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West Coast Leads Push for Drug Reform in Canada

03/20/2014 05:39 EDT | Updated 05/20/2014 05:59 EDT
Don Bayley via Getty Images

While Toronto has been consumed by, and much of the world amused by, the antics of Mayor-in-name-only Rob Ford, a global movement is emerging that advocates alternative approaches for dealing with illegal drugs based on public health and human rights, rather than prohibition and criminalization.

And, just as Insite, North America's only legal supervised injection site, is located in Vancouver, it is perhaps not surprising that Canada's major contribution to the international discussion comes from the West Coast. Two former B.C. premiers and four former attorneys general agree with Vancouver, Victoria and five other municipal councils calling for legalizing and taxing marijuana.

It is perhaps equally not surprising that federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau chose Kelowna for his declaration supporting legalization and regulation of marijuana over decriminalization which only affects personal consumption and not the vast illegal trade behind it.

Trudeau noted that young people currently have easier access to marijuana than to cigarettes because they are regulated and require showing age identification for purchase. Marijuana dealers, and those selling other drugs, don't ask for ID.

Kerrisdale residents Ray and Nichola Hall know too well the tragic outcomes of easily accessible illicit drugs. Both their sons, now in their mid 30s, were addicted to heroin and other drugs. They were raised in one of Vancouver's most-exclusive neighbourhoods, proving that the drug trade and addiction have no boundaries.

"Presumably if heroin were legal and regulated it would become a lot more difficult to get which would be the point. That's what we want, for it to be more difficult to get as well as making it not so profitable for the black market," said Nichola, a retired University of British Columbia administrator, who with her husband and another couple founded the advocacy and family support group, From Grief To Action.

"I don't see why the same arguments about prohibition wouldn't apply for hard drugs as for alcohol. Prohibition encourages a black market and criminal gang wars," she said in a crisp English accent.

Anyone who tells former B.C. attorney general Geoff Plant that regulating marijuana isn't possible should watch out.

"The idea that regulation won't do away with the black market assumes that it is not possible to create effective regulation and it is absolutely possible to create effective regulation," said Plant who served in former premier Gordon Campbell's Liberal government.

"The idea that we should not move forward to tax and regulate marijuana because it is not going to put an end to the black market, because criminals will still be with us is illogical. What I'm trying to suggest is that we are trying to change a bad public policy for a better public policy.

"The fact that criminals may go and find something else to play with is unfortunate and probably true given human nature, but it's not a reason not to improve a drug policy," he said.

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