Proceedings of the Special Committee on
Issue 1 - Evidence, October 16, 2000 - morning sitting
OTTAWA, Monday, October 16, 2000
The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs met this day at 9:39 a.m. to
reassess Canada's anti-drug legislation and policies.
Senator Pierre Claude Nolin (Chairman) in the Chair.
The Chairman: Good morning, honourable colleagues, witnesses, representatives
of the media and other guests. I extend a special welcome to those who are with
us through radio, television and the Web. As you know, this is the first hearing
of this Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs that has involved the hearing
of witnesses. We have four more such hearings planned before Christmas, with 12
witnesses in addition to the four scheduled for today.
The subject of our study is Canadian legislation and policies pertaining to
illegal drugs. Are these effective? Are there better ways of combatting drug
use? What impact does drug use have on Canadian society? These are just a few of
the issues that the committee will be considering over the next three years.
While preparing the work plan for the study, each member of the committee
agreed to take a lead in one of the five broad areas of study. The Deputy Chair,
Senator Sharon Carstairs, from Manitoba, has accepted responsibility for
overseeing our inquiries into the legal aspects from an international
perspective. Senator Eileen Rossiter, from Prince Edward Island, is overseeing
our work regarding medical and pharmacological aspects. Senator Lucie Pépin,
from Quebec, is overseeing our work in monitoring ethical issues on the
standards and norms of behaviour in Canada. Senator Colin Kenny from Ontario is
responsible for legal aspects from a national perspective. Finally, I am
responsible for sociological, historical, anthropological, criminological and
geopolitical economic issues.
The Committee's goal is to engage the Canadian public in a serious dialogue
on this important issue. However, we have to start at the beginning, namely by
gathering as much information as we can. To do so, we will hear from renown
experts in a range of fields. At the same time, the Committee will consider the
best way of consulting with Canadians.
We intend to keep the public as informed as possible. Visitors to the
parliamentary Internet site will find our committee's Web site at www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp.
On our Web site you will find useful information on the committee's progress and
intentions and a list of links to related Internet sites.
You should also know that this morning we have made history. This committee
hearing is on the Internet through live audio feed. It is a first in the history
not only of this institution but also of this parliament as a whole. All the
hearings of this committee will be seen and heard not only through television
and radio but also through the Internet. It is also important to invite the
population who are listening to us through various media to contact us through
our e-mail address and supply any comments they have on our work or on any
information given to us through our witnesses.
Today, the committee will hear from four prominent Canadians. Our first
witness is Eugène Oscapella, the Executive Director of the Canadian Foundation
for Drug Policy. Next, we will hear from Professor Line Beauchesne from the
Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, followed by Professor
Neil Boyd from the Department of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in
British Columbia. Our final witness will be Doctor Mark Zoccolillo, a doctor of
psychology and pediatrics at Montreal's McGill University and Montreal's
Hospital for Sick Children.
Eugene Oscapella, barrister and solicitor, from Ottawa, completed
undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Toronto in 1974 and
received his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Ottawa in 1977. By
the way, that was a very good year -- that was also my year. He obtained his
Master of Laws degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science
in 1979. He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1980.
From 1980 to 1981, Mr. Oscapella served as a commission counsel with the
McDonald Commission of Inquiry into the RCMP. From 1982 to 1985 he was Director
of Legislation and Law Reform for the Canadian Bar Association. Since 1985, Mr.
Oscapella has been an independent advisor to government and private sector
interests on Canadian legislative and public policy issues.
Mr. Oscapella was associated with the Law Reform Commission of Canada over a
14-year period and was the first chairman of that body's drug policy group. Mr.
Oscapella is a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, an
independent organization created to examine alternatives to Canada's drug laws.
For several years, Mr. Oscapella sat on the policy committee of the Canadian
Criminal Justice Association. He lectures and has been published widely in
Canada and abroad on drug policy issues.
Mr. Eugene Oscapella, Executive Director, Canadian Foundation for Drug
Policy: I am delighted to be here. I am delighted that this hearing is being
broadcast on the Internet, because this is an international issue. It is not an
issue just for Canadians but one that affects the entire world.
I should like to deal with two points today. This is a long, three-year
inquiry. You will have a great deal of time to examine many issues in great
detail. I should like to look at two in particular: one, prohibition; and two,
who profits from the present system. I think those are key elements you will
have to deal with in your three-year study.
You have often heard it said that drugs are evil. I would suggest to you that
it is not drugs necessarily that are evil but the policies we have built around
drugs. Unfortunately, prohibition is one such policy. The current policy of
criminal prohibition that forms the lynchpin of our current drug policies in
this country, as in many other western countries, is the fundamental mistake we
make. Drug policy reform in this country will have no possibility of succeeding
as long as we retain prohibition as the lynchpin of drug policy.
The second point, which I mentioned briefly, is the issue of who profits from
prohibition. I believe there is a phenomenon called living off the avails of
prohibition. It is not only organized crime that benefits from prohibition; many
other organizations in society do as well. I should like to deal with that
Getting back to the point of prohibition, we introduced prohibition in this
country slightly over 90 years ago. The first drug prohibition in this country
was in 1908. We need to look honestly at alternatives to prohibition. We need to
ask ourselves, first, if prohibition has ever worked. In the United States,
prohibition of alcohol did not work. It led to the consumption of more dangerous
forms of alcohol. It led to tens of thousands of people going blind from alcohol
poisoning. It led to tens of thousands of people dying from alcohol poisoning.
It fostered organized crime and was one of the major impetuses for the growth of
organized crime in the United States.
The prohibition of drugs is causing similar problems. Ask yourselves if the
prohibition of drugs has stopped the flow of drugs into Canada. In its 1999 drug
report, the RCMP suggested that the supply and demand for drugs was constant
right now, but likely to increase in the near future. That report speaks of high
purity levels of drugs coming into the country. A high purity level means
essentially that there is a glut of drugs on the market. An organized crime
agency in British Columbia suggested that there are about 10,000
marijuana-growing operations in British Columbia at present. A police blitz in
April shut down about 89 of them. The vast majority of those operations still
remain. The RCMP admit it is a very attractive way to make money and that even
otherwise law-abiding citizens are quite content to get involved in this
Have we stopped the supply of drugs in the country? No. That is painfully
obvious. Prohibition has not stopped the supply of drugs, nor, I believe, has it
even seriously dented the flow of drugs into this country. As a matter of fact,
it has made it far more attractive to sell drugs, and it has given people far
more powerful incentives to bring drugs into the country.
Just to look at the ingenuity of smugglers these days, last month, inspectors
cracked 174,000 duck eggs coming into this country and found that 1,700 of them
contained heroin. That was a large heroin seizure, I think about 150 kilograms.
Last month, forces in Colombia discovered a sophisticated submarine being
constructed in Colombia, 200 miles away from the ocean. That submarine was
capable of carrying 200 tonnes of cocaine at a time. They think they had Russian
engineers helping to build the submarine. The entire U.S. consumption of cocaine
for one year is about 300 metric tonnes, so that submarine was capable of
supplying about two-thirds of the U.S. cocaine habit for one year. The
Colombians were going to transport the submarine to the ocean and use it as a
The United Nations is winding down its efforts in Afghanistan to try to get
farmers away from opium cultivation. The UN says that despite its efforts to
convince Afghan farmers to switch to wheat and other food crops, Afghanistan
remains by far the largest opium supplier in the world.
Even if we were to effect a major seizure of drugs, what are the police
telling us? After the seizure of heroin by cracking 174,000 duck eggs, the
Victoria police warned merchants in the area that that would cause a temporary
shortage in the availability of the drug and would lead to an increase in crime
because drug addicts, who are price-insensitive, will continue to want to get
the drug and they will have to pay a higher price for it. They will have to
commit more crimes in order to buy that drug. When we do manage to do something
that may have an impact on the supply of drugs in the country, it actually
creates more crime.
