Her teeth rotted right out of her head," he told his colleagues.

Sen. Lee Heinrich (R-Cascade) said his son had spent two and a half years in prison on drug-related charges. "He could have benefited from this program... I know what these drug-related things can do to families," he added, but then said he would vote against the override because he wasn't sure "we've looked at all the alternatives."

But it was Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) who was perhaps most perceptive, speaking of a "paradigm shift" among his conservative colleagues. "Doesn't it seem smart to get on the front end of these decisions? Doesn't it seem smart to try to affect them before they become incarcerated, so they don't offend in the first place?" he asked. "Cells alone are not the answer."

At mid-week, the governor was signaling he still sought compromise. "The governor has consistently indicated that he was willing to discuss this issue and reach a compromise as he has on other important issues," he said in a Wednesday statement. But the size of the increase in treatment spending "could not be justified in a year when we are asking so many others agencies, not to mention state workers, to do with less."

Now, the ball is in the House's court.

Drug Treatment: New Jersey Drug Court Expansion Bill Passes, Awaits Governor's Signature

The New Jersey state Senate passed a bill that would expand the state's drug court program by a margin of 28-10 on March 3. The House version of the bill had already passed by a 58-18 margin in February. The bill now awaits the signature of Gov. Jon Corzine (D).

The bill, A1770, sponsored by John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) and Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) in the Senate and five primary sponsors led by Bonnie Watson Coleman in the House, amends the special probation statute that governs drug courts to expand eligibility for the program. It would also authorize out-of-state treatment under some circumstances and allow courts to reduce Drug Enforcement and Demand Reduction (DEDR) fines imposed on drug offenders.

"Drug courts distinguish between people who need treatment and people who belong in jail," said Sen. Adler in remarks reported by PolitickerNJ. "We should make sure sick people get the help they need and save our prison space for real criminals. For many drug offenders, treatment is far more successful than incarceration in preventing repeat offenses. The drug courts are a valuable tool in New Jersey's crime prevention efforts. They allow us to focus on helping sick people get well and save our prison space for real criminals."

"The drug court's success lies in its ability to treat the disease that lies at the core of an individual's criminal behavior," explained Sen. Turner. "Addiction is at the root of so many crimes -- from drug possession and distribution to larceny and violent crimes. When we end the addiction, we end those crimes and make our communities safer."

"The proof is in the results," Adler added, noting that the drug court treatment program has been found to be four times more effective than imprisonment in reducing repeat offenses.

The bill will allow persons with two or more previous third degree felony convictions to be eligible for drug court, subject to a prosecutor's veto. It will also eliminate the requirement that people in drug court be sentenced to six months of inpatient treatment and leave that decision to the sentencing judge. It also allows for early release from five-year special probation if the subject stays trouble-free for at least two years.

Gov. Corzine is expected to sign the bill into law shortly.

Drug Courts: New Jersey Supreme Court Broadens Eligibility

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that judges can allow offenders to enter drug court even if they have more than one previous conviction for a nonviolent offense. An earlier appeals court ruling had limited drug court eligibility only to those eligible for "special probation," which is limited to drug- or alcohol-using defendants with no more than one prior conviction.

Drug courts are designed to divert drug offenders or offenders with drug issues into a closely monitored drug treatment program instead of jail or prison.

While the state argued that only defendants eligible for "special probation" qualify for diversion, the state Supreme Court held that there is more than one route to drug court. Judges have the discretion to admit nonviolent offenders who would likely receive a probationary sentence anyway, the court held.

"It is inconceivable that the legislature granted a trial court power to impose a probationary sentence, but not the power to attach the one condition necessary to address the offender's desperate needs -- a drug rehabilitation program," Albin wrote in the unanimous opinion.

"Drug courts have achieved notable success," Albin continued. When someone with a drug problem is likely to get probation, Justice Barry Albin wrote, "it is preferable that defendant be monitored within a specialized court with personnel who have the particularized skills and training to maximize the prospect of the offender's rehabilitation."

A better place than in our face

Localização: 
WA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Seattle Times
URL: 
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2003795676_jdl19.html

Hillary Clinton: Drug Policy Reformer?

This is a week old now, but I think Hillary Clinton's comments at the recent Democratic Presidential debate are worth discussing here:

MR. [DeWayne] WICKHAM: Okay. Okay, please stay with me on this one.

According to FBI data, blacks were roughly 29 percent of persons arrested in this country between 1996 and 2005. Whites were 70 percent of people arrested during this period. Yet at the end of this 10-year period, whites were 40 percent of those who were inmates in this country, and blacks were approximately 38 percent. What does this data suggest to you?

...

SEN. CLINTON: In order to tackle this problem, we have to do all of these things.

