Drug Policy Abuse: a condition affecting politicians across Canada

A new, debilitating psychiatric condition has been identified today by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. Sadly this condition – dubbed “Drug Policy Abuse” – affects a great many politicians across the country.

You’ve undoubtedly seen the symptoms. Politicians who resist change and disregard data. Who insist on being “tough” and sending a punitive message. Who refuse to discuss alternative approaches to conventional, decades-old drug policy, despite all the evidence of adverse physical, psychological and social consequences stemming from the current approach to drugs.

These are the signs of Drug Policy Abuse. And CDPC has developed a campaign to draw attention to this crippling condition.

Check it out the campaign here.

The good news is, treatment is available for those who are diagnosed and acknowledge that they have a problem. All it takes is an open mind and the recognition that good policymaking – no matter what the subject matter – requires frank and open dialogue informed by evidence. Like the fact that harm reduction and regulatory interventions improve life expectancy and increase the likelihood that problematic users will seek treatment. And that drug use doesn’t go up in jurisdictions that have decriminalized or legalized drugs.

Fortunately, we do have some bright lights of various political stripes willing to have the conversation. Federal parliamentarians who favour cannabis legalization include not only Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but also Conservative MP Scott Reid and NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies. The NDP’s official cannabis policy for 40 years – reaffirmed by current party leader Thomas Mulcair– is decriminalization. Elizabeth May’s Green Party would legalize marijuana and launch a public consultation on the decriminalization of all illicit drugs. Similarly, Liberal Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter defends the need for safe injection sites and favours bringing illicit drugs under a regulatory framework given that  “The current drug laws are not working.”

At the provincial level, Wildrose Pary leader Danielle Smith in Alberta is in favour of decriminalization of cannabis. In British Columbia, Health Minister Terry Lake points to the success of Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection site in preventing transmission of HIV and other blood borne infections, reducing overdose risks, and connecting drug users to services. And former Attorney Generals Kash Heed and Geoff Plant speak out about the need to regulate cannabis in BC and Canada.

Municipally, former Vancouver mayor Larry Campbell ran on a platform of implementing supervised injection sites, and city councilors in Toronto have lobbied for such a site in their city. Eight BC mayors including Vancouver’s Gregor Robertson, have called for the legal regulation of cannabis in Canada, as has Thunder Bay mayor – and former police officer – Keith Hobbs. Councillors and mayors at the 2012 Union of BC municipalities convention passed a resolution calling for the appropriate levels of government to “decriminalize marijuana, and research the regulation and taxation of marijuana.”

Outside of Canada, European politicians are actively supporting harm reduction efforts and Latin American leaders are demanding alternatives to criminalization and the punitive approaches to drugs over the past 40 years. Uruguay plans to legalize cannabis use for adults. Closer to home, two US states – Colorado and Washington – have done the same, thanks to ballot initiatives that passed thanks in part to key endorsements from public officials. More states will surely follow.

The point is, politicians don’t need to suffer from Drug Policy Abuse. There are jurisdictions exploring alternative approaches to the war on drugs. The conversation is happening.  Unfortunately, though, many politicians in Canada are scared of the conversation and have difficulty considering alternative approaches.

So for those who cling to outmoded models, it’s time to “Have the Talk”. Go to our campaign site to sign the pledge that you’ll reach out to your elected representatives if they have Drug Policy Abuse problem. The campaign site includes tools to tweet national party leaders as part of a larger conversation to address this nationwide affliction.

Check out the campaign, watch the videos and spread the word.

About Donald MacPherson

Donald MacPherson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and one of Canada’s leading figures in drug policy. In 2000 he published Vancouver’s groundbreaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy that precipitated a broad public discussion on issues related to addiction.