I think it is obvious that prohibition does not accomplish what it seeks to
do. It does not reduce the supply of drugs. Nor can it be shown that it reduces
the harmful use of drugs. I would argue that it greatly increases the harmful
use of drugs. Therefore, besides not doing what it is intended to do,
prohibition also imports tremendous other harms to society. The most obvious, of
course, is the creation of the black market in illicit drugs. By banning
something that some people want, we are basically saying that only criminals
will supply this drug. That makes drugs very attractive to sell, and the price
skyrockets. This product, which costs a few dollars a week to produce, can be
sold for thousands of dollars to supply a habit for a week on the streets of
this country. It attracts criminal organizations. Because drugs are so expensive
to buy, individuals have to turn to crime in order to pay for their habits. A
cocaine habit, which could probably be fed for a few dollars a week, or a heroin
habit, which could probably be fed for a few dollars a week at the true cost of
production of those drugs, may cost over $1,000 a week to maintain. No wonder
people have to turn to crime in order to feed their habits.
The dynamic of prohibition has led to increasingly potent forms of drugs
being available. Just as we saw an increase in the potency of the alcohol that
was being sold under prohibitionist schemes in the 1920s, we are now seeing
opiates, for example, evolving from opium to heroin to high-potency forms of
heroin. It is a well-known dynamic, if you look at the literature on drug
policy, that when you criminalize something, it leads to an increase in the
potency of the drug.
Bolivian peasants have been chewing coca leaf as part of their culture for
hundreds of years. We have, through prohibition, ensured that coca leaf is
processed into cocaine and sold at very pure levels in this country and in other
countries of the world. That is a by-product of prohibition. It makes the drug
use far more dangerous, in the sense that we have increased potency. Also, we
have no social norms built around the use of the very potent forms of the drugs.
Prohibition fosters the spread of disease because the high prices force users
to use the most efficient method, and that means injecting. If users fear being
caught with syringes on them, they may go to shooting galleries where they might
be supplied with contaminated equipment. We do not give drug users adequate
education about how to use drugs safely, because, according to some people, that
would be seen as condoning drug use. Not only does that foster disease among
drug users, it also puts entire communities at risk.
Prohibition creates an atmosphere where honest drug education suffers. There
is a tremendous amount of censorship in drug education in this country. That is
something that you will have to deal with, because drug education is what leads
people to hold their beliefs about drugs. You will have to deal with that as a
committee in order to go ahead and have an honest and rational discussion about
drug policy in this country.
Our drug laws have made drug users very distrustful of authority and very
hard to reach in many cases, so even those we want to help are very difficult to
help because they do not trust authority figures.
We divert enormous resources from where they might do some good -- in social
policies, anti-poverty programs, adequate housing, drug treatment -- and we use
them in the criminal justice system. In effect, through prohibition, we have
converted a housing policy into a prison-housing policy at the cost of about
$60,000 a year.
We know that prohibition enriches criminal organizations around the world. In
1986, the U.S. President's Commission on Organized Crime said that drug
trafficking was the most widespread and lucrative organized crime operation in
the United States, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of that country's organized
crime activity. The Independent newspaper in England reported last year that the
drug business is now the world's third largest economy. The RCMP has said that
drug trafficking remains the principal source of revenue for most organized
crime groups in Canada. Prohibition is enriching organized crime around the
Canada, through supporting prohibition, is supporting the destruction of
potentially democratic countries around the world. Terrorist groups in Colombia
and in other parts of the world are using drug trafficking as a vehicle to get
money to buy arms to continue their insurgencies. We are seeing it right now in
Colombia, and we will see it elsewhere in the world. The former chief drugs
officer of Interpol stated in 1994 that drugs have taken over as the chief means
of financing terrorism since the end of Cold War because there is no longer the
ideological support for terrorist groups around the world. Therefore, we are
funding terrorism, and we are destroying the potential for democracy in some
nascent democratic countries around the world.
I think you all realize the potential for organized crime to corrupt or
coerce government institutions, even in countries like Canada. We certainly see
it in Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico, and we are seeing it in the United States,
Canada and Australia. Just to give a few recent examples, in one of the papers I
produced for you, you will see a number of documented examples of police
corruption, including RCMP corruption. In one case in particular, a court in
Portugal found that a former RCMP officer had, on 49 separate occasions,
assisted organized crime with information that enabled criminals to get drug
shipments into Canada. If the U.S. consumption rate of cocaine is 300 metric
tonnes per year, the Canadian consumption rate is probably between 20 and 25
tonnes per year -- about one shipping container that fits in the back of a
transport truck. If that one corrupt officer helped organized crime on 49
different occasions, you can imagine how many shipping containers of drugs he
might have facilitated getting into this country.
The Wood inquiry in Australia about corruption in the New South Wales police
force found that there was an overwhelming body of evidence suggesting the
existence of close relationships between the police and those involved in the
supply of drugs. There is an investigation going on in Los Angeles right now
called the Rampart investigation. In 1994, the Mollen Commission in New York
uncovered widespread corruption among New York City police related to the
enforcement of drug laws.
We have the recent statement by the newly appointed RCMP chief that organized
crime will target Parliament. That is probably not a surprise to those of us who
work in the field, but I do not know if it should be a surprise to
parliamentarians either. He says that, for the first time in this country, we
are seeing signs of criminal organizations that are so sophisticated they are
focusing on destablizing certain aspects of our society. Those organizations
have become sophisticated in large part because we have enabled them, through
prohibition, to enrich themselves and become powerful.
As a Canadian citizen, I am troubled by that. This is not Colombia. This is
Canada. Last year, a sitting member of Parliament, Yvan Loubier, was put under
24-hour RCMP protection along with his family because he was being threatened by
drug gangs who were upset with him for trying to protect his farmers from being
coerced into growing cannabis in their fields. That happened to a sitting member
of Parliament in this country. What amazes me is that there was so little fuss
about it publicly. We see that in Colombia all the time. I wonder how much
longer it may be before, even in this country, we will see the same option as
the one given to Colombian politicians, namely, what they call silver or lead --
that is, take the money or take the bullets. I do not think it is hysterical to
suggest that organized crime will attempt to corrupt or coerce people. We
certainly know they do it with the police. At least one member of Parliament is
reported to have said in the newspaper that he checks under his car for bombs. I
do not know how true that is, though.
We know that the trade in drugs, which is a product of prohibition, fosters
violence. We must distinguish in discussions between the trade in drugs and the
use of drugs. You will often hear it said that drugs are linked to violence.
Generally, that is not the case. Alcohol is strongly correlated to violent
behaviour, but for many of the other drugs, violence is not an issue. It is the
trade in drugs, not the use of drugs, that fosters violence. We are seeing a
proliferation of weapons in the drug trade. We know that. I prepared a study for
the Department of Justice, reviewing the literature on this. It is quite evident
that the drug trade is leading to a proliferation of weapons even in Canada. A
criminologist in the United States has suggested that, because the drug trade is
violent, the kids who are involved in the drug trade in schools are bringing
weapons to school. That makes the other students fearful, so what do they do?
They bring weapons to school -- not because they are involved in the drug trade,
but because their peers have weapons at school. Through prohibition, we are
encouraging violence in the drug trade, and that is leading to the arming of
students and the greater levels of violence in schools.
We read about the shooting of the Montreal journalist Michel Auger a few
weeks ago. That is the sort of drug trade violence that you get. People do not
like to have their activities exposed. The motorcycle gang wars in Quebec, which
have led to 150 people being killed in recent years, and the violence in
Edmonton and in Vancouver, are drug trade violence -- violence linked to the
trade in drugs, which is fostered by the prohibition of drugs.