Number one, we do have to go after racial profiling. I’ve supported legislation to try to tackle that.

Number two, we have to go after mandatory minimums. You know, mandatory sentences for certain violent crimes may be appropriate, but it has been too widely used. And it is using now a discriminatory impact.

Three, we need diversion, like drug courts. Non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons. They need to be diverted from our prison system. (Applause.)

We need to make sure that we do deal with the distinction between crack and powder cocaine. And ultimately we need an attorney general and a system of justice that truly does treat people equally, and that has not happened under this administration. (Applause.) [New York Times]

Of course, if Clinton truly believes that "non-violent offenders shouldn’t be serving hard time in our prisons," she'll have to look further than diversion programs and repealing mandatory minimums. Still, it's refreshing to hear a democratic front-runner sounding rehearsed on drug policy and criminal justice reform.

Frankly, the principle that non-violent drug offenders shouldn't be doing hard time stands in stark contrast to the drug war status quo. This is a powerful idea, and while Clinton attaches it to politically-safe policy proposals at this point, she sounds ready to have a realistic discussion about the impact of the drug war on communities of color.

Between Mike Gravel's aggressive anti-drug war stance and a near consensus among the other candidates about reforming sentencing practices and prioritizing public health programs, we're seeing rational ideas about drug policy creep slowly into mainstream politics.

I know quite a few pessimistic reformers, and far more that are just impatient. Everyday more people are arrested, jailed, killed, or otherwise stripped of their humanity by this great and unnecessary civil war, and it's depressing as hell to watch these things continue. But moments like this provide a barometer for our progress – slow though it may be – and I don't understand how anyone can look at the last 10 years of drug policy reform and say we're not moving forward.

I don't think our movement needs to change. I think it needs to grow, and indeed it is growing. When Hillary Clinton says "non-violent offenders should not be serving hard time in our prisons," she becomes part of this movement, whether she likes it or not.

(This blog post was published by StoptheDrugWar.org's lobbying arm, the Drug Reform Coordination Network, which also shares the cost of maintaining this web site. DRCNet Foundation takes no positions on candidates for public office, in compliance with section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and does not pay for reporting that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as doing so.)

 

Localização: 
United States

Europe: Scottish Police Chief Says Time to Consider Prescribing Hard Drugs

A leading Scottish police official has inserted himself into the ongoing debate over drug policy in Scotland by saying that law enforcement alone is not working and that drug courts and even the prescribing of Class A drugs to users should be considered. John Vine, Chief Constable of Tayside Police made the remarks in a Monday interview with BBC Scotland.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/johnvine.jpg
John Vine
"I don't think we are winning the war against drugs just by enforcement alone," Vine said. "We need to continue that effort and reassure communities that we are going to be there for them but we also need to talk to politicians and health authorities to see whether we can do something differently to reduce the demand for Class A drugs," he said.

"I would like to see, for example, drugs courts being set up in the area and would also like to see possibly some debate about whether prescribing Class A drugs might be something the health authorities might consider."

Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, magic mushrooms, and injectable amphetamines are all considered Class A (most serious) drugs under the United Kingdom's drug classification scheme. But it is likely Vine is talking about heroin, and possibly cocaine and amphetamines, the illicit drugs that are associated with the greatest social problems in Scotland.

Heroin seizures had tripled in Tayside in recent years, Vine said. While his police force can continue to produce good arrest figures, he added, it is time for a dialogue between law enforcement, health authorities, and politicians to come up with a long-term solution. That may not be a popular notion, he said, but he would be willing to experiment in Tayside.

"There are people who will have a view as to whether this would be socially acceptable or whether this would have any chance of working," Vine told BBC Scotland. "I would like this force and this police area to be a pilot area for any initiative which might be regarded as innovative or risky which could be evaluated by experts to see whether we can reduce demand for acquisitive crime."

Perhaps the Scottish new prime minister of Britain will lend Chief Vine an ear.

Feature: Battle Royal Looms as Canadian Government Set to Unveil Tough Anti-Drug Strategy

The Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper is set to reveal what is expected to be a US-style approach to drug policy any day now. While action in parliament is unlikely until after the looming summer recess, battle lines are already being drawn in what promises to be a bitter fight.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/savecanada.jpg
pro-Insite demonstrators (photo courtesy timetodeliver.org)
Although the government has yet to reveal particulars, it is widely assumed that the new drug strategy will take a "tough on crime" approach to drugs, cracking down on grow-ops and drug sellers with harsher penalties, providing more money for law enforcement, and moving away from harm reduction approaches such as Vancouver's Insite safe injection site.

"There will be a heavier emphasis on enforcement, with some additional money for treatment," said Eugene Oscapella, head of the Canadian Drug Policy Foundation. "The other thing is they want mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, especially serious trafficking offenses," he told Drug War Chronicle.

