Pubdate: Tue, 15 Oct 2002
Source: Medicine Hat News (CN AB)
Copyright: 2002 Alberta Newspaper Group, Inc.
Author: Brian L. Fish


I am responding to the recent letter by Toby Hinton who writes from his 
perspective of 13 years as a police officer in Vancouver's downtown 
eastside that legalizing marijuana will not solve drug problems". It seems 
that his experience of the worst aspects of the situation has done little 
to provide him with any real insight into the situation.

He states, for example, that one of the worst drug he deals with is 
alcohol, another one being nicotine.

I have no doubt that those whose arguments he seeks to rebut would 
certainly agree on that point. However, Hinton fails to recognize that the 
vast majority of people who use alcohol (as opposed to abuse) do so without 
ill effect.

True alcoholics are only a small portion of alcohol users and we have 
learned through history that a harm-reduction approach (education, 
regulation, licensing of outlets) has been far more effective than driving 
it underground, as in prohibition. As for nicotine, we recognize, too, that 
it is the most addictive of all the drugs and indeed cigarettes create a 
huge health cost. Why doesn't Hinton suggests the converse of his argument 
- -- that we prohibit these substances? Because he knows, or ought to know 
that such a cure was demonstrably worse than the disease.

Moreover, in talking of the worst aspects of addictions as he does, Hinton 
misrepresents the extent of the problem.

While, as he says, the situation may be much more complex than suggested by 
the letter he criticizes, I suggest that it is much more complex than even 
he, from his limited perspective as a beat cop, can imagine.

The fact is, for example, that heroin addiction in Britain was successfully 
dealt with for 80 years until Margaret Thatcher led that country into a 
disastrous U.S.-style drug war at which time deaths from overdose 
skyrocketed within weeks.

Britain now has the worst drug problem in Europe and Mo Mowlam,the former 
British "drugs czar," is now advocating legalization of all drugs. And many 
of their police, unlike the moralistically hidebound Canadian Police 
Association, have been advocating for at least decriminalization of 
marijuana. Hinton says "the key to helping an addict does not lie in 
unfettered access to cheap drugs.

The only real solution is to remove the drugs from the user's life." This 
tough-love approach does not work and is precisely the reason the war and 
drugs has been seen to fail and has given the United States an 
incarceration rate almost seven times that of Canada, and 10 times that of 
Holland. But no one on the legalization end of things is talking unfettered 
cheap access to drugs.

We are talking something much more sensible -- control, regulation, 
education (not indoctrination of the ridiculous DARE variety) and treatment 
for those who need it. With regard to marijuana, the vast majority use it 
with little or no ill effect and do not become addicted.

Only a tiny number do, and it is questionable whether even that is true 

Moreover, it is not a gateway drug, and in the words of the Canadian 
Senate, this is a crusade that has got to stop. It's time our police 
zealots stopped parroting the ideology of the the U.S. drug czar and the 
Drug Enforcement Agency. If you really examine their arguments, they are 
still just a sophisticated rehashing of some of the old "reefer madness" 
arguments and are becoming increasingly hysterical.

Brian L. Fish

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