Prohibition is leading to a reduction in the civil liberties of all
Canadians. I am not just making a soft plea for people who happen to use drugs;
I am making a plea for all Canadians. As someone who does not use drugs, my
rights are being threatened because we are giving additional powers to the
police to tackle the war on drugs. Look at the authority we give police to break
into our homes -- under a search warrant, of course -- at three o'clock in the
morning, using military style weaponry, with SWAT teams wearing body armour. The
police can break into your home, point a gun at you, arrest you and take you
down to the police station because you may have drugs in your house. We have
body cavity searches. The Supreme Court of Canada has condoned those things as
being necessary in the pursuit of the war on drugs. We have extensive electronic
surveillance and drug testing. There is probably no area where democratic
societies move closer to authoritarian states than in the enforcement of our
In one case last year, the Supreme Court of Canada said that subjecting
travellers crossing the Canadian border to the potential embarrassment of what
they called loose searches, bed pan vigils and body cavity searches is the price
to be paid in order to achieve the necessary balance between an individual's
privacy interest and the compelling countervailing state interest in protecting
the integrity of Canada's borders from the flow of dangerous contraband
materials. We have vilified drugs to the extent where we allow the most intimate
of body searches.
Racism is involved in the enforcement of our drug laws.
There are people in chronic pain in this country who cannot get access to
appropriate pain management because physicians are afraid to prescribe
painkillers. Physicians cannot prescribe certain drugs, or they are afraid that
they will be prosecuted, or they have been indoctrinated into believing that
some drugs are inherently evil and cannot possibly have medicinal benefits.
We are militarizing policing. That is most evident in the United States, but
the growth of ERTs, emergency response teams, or SWAT teams, is largely a
consequence of the war on drugs. The drug trade is violent, so the police need
bigger weapons in order to deal with the drug trade. The drug trade then gets
bigger weapons to deal with the bigger weapons that the police have so we get
this escalating pattern of violence in society. That is becoming more and more
common in the United States, but it has also happened here. Canada has also had
situations in which those teams are being used for ordinary policing as well. We
then have heavily armed militarized police, in body armour, carrying out normal
police functions. That represents much more an authoritarian society than a
We have unnecessary criminal records for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.
Ultimately, there are more subtle effects. What about disrespect for the law?
When 65 per cent of the Canadian population is saying that we should
decriminalize marijuana and 92 per cent is saying that we should make it legally
available for medicinal purposes -- and those figures are from recent polls from
this year -- do you not think that that encourages disrespect for the law? It
encourages disrespect for the police and makes their job more difficult. It
certainly makes their legitimate policing functions much more difficult.
The most problematic issue for you, honourable senators, is that you must
deal with the effects of decades of drug propaganda in this country. To go out
and hold an honest discussion about drug policy, you have to blow away the fog
of propaganda that swirls around the issue of drug policy here. That will be
your greatest challenge. That is why a three-year mandate is an adequate time
period. We have had decades and decades of misinformation about drugs.
About five years ago, a member of Parliament who had chaired a committee for
a year and a half stood up in the House of Commons and said that the marijuana
that is available today is 15 times more potent than it was 10 years ago, and
that today it is as potent as cocaine was 10 years ago. First, those are
nonsensical statements. The second statement makes no sense whatsoever. You
cannot compare cannabis and cocaine; they are fundamentally different drugs with
different properties. That statement made no sense whatsoever. For marijuana to
be about 15 time more potent today is a gross exaggeration of the situation. An
RCMP member who wrote in Policy Options magazine suggested that, on average, the
new marijuana is 700 per cent stronger than it was in recent days. In their 1999
drug report, the RCMP said that the average potency of the cannabis they had
seized over the past years is about 6 per cent. If either the 700-per-cent
figure or the 15-times-more-potent figure were accurate, then the marijuana that
was available before the 1990s would have been so weak that it could not
possibly have had any psychoactive effect whatsoever. That is the sort of
propaganda we have to deal with.
There is also the perennial characterization of drugs as inherently evil. The
prohibition of drugs in this country occurred because of misinformation and
hysteria. If you look at the diatribes by Emily Murphy about cannabis in the
early 1920s, you will see that when we criminalized cannabis in 1923, there was
no medical, scientific, rational justification for criminalizing that drug. We
criminalized opium probably, primarily, as a racist measure directed at the
Chinese in Canada in 1908. Cannabis was criminalized federally in the United
States by and large as a response to Mexican immigrants in the United States. It
was a convenient way of getting rid of them. Cocaine was associated with blacks,
and in the United States you did not want blacks to have cocaine; it allegedly
gave them superhuman strength. There were a great many racist, illogic and
non-scientific bases for the establishment of our current drug laws.
We have spent the past 80 or 90 years trying to pretend that there was some
rational justification for criminalizing some drugs and not criminalizing
others. If we wanted to argue for criminalizing drugs to protect the health of
Canadians, I would ask why we do not throw Canadians in jail for being
overweight. Obesity is one of the most significant health problems facing this
country now. It will cost this country billions of dollars. Why do we not throw
people in jail for eating improperly or failing to get exercise? Why not? Why
have we chosen to criminalize a certain behaviour?
The second issue I mentioned earlier involves those who live off the avails
of prohibition. Many people profit from prohibition. They will not come before
this committee and say that the drug laws should stay the way they are because
that is how they pay their mortgages. However, that is the reality of the
We know that organized crime and terrorist groups make an enormous amount of
money through the criminal prohibition of drugs. That is a given. Who else
benefits? Members of the legal profession, defence lawyers, prosecutors -- they
all pay their mortgages by defending or prosecuting people for drug crimes. The
police get tremendous resources and tremendous employment not only for enforcing
drug laws, but also for pursuing the people who commit crimes in order to pay
the black market price of their drugs.
The police make enormous profit from the war on drugs. Many police honestly
believe that the war on drugs is the way to go and that the prohibition of drugs
is the way to make things work. I suggest that many of them also know they are
making a lot of profit. Military equipment-makers are now militarizing the
police. Politicians get elected -- and I am hoping this will change as a result
of the education that this committee will bring to the country -- by promising
to be tough on drugs. Politicians make money on prohibition just as the police
do, just as lawyers do, and just as many other groups in society do.
There is a huge prison industry and a privatized prison industry,
particularly in the United States. We will see more and more pressure to bring
privatized prisons into Canada. What better fodder, what better clients for
prisons than drug offenders? It is the new slavery. In the United States, as you
may know, slavery is not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution as a condition of
penal servitude. There is an explicit convention in the U.S. Constitution for
that. We are seeing privately run prisons hiring out prison labour at
ridiculously low wages. Other companies lay off workers in order to hire prison
labour. It is the new slavery in the United States. Many inmates of American
prisons are there because of so-called drug crimes.
One argument you will hear is that ending prohibition means the uncontrolled
legalization of all substances and the absence of any meaningful controls. That
is not what drug policy reformers are looking for. They are looking at a range
of regulatory options that can reduce drug-related harms, the harms associated
with the consumption of some drugs, without importing the damage that
prohibition brings. That is what we are speaking of. To cast the debate as one
between prohibition and legalization is overly simplistic, and you will get
You will hear people say that not using the criminal law to deal with drugs
amounts to condoning drug use. The official policy of the Government of Canada
is laid out in its 1982 statement called "The Criminal Law in Canadian
Society," issued when our Prime Minister was Minister of Justice. That
policy states that the criminal law should be used as an instrument of last
resort only when other measures have failed. We have not done that. We have used
criminal prohibition as the instrument of first resort. We are going against our
own policy. Besides, just because we do not criminalize something does not mean
we approve of it. We do not need to turn everything we disapprove of into a
You will hear that ending prohibition will lead to an explosion of drug use.
I do not believe there is evidence to support that.
You will hear that, even if we wanted to move away from prohibition, our
international treaties will not allow us to do so. That is pure nonsense. First,
each of our three major drug control treaties has clauses allowing for the
denunciation of those treaties. Canada can back out of those treaties. If the
treaties are causing so much harm through forcing the implementation of certain
policies, we should back out. Second, each of those treaties has a provision
making the treaty subject to the constitutional norms of the country applying
the treaty. We have constitutional human rights in this country. We have a
Charter of Rights. We have a number of constitutional norms that we can use to
justify altering the terms of the treaty. Finally, we have human rights
conventions that are being ignored in the pursuit of the war on drugs.
You will also hear that we cannot change the drug laws because the United
States will not allow us to do so. Countries around the world are moving away
from prohibition. Yes, there is the practical problem of living next door to the
elephant, but that does not mean that we cannot change.