An early hint of the Harper government's drug policy came in March, when Conservatives allocated an extra $70 million over two years for enforcement, treatment, and prevention, but no mention was made of harm reduction programs. In Canada, these also include needle exchanges and the distribution of sterile crack pipes.

Of the additional funding, treatment programs will get nearly half, law enforcement about a third, and the rest will go into "just say no" style youth prevention program. The new drug strategy is also expected to endorse the use of drug courts, where drug offenders can be ordered into treatment programs instead of jail or prison.

The Canadian federal government currently spends about $350 million a year on anti-drug efforts, the vast majority of which goes to law enforcement, with lesser amounts for treatment and prevention, and a pittance for harm reduction. Canadian drug policy is guided by a 20-year-old national drug strategy that has been widely criticized for lacking clear direction, targets, and measurable results.

What the Harper government is proposing is not the answer, says a growing chorus of critics. The Liberal Party was quick off the mark to attack the yet-to-be-seen Conservative drug strategy.

"Stephen Harper's government is expected to announce next week new measures that will retreat from harm reduction measures that help Canadians, such as the safe injection site in Vancouver," said Liberal Health critic Bonnie Brown in a press release last week. "They are trying to do this under the guise of cracking down on illicit drug trafficking and prevention -- even though all the research suggests that an ideologically-motivated war on drugs is ineffective, while programs such as the safe injection site are producing positive results."

A series of reports -- including the Canadian Medical Association Journal and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS -- have concluded that the site has had a positive effect on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, and has not increased crime or addiction rates, or threatened public health and safety.

"Rather than focusing its efforts where they are needed most -- such as funding the safe injection site and other programs vital to a larger harm reduction strategy in Canada -- this government is putting its right-wing agenda ahead of scientific evidence, and at a tremendous cost to those affected by addiction," said Brown.

Brown's charge resonates with a number of Canadian researchers. "The science is there. What we're seeing here is political interference," said Dr. Thomas Kerr with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, who has led several research studies on Insite. "I think it's a sad day for drug policy in Canada given that the Conservative government is now advocating a US-style approach to drug policy that's been shown to fail," he told reporters in Vancouver last week.

Kerr isn't the only one complaining. Several prominent researchers from across Canada have written an open letter to Health Canada criticizing it for calling for new research on Insite despite years of research showing positive incomes. The call for proposals from Health Canada ensures that the research will be superficial and inadequately funded, they said. They also took issue with a condition that researchers not be allowed to talk about their findings for six months after reports are submitted.

"Clearly what that does is to muffle people who might have something to say until after the curtain has dropped on this piece of political theatre," Benedikt Fischer, a director of the BC Centre for Addictions Research at the University of Victoria, said in an interview last Friday. "Overall, we get the feeling that what this is about is there's an attempt to instrumentalize science in a fairly cheap way for politics."

"The Conservatives don't like InSite," said Oscapella. "This is not an issue of science, but of ideology and playing to the peanut gallery. They have tried to misstate its purpose, what it has achieved, and the position of other countries. This is a propaganda exercise by the government to further its electoral objectives," he said.

"But the Liberals are no angels, either," he pointed out. "They had three opportunities to reform the cannabis laws and they didn't do that. I give them some credit for the medical marijuana regulations, but at the same time, the process is now incredibly cumbersome. They backed away from decriminalization. In effect, they backed a tough drug war, but with softer rhetoric."

"The Liberals are known to oppose from the left and govern from the right," said Dana Larsen, a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate for a West Vancouver riding and head of the party's anti-prohibitionist wing, eNDProhibition. "Now they're in opposition, and they will say that Harper's drug war is wrong. But they passed our current drug law in 1996 despite testimony from nearly everyone it was bad law, and marijuana arrests went up every year the Liberals were in power."

But while the national NDP supports harm reduction and legalizing marijuana as part of its platform, its national leadership has not embraced the issue, Larsen said. "The party is good on policy, and the party spokesperson on drug issues, Libby Davies, is great, but we haven't succeeded yet in getting the party to make ending the drug war a priority."

Davies was traveling on personal business outside the country and unavailable for comment this week.

Canada will have all summer to brood over the coming battles over drugs and crime, but with the Harper government a minority government, it will have to reach out to the Liberals, the NDP, or the Bloc Quebecois to pass anything. None of the opposition parties seems likely to support a "tough on drugs" package like that now envisioned by the Conservatives.

"They don't have the votes to pass this by themselves," said Oscapella. "The fear is what happens if they get reelected with a majority. Then they could walk all over everybody."

Opinion: Still seeking some relief

Localização: 
CA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Record (CA)
URL: 
http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070420/A_OPINION01/704200309/-1/A_OPINION06

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