Friday, October 28, 2011


Though some of the stats in the below article are not exactly spot on (there are no viewer than 22 new facility builds and  expansions in the works across Canada it provides a unique perspective, comparing the harms associated with the legal alcohol to the harms associated with the illegal pot. The author then frames the debate around the death of Amy Winehouse and other famous artists.   sheryl jarvis, Oct 2011

Iman Sheikh: Crime-policy lessons from the late Amy Winehouse

Andrea De Silva/Reuters
Andrea De Silva/Reuters

Amy Winehouse likely died of alcohol poisoning. Can Stephen Harper name a person who's died of a marijuana overdose?

Oct 28, 2011 – 7:00 AM ET | Last Updated: Oct 27, 2011 5:27 PM ET
As they say on Law & Order, the lab called. They found something. Amy Winehouse, the notorious British jazz sensation who died mysteriously in her London home on July 23, had a blood alcohol level of over five times the legal driving limit. That the coroner ruled it death by such a mundane depressant is actually a shocking piece of news considering the troubled singer had experimented with more drugs than the FDA. How ironic that the one legal and socially acceptable mind-altering substance she ingested finally did her in.
It’s a familiar pattern when it comes to celebrity death. Michael Jackson: the (legal) anesthetic propofol. Heath Ledger: oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine (all legal). Anna Nicole Smith: the (legal) sedative chloral hydrate. If all of these stars merely had been committing the crime of smoking pot, they’d still be alive.

Yet Stephen Harper’s Bill C-10 dictates tougher penalties for drug offences, including a potential doubling of sentences for growing drugs such as marijuana. Meanwhile, Manitoba and Ontario have actually loosened liquor laws this year. What’s wrong with this picture?

According to StatsCan, over 58,000 Canadians were arrested in 2010 for simple marijuana possession. This is a 14% increase over the previous year, and comprises over 54% of all drug arrests in Canada. All this for possession of a drug that has never produced a single clinically observed overdose death in human history.
Earlier this year, a report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy declared the war on drugs, started 40 years ago by former U.S. president Richard Nixon, an abject failure: “Arresting and incarcerating tens of millions of people in recent decades has filled prisons and destroyed lives and families without reducing the availability of illicit drugs or the power of criminal organizations.”

The war on drugs is also expensive — and getting more so thanks to the billions of dollars that Mr. Harper is pumping into it. Under his program, eight prisons across the country are scheduled to be expanded at a cost of $2.1-billion over five years. Add to this the immense cost of maintenance of facilities and looking after the prisoners. Parliamentary Budget Chief Kevin Page has said the new rules could raise total prison costs to $9.5-billion a year in 2015-2016 from $4.4-billion this year. It could also require the construction of as many as a dozen new prisons.

This is a Prime Minister who once made a name for himself talking about the need for smaller government. Want to make government smaller, Stephen Harper? The drug war is a really good place to start.
On Oct. 17, officials from Texas — a state not known for bleeding-heart policy-making — said the Canadian government’s crime strategy is futile. “You will spend billions and billions and billions on locking people up,” Judge John Creuzot of the Dallas County Court said. “And there will come a point in time where the public says, ‘Enough!’ And you’ll wind up letting them out.” Texas isn’t alone. According to a February report from Human Rights Watch, “Eight states — including New York, where laws were the most punitive in the nation — have repealed most of these mandatory-minimum sentences, and dozens of other jurisdictions are considering repeal or reform.”

Back to Winehouse, who is not alone: Alcohol consumption is involved in 30% of all suicides, 40% of all deaths due to accidental falls, 45% of all deaths in automobile accidents and — the kicker — 60% of all homicides. The numbers for marijuana are close to zero, zero and zero. Yet Bill C-10 would tighten the screws on the latter, not the former.

To borrow from the late singer, it’s time to send these ludicrous policies back to rehab.
National Post

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