I remind you that, in the 1970s, 11 American states decriminalized possession
of marijuana, turning it into essentially a civil, ticketable offence. About 30
per cent of the American population now lives under a regime where possession of
cannabis is not a criminal offence.
You will hear above all that ending prohibition is a surrender. If nothing
else, that indicates to me that we really are fighting a phoney war, that it is
a surrender to end prohibition. Ending prohibition is not a surrender. Ending
prohibition is the adult way of saying, look, we have made a mistake and we will
change things; we will not operate that way anymore.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Oscapella, for your comments, which
will certainly help guide the future work of the committee.
Honourable senators, since Mr. Oscapella did not read his brief, I ask your
permission to file this brief as a part of our work.
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Kenny: Welcome, Mr. Oscapella. Do you believe there is anything
inherently wrong with drug use?
Mr. Oscapella: I do not believe there is a society in the world that does not
use drugs in some form. There is something wrong with drug use if it harms you.
There is something wrong with drug use if it harms other people. But there are
many things that we do in society that harm ourselves, overeating being probably
the most common one in this country. Many things we do in this society cause
harm to other people, overeating being an example again.
Senator Kenny: Are you looking at me when you say that?
Mr. Oscapella: I am just trying to answer the question directly. Some drug
use can be harmful. Some drug use can be beneficial. We know that drugs have
been used for thousands of years in certain medicinal ways. I do not think drug
use is inherently harmful. Some forms of drug use can become harmful. I would
not encourage anyone to use a drug that has the potential to cause harm.
Having said that, I will call myself a hypocrite because I drink alcohol and
I use caffeine. Caffeine can be a dangerous drug. Caffeine and cocaine are both
central nervous system stimulants; as drugs, they are not that different. We
happen to have acculturated caffeine into use in society so it is generally not
a harmful thing, except that in the old days people used to sit around coffee
shops and plot against the government, so it was considered harmful to have
There are safe means of using drugs, but I would also discourage people from
using drugs given the potential for drugs to cause harm in some cases. There is
an inherent hypocrisy in that, because I suspect that most people around this
table, most people in this room and certainly the vast majority of people in
this country use drugs. Most of the drugs they use happen to be legal, but in
some cases they can be very harmful.
Senator Kenny, I know the work you have done on tobacco issues. You know that
that drug can be extremely harmful. It is probably one of the few drugs where
any use at all can be very problematic, and that is because of the potential
addictiveness of nicotine.
Senator Kenny: You have described for the committee many of the problems that
are related to drugs being criminalized. I was trying to get at this in my first
question: Tell us about the problems we will have with drugs if they are
Mr. Oscapella: We will continue to have people who use drugs in a harmful
way. That is a given. Whether under a prohibitionist system or a system of
alternative forms of regulation, we will never rid ourselves entirely of harmful
That said, I do not see many downsides to certain forms of regulation. Not
every drug will be regulated in the same way. You must look at the individual
properties of the drug and the potential for harm, and then you assess what
mechanism might be the most effective one for diminishing the harmful use of
that drug. I do not believe that alternative regulatory schemes could be
anywhere near as bad as the prohibitionist scheme.
One issue that arises is whether ending prohibition will lead to a massive
increase in levels of drug use. In a sense, that is not the right question or
the right issue to deal with. The issue is whether it will lead to increases in
harmful drug use. The prohibition of alcohol may have led to a decline in
consumption initially, but the consumption that occurred became much more
harmful. That is what we are seeing right now in Canada with drugs.
The prohibition of drugs -- and I do not think the evidence is all that clear
-- may have kept some consumption down, but the consumption that does occur is
much more dangerous because people do not know the potency of what they are
getting or the quality of the drugs, and they have not had proper education
about discouraging the harmful use of drugs. We have not said, if you are going
to do it, do it as safely as possible. We are seeing that problem now with
ecstasy. People are using drugs they assume to be ecstasy that are in fact
nothing like ecstasy; they are different drugs entirely.
The issue is whether the level of harmful use would increase. That is the
primary issue. And I do not think it would.
Frankly, because of the extent to which the drug trade has inculcated itself
into the world economy, there is no doubt that abolishing prohibition and taking
away the profitability of the drug market would have an impact on world trade.
There was discussion about this in a meeting in London this March and about the
impact of money laundering on the world banking and financial systems. It is a
simple reality that that will be one of the consequences. We have built up this
enormous scheme of money laundering and profitable prohibitionist enterprise
around the world, and if we knock the support out from under that, it will have
an impact on world trade to some extent.
Senator Kenny: Do your views change at all when it comes to children? I am
thinking in particular of the addictive nature of drugs and the concern that we
all have that young people will be attracted to them before they are fully
formed and have all the facts available to make a decision. Do you feel we
should have a different standard in terms of how we treat people who deal with
drugs vis-à-vis children?
Mr. Oscapella: Certainly. You can still regulate access to drugs by children.
We have not done it all that successfully under a legal system with alcohol and
tobacco, but we have had some success in that. You want certainly to discourage
children from using drugs and to make drugs as unavailable as possible, but I
would argue that under the current prohibitionist system we create tremendous
incentives for people to sell drugs to children because of the profit. If you
can make $1,000 per week selling cocaine to someone, there is a heck of an
incentive to sell that kid that drug. If there were a regulated market in that
drug, it would be much less profitable to sell to children.
For example, if we had tougher enforcement of our tobacco laws concerning
sales to minors, that would probably discourage many outlets from selling
tobacco to minors because the profit would just not be there for them to do it.
They would not risk selling tobacco to minors if they knew that enforcement
would be directed at them, because the profitability of selling tobacco is not
that great. If tobacco were illegal and cost $1,000 a pack, if we were to sort
of make it equivalent to cocaine, you can bet that many people would be willing
to sell tobacco to kids and that the law would not have any impact on it.
Yes, we can prohibit, if we want to use that word, access to children, and it
will not be entirely successful, but the incentive to sell to kids will be much
less under a regulatory scheme than it is under a prohibitionist scheme.
The Chairman: That is a very interesting line of questioning, because we have
a solution for that, too.
Senator Carstairs: I should like to take you down a path you touched on but
did not go down very far, and that is the attitudes that people in the medical
field have to the use of drugs. Certainly the evidence that was presented to us
in our study of palliative care and quality end-of-life care indicated that
there was a great reluctance on the part of some physicians to provide adequate
amounts of pain medication to those in intractable pain because the physicians
fear the laws and, I think, in some case are completely unaware of what these
drugs can do. Do you think that that attitude has in fact limited the ability of
Canadians to get adequate relief from pain, both those in the dying stage and
those suffering from chronic pain?
Mr. Oscapella: Absolutely. I was at a conference last November sponsored by
Reach, and the whole theme of the conference was the lack of access to
appropriate pain control. Many physicians are concerned about that. We have all
grown up in this era where drugs were evil. I grew up thinking that cocaine and
heroin and marijuana were terribly evil substances, evil in themselves, and I do
not think doctors are immune from that sort of propaganda either. I am not
saying that I embrace these drugs, but I think that probably many physicians
bought the party line on drugs or bought the prohibitionist line on drugs. In
some cases, they will not even think about the possible therapeutic value of
these drugs because they have it in their mind that these drugs are inherently
bad. In other cases, they are afraid to prescribe them because they do not want
the police telling them how to practise their profession, and that is in effect
what we have done with prohibition. We have allowed the police to tell
physicians how to run their business.
Senator Carstairs: I want to focus more on another area, the concept of
international treaties and Canada's obligations. Even those countries that are
dealing with the drug issue differently than Canada are not using the
denunciation clause in those international treaties. They have chosen to go via
the route of just ignoring the clauses, if you will, and saying, "Well,
this is how we are going to deal with it in this country."
Why have they all failed at this point to denunciate those clauses? And does
that not make it even more difficult for Canada, since we share this huge border
with the United States?
