Canada needs a new drug policy? This blog will explore some of the reasons why and some of the new directions that we need to consider to better address drug problems in our communities.  There is ample evidence that in a post globalization world and at a time of great change the institutions put in place 50 to 100 years ago to address drug problems in our communities may have come to the end of their life cycle. As this becomes more apparent new ideas and approaches are materializing from around the world and Canada could play a significant leadership role in facilitating innovation and change in drug policy. It could save a lot of lives, reduce a great deal of disease, suffering and crime and of course save a lot of tax dollars.

Transformation, however,  will not start in Ottawa. Canada’s drug policies will only begin to change and become more effective when individuals in communities start to connect the dots between drug problems in their family or neighbourhood or town or city and how current approaches actually prevent positive outcomes. Addiction is a public health issue and we need comprehensive health approaches to be available for those that develop drug problems. Organized crime is a criminal justice issue and we need effective and timely approaches to deal with these kinds of criminals.

The blog will explore ideas that are emerging globally that are having a remarkably positive impact on the health of individuals and communities and many ideas that show great promise if implemented.  Consensus is growing that the criminalization of people who use drugs is counter-productive to helping individuals and communities come to grips with problem drug use or drug addiction. Criminalization pushes individuals away from engagement in community towards the margins of society, increasing isolation and disconnection. A compassionate public health and community building approach reverses this process and provides opportunities for individuals struggling with addiction to regain a sense of meaningful involvement in community. Internationally there is an increased understanding of the inter-relationship of global economic forces and the proliferation of drug problems across societies that demands a more complex analysis than in the past.

Some jurisdictions are embracing drug strategies based on scientific evidence, public health, human rights and social inclusion in order to better address the complexities that the sale and use of mood altering substances presents for society. Several jurisdictions have decriminalized drugs as a way of ‘walking the talk’ of problem drug use being a public health issue as opposed to a problem for the police and the criminal justice system. I and many others believe that all drugs should be regulated and controlled in order to minimize organized crime involvement in the drug trade and allow for the development of a public health approach to drug problems. But regulating these substances is just one of the shifts in policy that could dramatically improve the situation in our communities. More importantly it is imperative that we begin to acknowledge and understand the social and economic forces that drive individuals to take refuge in substance use, the drug trade, or gang involvement – the forces that work against a greater connectedness among people and engagement in community life.

Globally a vigorous discussion is taking place about the drug problem, addiction, crime and corruption and the drug war. Canada needs to engage in this discussion. Canadian politicians all to often default to sound bites that they think will satisfy the voters rather than take the leadership necessary to engage Canadians in dialogue about the roots of our drug problems or the benefits that drugs can offer to many. Those who cast the ballots could vote for politicians who take leadership on these complex issues that affect our communities rather than trumpet the tired rhetoric of the drug war. Vancouver has been lucky to have municipal leaders (the last four Mayors have been advocates of drug policy reform) that do not shy away from a new discussion on drugs, addiction, mental health and community. We hope other politicians have taken note. People have used psychoactive substances since the dawn of time and this will continue to be a part of human culture. This blog is a small contribution to the fascinating dialogue taking place around the world about these issues.

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