TWO private member’s bills on the touchy subject of drug use being put forward by a federal Liberal backbencher are both intriguing and a bit unsettling.
According to Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, we’d be better off not being criminally charged for possessing small amounts of so-called hard drugs like cocaine.
Erskine-Smith, like some medical officers of health, contends that people who use drugs only for “personal use” shouldn’t have to appear before a judge. With marijuana, a fairly socially-accepted “soft” narcotic, that’s been the case since the fall of 2018, as long as the amount an adult possesses is 30 grams or less.
The argument in favour of de-criminalizing a wider range of drugs, in small amounts, is that it might set the stage for more people being “diverted” to programs that would help kick their habit, rather than dragging them through already clogged courts and labelling them as addicts.
The approach has reportedly enjoyed some success in Portugal. Erskine-Smith’s bills are set to receive second reading this spring.
Under attack from Conservatives, Erskine-Smith has clarified that traffickers, mules and other criminals associated with the pernicious drug trade would still face prosecution.
Speaking of which, last week a joint task force of Northwestern Ontario police forces charged three Thunder Bay men with trafficking following the seizure of more than $122,000 in cocaine, crystal meth and other drugs. Then, on Friday, police in Thunder Bay held a news conference to highlight 32 arrests and $270,000 worth of drug seizures made since November through a multi-agency, anti-gang effort known as Project Trapper.
While the arrests and seizures are coups for police, they’re only the tip of an ice-berg: the demand for drugs persists in Thunder Bay and elsewhere.
An argument can be made to have police and the courts focus scarce tax dollars on major busts like those announced last week, rather than worrying about every Tom, Dick and Harry who, to put it bluntly, might be doing a line of coke at a party.
Presumably, savings generated by a sharpened focus could be funnelled into mental-health services. Very few people enjoy being addicted to anything. It’s why so many people try (and often don’t succeed) to give up coffee and tobacco.
The fly in the ointment, it seems, is that some voters might believe that the groundwork is being laid for drugs like cocaine and crystal meth to appear in licensed retail stores, the way marijuana is now sold. The government doesn’t want pot users to buy their drugs from dealers, so presumably it wouldn’t want cocaine purchases to be made that way, either. Think of the tax revenue it would lose.
The reality, though, is that pot purchases from street dealers continue, much to the chagrin of legitimate sellers, not to mention investors who have poured significant dollars into marijuana growing enterprises without receiving a decent return.
Here’s the part that’s unsettling: if your 20-something son or daughter is home from college or university, are you really going to ask them to pick up a pack of coke and meth along with some bread and eggs? Where is this heading, one wonders? Would Justin Trudeau, who was once on the bandwagon for pot, want to be known as the prime minister who thinks the truck-and-trade of criminals, like crack cocaine, is OK, too?
The tone of the Conservative party’s reaction to Erskine-Smith’s bills was a bit hysterical — using it as a chance to portray Trudeau as a shameless promoter of immorality, and so on. That’s just politics.
One paragraph in the Tory’s new release did stand out, though. “These drugs are extremely dangerous; they tear families and our communities apart, and do lasting damage to people who use them.”
That much is true. Another truth is that the way we’ve been battling addiction, as well as the flow of illegal drugs, has largely failed.