Mr. Oscapella: The shared border is a practical problem, no doubt. As I said,
there are examples of 30 per cent of the American population living under a
regime of essentially decriminalized access to or possession of marijuana.
I think countries are afraid to denounce the treaties. I think Canada is.
Those treaties are essentially a product of American pressure over the past
umpteen years. If you look at the history of the development of those
drug-control treaties, it is clear that they are American-instigated. Countries
do not like to run up against the United States. I believe we are approaching
the point where we have a critical mass of rational analysis by several
countries around the world, and there is discussion now of denunciation amongst
drug policy reformers in my community.
There is also discussion of the countervailing effect of the human rights
conventions. Human rights conventions, human rights instruments such as the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights, the conventions on the rights of children, prohibition
against torture and inhumane prison conditions, are, by and large, being ignored
in the pursuit of the war on drugs. We can argue that certainly the human rights
conventions should be accorded, if not greater status, at least equal status
with the current conventions.
However, there is a practical reality. The United States is the bully on the
block when it comes to prohibition, no doubt, and they will push hard. However,
the European Union is moving away from these purely prohibitionist regimes.
Australia is moving away. I think we can take intelligent measures to start to
move away from that and work in concert with those other countries.
Senator Carstairs: For example, look at the Australian pull back. When the
United States says, "You pull back and do not move into that area,"
that makes it far more problematic for Canada, given our geographic location.
After all, Australia is down there all by itself. It is an isolated island
nation. That does not bode particularly well, I would suggest, for our foreign
Mr. Oscapella: That is right. My Australian colleagues used to joke with me
that the big advantage they had over Canada was the Pacific Ocean.
The United States exerted considerable pressure on Australia in the
mid-1990s, when Australia wanted to start a heroin maintenance program.
Australia is now going ahead with heroin maintenance programs. It is quite
correct that the United States essentially threatened to boycott purchases of
opium from Tasmania, which is the world's largest supplier of legal opium for
There is no doubt that the United States will try to throw its weight around.
I am not in any way suggesting that you are using that as an excuse here -- you
are asking it as a line of inquiry -- but often I have had it said to me that
nothing can be done because the United States will not allow such a thing. Some
organizations will bring up that argument when they lose all the other
arguments. I wish to stress, senator, that I am not accusing you of taking that
position. It is a fair line of inquiry and it is something we must address, but
I believe the critical mass is coming. I believe this committee is about getting
people to think rationally about this issue, and that is what public education
Senator Pépin: Some very contradictory thoughts came to mind as I listened
to your presentation. You talked about the adverse effect of Canada's drug
policy. You also spoke of corruption in the ranks of politicians and police
officers. You talked about the propaganda designed to discourage young people
from using drugs.
However, you take us back in time when you refer to the money people make by
selling and using drugs. I recall that when I was a young girl, gambling of any
kind was illegal in Quebec. Today, we have casinos, but back then, all gambling
was illegal. People who gambled were arrested and put in jail.
You argue that from a financial standpoint, decriminalization would make
drugs less profitable. Casinos and provincial governments are making a fortune
today with lotteries of all kinds. Since gambling is now legal, the governments
are raking in the profits from gaming operations.
Many questions come to mind. You spoke of the adverse affects of Canada's
existing drug policy, but you have not proposed any alternative solutions.
I have read your papers and some conference reports in which you claim that a
number of experts support decriminalization. However, are they in favour of
legalizing drugs? What kind of examples can they give us? Do they all agree on a
particular course of action?
Another thing that concerns me about drug use is that we often hear people
say that if cannabis were decriminalized, adolescents who start out using
marijuana would be tempted to try stronger drugs. I would appreciate your
Mr. Oscapella: First, what we have done with casinos is to make them articles
of employment. They have become the solution in Windsor, Ontario, and in Hull,
Quebec. We have actively promoted gambling as a source of revenue, as a source
of employment. That is different from an alternative system for dealing with
drugs that does not promote drugs. I am not speaking of promoting the use of
Senator Pépin: No, but they will make as much money.
Mr. Oscapella: I am not sure they will make as much money. The UN estimates
that organized crime around the world is making approximately U.S. $400 billion
a year, or Can. $600 billion a year, from the illegal trade in drugs. First, the
money will not be going as much. In the casinos we have around here, I am sure
there is some diversion of funds to criminal enterprises. That is inevitable.
However, the level of illegality plummets precipitously. We do not enrich
organized crime, we do not empower organized crime, and we do not give it the
incentive to corrupt people.
The question was asked whether, if we were to make access to cannabis easier,
it would lead to the use of other drugs, the so-called hard drugs. That is the
gateway theory. I believe that is another argument many people have used because
they feel they have lost the argument on criminalizing cannabis. I think it is
fairly well established that the way cannabis is used by most people is not
significantly harmful, so the next line of argument is that cannabis is not so
bad, but it leads to other drugs that are bad. That gateway theory has largely
been discredited. Certainly, the people who come here as witnesses can deal very
well with that issue.
I do not know if the committee has invited John Morgan from City University
of New York, but he has written extensively on the mythology of the gateway
theory. There is ample evidence to show that making access to cannabis easier
will not lead to other types of drug use. In fact, the vast majority of people
who use cannabis never go on to use other drugs.
Is there unanimity on the solutions? I say no, there is not unanimity on the
solutions. That is because many people who approach drug policy reform approach
it from different perspectives. People who see drug addicts dying on the streets
of Vancouver from AIDS, hepatitis C, endocarditis or drug overdoses will look at
specific measures dealing with injection drug use in the downtown east side of
Vancouver. They will not be concerned so much about the civil liberties issues
associated with cannabis. People have their own reasons for wanting drug policy
reform. Physicians who deal with chronic pain will have another perspective;
therefore, the solutions they pose may be different.
I would like to suggest that you look at this issue holistically. Your
committee is looking at the broad picture, not just at the interests of
physicians or the concerns of street workers in Vancouver. This committee is
looking at broader issues, the impact of our drug policies on society, and what
you must do is cobble together the concerns that various reformers have and
suggest a mechanism that will address those concerns. That mechanism must
address the interests of people who are concerned about civil liberties, the
corruption of democratic institutions and the spread of terrorism.
The solutions that are proposed are often different, but people working in
the same field quite often agree on the types of solutions. Amongst some groups,
there is fairly widespread acceptance of the evil of prohibition, its impact on
human rights and civil liberties, for example, and its impact on the spread of
terrorism around the world. Therefore, my answer is no, there is no unanimity,
but when you look at the whole of the picture you can actually form a sensible
and rational policy by cobbling together the various needs and interests.
The Chairman: I have one question, Mr. Oscapella, on human rights. I am sure
you are familiar with the Appeal Court of Ontario decision in Clay.
Mr. Oscapella: Yes, I testified in that case, actually.
The Chairman: How do you deal with that decision juxtaposed with
international treaties that use the civil liberties issue to contravene their
obligations? If the courts said that the use of marijuana for recreational use
does not breach section 7 of the Charter, how would you deal with that?
Mr. Oscapella: That was a court of first instance. As I recall that decision,
to simplify it greatly, the judge said that there is no evidence that cannabis
is necessarily bad, that the way most people use the drug is not problematic.
The judge also said that there was no rational basis for criminalizing cannabis
in 1923 and there is still no rational basis for this law. However, a judge is a
judge of the law and it is Parliament's job to change the law. That is the net
effect of the Clay decision, as I read it. Many courts are reluctant to invoke
the Charter in an area that is contentious. Judges are human, too, and do not
wish to overstep the limits of their authority.
I took the Clay decision to be a statement by the judge that essentially the
law is an ass and that it is not the judge's job to change the law, it is
Parliament's job to change the law. That may well be, but it may be that
Parliament has decided or that successive governments have decided to leave the
issue to be decided by the courts. That is what we are seeing with the recent
Ontario Court of Appeal decision in Parker and others. The courts are gradually
carving out some sensible drug policies. That way, the government cannot be
blamed, even though the Americans are now complaining about Canadian court
The Chairman: The Parker decision is instructive in that we know that the
government will not appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Parliament will have
to deal with section 56 or wait for regulations. Do have you a comment on that?
Mr. Oscapella: The Parker case essentially says that the discretion given to
the Minister of Health to decide whether someone should have access to cannabis
or any drug for medical purpose is so broad a power that it is unconstitutional.
Parker recommends a restructuring of the legislation so that the minister does
not have an unfettered discretion. I assume that Health Canada is addressing
that issue at present.
Senator Kenny: If drugs are made cheap and available, you will have less drug
use; save police, legal and correctional costs; reduce crime; improve human
rights; and eliminate terrorism. Is that an oversimplification of your position?
Mr. Oscapella: It may be somewhat unfair to simplify the essence of what I am
saying as that. I am not speaking of making drugs readily available. I am
speaking of alternative forms of regulation, which would mean some form of
regulation. I am not suggesting a low price for drugs. As with nicotine, price
is an important factor in deciding whether children smoke.
What you need to look at is something like intelligent taxation policies on
some of these substances. You may want to deal with these drugs through a
medicalized system. We are trying to get heroin maintenance programs to
supplement methadone maintenance programs. That would be a medicalized system of
access to those drugs.
I am reluctant to characterize my position as being in support of making
drugs cheap and available. The price of drugs would drop -- there is no doubt
about that -- because cocaine is not expensive to produce. However, government
has a role to play in encouraging less harmful forms of drug consumption.
We do not talk about safe cocaine use. In fact, there is such a thing as safe
cocaine use. Honourable senators will be speaking to Patricia Erickson, who has
written extensively on the subject of cocaine use. Cocaine can be diluted to the
point where it has about the same psychoactive effect as a cup of coffee. One of
the few illegal substances I have ever had was a cup of coca tea, which is tea
made with coca leaf. It is a mild stimulant, much like a cup of coffee. We can
encourage the use of less harmful forms of the substances, and coca tea might be
readily available in the same way that we would encourage the use of low alcohol
beer for those who, despite admonitions, drink beer.
You are correct on many of the other points you made in summarizing my
Senator Kenny: This is certainly what I heard you say. I thought you went on
at some length about describing how drug prices are artificially high and that
availability determines the price. I am taking the logical conclusion from that,
that you would like to see prices lowered and drugs more readily available.
Mr. Oscapella: If one of the options you choose is to legally regulate access
to drugs, the way we do with alcohol, you will want to discourage harmful
consumption of those drugs.
If it costs $20 to buy a bottle of spirits, $17 of that amount goes to taxes,
and $3 goes to the actual product. Taxation policies are used to elevate the
price to the point where you discourage consumption. However, you do not want to
elevate the price to the point where you import the harms associated with
prohibition, such as the funding of organized crime, the ability to corrupt
police and governments, et cetera. Without having to set the price at $1,000 a
week for a supply of cocaine, you can effectively discourage consumption with
Senator Kenny: Perhaps I should rephrase the question. Could you describe for
the committee what you see as the ideal solution for Canada? What picture would
you draw if you had a blank page?
Mr. Oscapella: My primary goal would be to remove the prohibition on
marijuana. The key thing is honest education about all drugs, including, but not
limited to, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, PCP and LSD. We have misleading
education in this country, and that is harming people. We need to encourage
people not to do things that hurt them. That is basically a Participaction
program for drugs. In the same way we have encouraged Canadians to become fit,
we need to educate them about the value of not using drugs in a harmful way. We
have had some success with education programs about legal drugs. We are not very
successful with our programs on illegal drugs because in many cases we do not
tell the truth. There has been a significant amount of propaganda about drugs.
That is the linchpin.
Second, you must deal with the issue of why people use drugs. That is a much
more difficult issue than just saying prohibit or legalize drugs. Why do people
use drugs in a harmful way? All of us around this table could go out and get
ourselves so incompetent on perfectly available legal drugs that we could not
function in society, but we do not do it. There is something about our lives,
personalities, bodies, physiology or genetic structure that tells us that we do
not have to do that.
Let us find out why people who use drugs use them. Is it because of abuse,
poverty or homelessness? When we start dealing with those issues, we will need
to worry less about the harmful use of drugs. I believe you will find that many
factors that lead drug use have nothing to do with the legal status of drugs.
Until we deal with those issues, there is not a scheme that will work.
First, education. Second, deal with the root causes of harmful drug use.
Third, remove cannabis prohibition. There is no rationale for criminalizing
cannabis. Discourage harmful use of cannabis with education. Maintain criminal
laws for impaired driving, as we now have. There is a criminal offence for
driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which would include cannabis.
Maintain some criminal laws about using drugs in a way that harms other people
directly, such as drinking and driving, or smoking and driving, or whatever.
In 1908, both heroin and cocaine were legal in this country. Some people had
heroin problems and some had cocaine problems. However, those people basically
functioned in society. Of course, some did not, just as we have skid row
alcoholics right now who cannot function. Yet, some of those people were able to
function. Their drug use was normalized in society. I should like to look at
treatment and education and deal with why we have harmful forms of drug use.
Many people will disagree with the exact mechanism. Will we sell cocaine on
the shelves of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario? I doubt if that is a
reasonable prospect in the near future. However, I think that in 15 years hence
it will not be so unreasonable that, with proper education and with a move away
from the propagandization of drugs, we could not have a regulated market in
those things. As long as we assess the real, deeper question of why people are
using drugs in a harmful way, we do not really need to worry if drugs are
available. Again, all of us around this table can go out right now and get
ourselves completely incompetent on perfectly available legal drugs, but we do
not do it. To use a colloquial phrase, our lives are together enough that we do
not need to do that. Let us deal with making sure that people's lives are
together enough so that they do not need to resort to drugs to alter their
perception of reality around them.
The Chairman: If we have other questions, I suggest that we ask the witness
to supply us with the answers in writing.
Mr. Oscapella: Of course, Mr. Chairman.
The Chairman: Therefore, they could form part of our proceedings.
Senator Rossiter: Which terminology would be more acceptable to the public as
a whole when we talk about drugs: legalization or decriminalization? In a way,
they mean very much the same thing; however, their connotations are different.
Mr. Oscapella: Legalization is often used in a pejorative sense. People
attach different meanings to those two words. In 1988, The Economist magazine,
which is a widely respected publication, called for drugs to be legalized,
controlled and discouraged. When they spoke of legalization, they were speaking
of a regulatory framework. They were not speaking of the absence of any sort of
regulatory controls on drugs. To many of us, decriminalization means the absence
of a criminal penalty. There may still be civil penalties, for example for
public consumption of a drug, or you might still allow the police to ticket
people, as has been suggested. You may be aware that in recent years it was
suggested that cannabis be decriminalized so that it would become a ticketable
offence, but one for which you would not get a criminal record.
Legalization is often used in a pejorative sense. It is used on people like
me who are accused of being "legalizers." In other words, I am accused
of wanting to make drugs readily available to everyone's child, of wanting to go
ahead and expose the entire country to the evils of drug use. That is not the
case at all.
The language I would prefer to use is alternative means of regulating drugs.
I would not call it legalization or decriminalizing. I would speak of looking at
alternative means of regulating drugs in society. That is really what we need to
look at. Right now, prohibition is the linchpin of our policy. We need to look
at the alternatives between the notion of absolute prohibition and the notion of
absolute, uncontrolled legal availability.
Senator Rossiter: It sounds more appealing to say that there will be
alternative means to regulate drugs. After all, there is regulation of those
drugs, which we call medicines, that we now use.
Mr. Oscapella: Exactly.
Senator Rossiter: It would give a better sound to it.
Mr. Oscapella: Unfortunately, we have to be very careful when we speak about
drug issues, because the words trigger all sorts of things for different people.
In most people's minds, the word cocaine conjures up a notion of an evil drug
that causes untold damage to society. We have been indoctrinated to the point
where certain words trigger certain very powerful associations. That is one of
the very real problems that this committee will have in dealing with these
issues. You will have parents saying to you, "So you want to make cocaine
available to my kids," or something like that. That will happen. The
language you use is very important. We must civilize the language in the debate.
The Chairman: Honourable senators, the people listening to us over the
Internet can make some comments on the testimony of Mr. Oscapella. I will
circulate those comments to all of you and, if we agree, we can follow up with
specific questions to Mr. Oscapella from the comments of our Web auditors.
The Chairman: Our next witness is Lise Beauchesne, a doctor of political
Science specializing in jurisprudence and government and an associate professor
in the Department of Criminology of the University of Ottawa. She is the author
of many briefs and articles as well as of three books on the prevention of drug
abuse: Les sports et la drogue, co-authored with Éric Giguère in 1994,
Légaliser les drogues pour mieux en prévenir les abus in 1996 and L'abus des
drogues, les programmes de prévention chez les jeunes in 1986.
She was the cofounder and first chair of MAGE, the Mouvement pour des
alternatives à la guerre à la drogue, and is a member of GREP, the Groupe de
recherche sur la production de l'ordre.
Dr. Beauchesne is also a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for Drug
Policy and has been for many years a member of the board of AITQ, the
Association des Intervenants en toxicomanie du Québec. Welcome Dr. Beauchesne.
Dr. Line Beauchesne, Professor, Department of Criminology, University of
Ottawa: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. In essence, my presentation will follow up on
the questions raised earlier by Professor Oscapella. When undertaking a study of
this scope, it is important to first review the situation and identify the
problems that present themselves. Professor Oscapella identified some of the
main ones. However, a second question needs to be asked at this time, namely
which social values do we wish to espouse by way of a drug policy. The questions
raised by senators Pépin and Kenny brought to light the fact that the whole
issue of values immediately springs to mind when we ponder our strategy.
The subject of my presentation is setting public policy on drugs: a question
of social values. What do we in Canada want? This question will affect our
perception of prevention, drugs and treatment. For the purposes of this
presentation, I will be referring to the Le Dain report. When this report on
cannabis was released, three commissioners presented a majority report, and two
others, namely Ian Campbell and Marie-Andrée Bertrand, a minority report. Yet,
the dissention was not over cannabis as such or its harmful effects. The
commissioners all recognized that cannabis had few harmful effects and that it
did not promote dependence. Nevertheless, three different reports were released.
The dissension stems primarily from different visions of the values that should
underlie a drug policy. I will refer to the report to illustrate the three
positions that can be taken on drug use.
The first position, based on legal moralism, is that advocated by Ian
Campbell. This public policy approach founded on legal moralism justifies the
current prohibition and resulting repression on the grounds that it protects
common values. This is the dominant position seen in the Protestant, Anglo-Saxon
and American culture in which prohibition is rooted. Logically, this position is
legitimate. Briefly put, the government is perceived as having the
responsibility of establishing common values which are then imposed on society
with a view to achieving optimum social harmony. If everyone thinks the same
way, then there will be fewer problems.
Ian Campbell championed this position in his report. I would like to read you
a brief excerpt justifying his stand on cannabis.
It seems to me to be an unassailable proposition that the majority may
properly prohibit through the law conduct that is manifestly or disturbing to
them whether or not that conduct inflicts an injury on any particular person
beyond the actor. This principle is recognized on our laws against public
nudity. There is every reason to think that the public use of cannabis is
offensive and disturbing to the vast majority of Canadians. There is even more
reason to think that public use by young people is particularly offensive.
Hence, it appears not inappropriate that such behaviour should be forbidden by
...To whatever extent youthful experience of intoxication predisposes to
chronic adult intoxication or acts to limit the full and healthy development of
human potential, it lessens the capacity of the individual for a full, rich and
creative life and lessens his potential contribution to his society...
...But it seems to me that recently we have been far too little concerned
with the consequences of placing too many rights and freedoms on the shoulders
of the young.
Therefore, as we can see from Mr. Campbell's position, he advocates a
continuation of the ban on marijuana on moral grounds. He argues that:
Even though this product is not as harmful as it is believed to be and even
though the Le Dain Commission has shown that it would be relatively harmless if
its use were regulated some other way, in the name of legal moralism and for the
sake of moral values, use of this substance should be criminalized, and to an
even greater degree then is currently the case.
What problem does legal moralism present? What common values are at issue
here? For centuries, philosophers have been seeking to identify common values
that bind members of society. Certainly everyone can agree on the quest for
happiness, but when people begin discussing the means to achieving happiness and
what happiness means to different people and what people view as their
priorities in their relationships with others, whether we like it or not,
diversity becomes an issue. Legal moralism assumes that this diversity will not
be a factor. In truth, legal moralism is an attempt to impose dominant values on
other individuals. While there is no question that recognizing many values makes
it harder and more time-consumer to achieve a democracy (anyone accustomed to
attending meetings, and you members in particular, know that democracy is a
time-consuming process), I do not think that we can pay short shrift to
democratic values by having the State impose the same values on everyone.
The second position, held by the majority of the Le Dain Commission members,
is based on legal paternalism. Public policy based on legal paternalism
justifies current prohibitions on the grounds that the State has a
responsibility to protect non-independent persons, particularly young persons.
This position is prevalent in countries where the Catholic culture dominates and
where experts, primarily medical experts, protect individuals who do not know
The members of the Le Dain Commission agreed that while it may not be the
State's role to impose a common morality, the State did nevertheless have a duty
to protect non-independent persons and for that reason, in particular for the
sake of protecting young persons, they recommended only that the use of cannabis
This position is somewhat more complex that the previous one in that it begs
two questions. Firstly, what is a non-independent person? And secondly, what
does the term "protection" mean? Certainly some members of society are
more fragile than others and the State should protect them, but one needs to be
careful in attempting to define the term "non-independent person."
Historically, it has long been believed that the working class could not
tolerate alcohol as well as members of other social classes. The current
thinking is that Blacks do not handle drugs as well as Whites, just as it was
long believed that women were less successful when it came to managing their
emotions and their lives. Moreover, women were only recently recognized as
persons under the law. Prior to that time, they were non-independent persons.
I am merely saying that we need to exercise caution when attempting to define
a "non-independent person," so that this does not become mere window
dressing, or an excuse to ignore people's living or social conditions or the
fact that they could be independent if they had the means or given some
recognition. Therefore, a person who, if given the means, could become
independent is not a non-independent person. That person is not under the
protection of the State.
This brings us to the question of young people and to the meaning of the term
"protection." For example, if I want to teach my child to look both
ways before crossing the street, it is clear that in the short run, if I see the
child playing in the road, I will yell out, even though I will not continue the
pattern until such time as that child becomes an adult. I will not stop my child
from crossing the road until he reaches the age of 18 years. Rather, I will
expect that one day, he will be independent enough to cross the road on his own.
Therefore, protecting someone may mean that in the short term, one is obliged
to use coercive means. However, this is certainly not a policy. When this
approach is applied to drug use, criminal law can be viewed in the short term as
a solution to managing situations that cannot otherwise be managed. However,
when drugs are the issue, to view criminal law as a public policy is like
forbidding a child to cross the street until he is an adult and, once he does
become an adult, make it a crime to cross the street because that implies
setting a bad example for young people. That is more or less what is happening
From a legal standpoint, the argument makes no sense. It is like saying that
adults cannot drink wine and drive a motor vehicle because that sets a bad
example for young people. I think there are other ways than resorting to
criminal law to prepare young persons to become independent.
Invoking criminal law is a last-resort solution when the need to protect the
relationship between individuals presents itself. It should not be used as a
means of educating young persons. I think there are more timely ways of
achieving this objective.
In terms of the third position taken by Anne-Marie Bertrand who advocated the
legalization of cannabis, this brings us around to the whole question of values
touched on during the discussions with Professor Oscapella. From the standpoint
of vocabulary, two distinctions need to be drawn.
Legal liberalism is not the same as economic liberalism. Economic liberalism
implies that market forces are allowed to prevail and the strongest triumphs. We
all know what this ultimately leads to.
Legal liberalism, on the other hand, implies that the government maintains
some responsibility for preserving individual autonomy to the maximum extent
possible. Later on, we will see what this means with respect to drug use.
It is also important to distinguish legal liberalism from libertarianism,
that is from the political ideas of Proudhon and Bakouine who rejected all
government regulatory authority. Legal liberalism is something entirely
different in that it recognizes that the government has some measure of
A public drug policy based on legal liberalism is founded on the premise that
the government's role is to maximize opportunities for each individual to be a
full citizen and to ensure that criminal law is never used. This position is
dominant in traditionally Protestant European countries where strategies aimed
at reducing crime increasingly lead to existing laws being called into question.
What exactly do I mean when I say that invoking criminal law is always
considered a failure? I mean that when a society believes it can use criminal
law to correct a certain behaviour, somewhere along the line, either in terms of
prevention or treatment, the approach it has taken has failed. If the use of
criminal law is always viewed as a failure, then the following question will
always be uppermost in our minds: What did I not do which made it necessary for
me to resort to criminal law? This question must always be borne in mind.
When criminal law is viewed as a solution, we lose sight of what it is really
meant to be, viewing it instead as policy. It would be the same as if I
considered it normal to raise my child using punishment, believing that by
punishing him, the message will get through; what the child understands is that
once he gets older, he will be able to change the course of events. I am not
convinced that by using this approach, the message is truly understood.
When criminal law is viewed as a failure, a person is always left to ponder
what prompted the use of this course of action over a period of time in order to
protect other individuals.
From the standpoint of drug use, what does legal liberalism imply in terms of
government responsibility? To answer that question, one must consider the harm
reduction approach. As you may have heard about it over the past few years, the
harm reduction approach to drugs developed as a policy approach, particularly
since the advent of AIDS. I would even venture to say that this approach is as
old as education itself because, from a strategy standpoint, it is aimed at
teaching a person how to use something while at the same time minimizing the
harmful effects of that product.
A prime example of the harm reduction approach to drugs is Operation Red Nose
which works on the premise that, during the holiday season, people are going to
drink to the point where they will not be able to drive, and steps must
therefore be taken to minimize to the maximum possible extent the harmful
effects of drinking and driving.
Basically, the focus is on prevention and education and, in the case of drug
use, of minimizing the harmful effects. As Quebec's Yvon Deschamps once said:
One does not have to be poor and sick. One can be simply poor, or simply sick.
The two do not necessarily go hand in hand.
In what way is the harm reduction approach associated with legal liberalism?
The aim of this approach is to reduce high-risk use and to reduce the negative
consequences of problem use.
The harm reduction approach is rooted in legal liberalism. It relies on the
principles of pragmatism, that is on the belief that drugs are here to stay, and
of humanism, that is on the belief that drug users have rights like any other
citizen. The government accepts the existing situation, seeks to maximize
opportunities for each person to benefit from the rights of citizenship and
In a context of legal liberalism, the government has certain responsibilities
where drug use is concerned, the primary one being to act to reduce high-risk
use by ensuring a safe environment for drug consumption. This means that the
State must adopt regulations to control product quality. If necessary, these
regulations may lead to a modification of some of the components or growing or
manufacturing conditions of a drug to reduce its toxicity. Regulations must also
ensure that the marketing of a drug is accompanied by proper consumer
information, including precise labelling. Regulations governing the distribution
of a drug are also essential such that, if necessary, its availability can be
restricted to certain locations or clienteles.
The second responsibility of government is to reduce the negative
consequences associated with problem use. This is achieved by means of the
following: ensuring the availability of the funds needed to set up a varied
range of treatments; ensuring the availability of the funds needed to train
workers in the field so that they can provide the best possible treatments; and
ensuring the availability of the funds needed to pursue research in this area to
improve understanding of the products, the risks associated with different forms
of use, methods of use by different populations and the best treatment for the
different needs. I will not go into policy details at this time.
In conclusion, I would like to stress that in order not to legitimize the
current ban on drugs, it is important to analyse current harm reduction
strategies associated with legal liberalism and to acknowledge, in so doing,
government responsibility, so that consumers can reduce high risk behaviour.
From the standpoint of legalization, on listening to your questions earlier,
it quickly becomes clear what a drug policy should be based on. What legal basis
will be used to ensure that abuse prevention becomes the primary objective? This
will clearly need to be decided, otherwise you will be constantly battling all
sorts of problems during the course of these hearings.
The Chairman: Doctor Beauchesne, you have given us much food for thought. I
will take the liberty of putting the first question to you. Several of our
leaders in Canada, as well as those responsible for enforcing our laws, will
tell us: "We understand what Dr. Beauchesne is saying, but Canada is not
the United States and Canada is not waging an American-style war on drugs. Our
approach is much more balanced. Our focus is on education." I recall
meeting with an RCMP officer whose job it was to go to schools and speak to
students. We advocate a balanced approach. Would you agree with that?
Dr. Beauchesne: Depending on circumstances, policies and the parties in
question, we advocate an approach that balances legal moralism with legal
paternalism. Let me give you two examples of this. With your permission, I will
refer to Quebec data, because I am more familiar with that province.
Quebec has adopted a policy on alcohol which calls for 15 per cent reduction
in alcohol consumption. The permanent committee on addiction prevention, which
advises the Government of Quebec on drugs, found that the funds and energy spent
by the Quebec government had resulted in a decline in alcohol consumption among
persons who were already responsible drinkers, but had had no effect on problem
The objective of achieving an overall reduction in alcohol consumption is to
deliver a moralistic message to the effect that abstinence is the ideal
lifestyle. In other words, if people did not drink, then life would be perfect.
This is not the message that we should be conveying. Rather, the emphasis should
be on reducing problem drinking. In order to achieve this objective, the
government must develop strategies specifically targeting problem drinkers. The
committee was able to demonstrate that while the Quebec government had adopted
the highly moral objective to reduce overall alcohol consumption and had
invested substantially in achieving this goal, it had failed to have any impact
on problem drinkers. Consumption by members of this group did not decline,
whereas consumption in fact declined among people who were not considered part
of the high-risk group, namely people who used to drink a glass of wine with
dinner and who now have given up the habit.
With respect to drugs, a certain ambivalence between moralism and paternalism
is also apparent. While the stated objective may be education and treatment
strategies, abstinence continues to be an underlying ideal, regardless of
whether drug use is managed or not. Often, confusion reigns. Today, it is still
difficult to develop many treatment programs for drug users. Why is this?
Because the prevailing sentiment is that ideally, access to such programs should
be granted only to users committed to ultimately achieving abstinence. However,
a person admitted to hospital is not told that his ulcer will be treated only if
he agrees to change his eating habits and lifestyle. He is not told: You will be
treated only if you can prove that over the past three months, you have stopped
eating certain foods. Only then will you be treated, otherwise, you will be left
to die in the street. This kind of moralism results in an entirely different
kind of logic to treat drug use. Even though this logic has certain
paternalistic connotations which influence treatment and prevention strategies,
our policy actions where drugs are concerned are dominated by legal moralism. In
fact, drug legislation is rooted in legal moralism.
The Chairman: You are telling us that while treatment strategies and policies
may seem diverse, essentially they are based on moralism or, to a lesser extent,
on legal paternalism and that in both instances, this is the wrong approach. No
real thought is being given to the values on which a balanced approach should
Dr. Beauchesne: I would not go so far as to say that, in both cases, the
wrong approach is being taken. I do not think that the whole values issue is
being put on the table. Well-intentioned policies are falling short of the mark.
However, we cannot discount the question of values. Should a drug policy impose
certain values, if necessary, on society? Are young people better protected by
the use of strict criminal law? Does the State have certain obligations to
minimize the risks and problems associated with drugs? These questions must be
addressed. Laws are rooted in moralism. Legal moralism is the sole justification
for current legislation. As long as we continue to look to these laws to guide
our actions, these moral foundations are likely to skew any other objectives
that we claim to have.
Senator Kenny: Earlier in your testimony, you spoke in the context of your
role as a mother. Could you describe to us how you think the conversation would
go in your child's home and school association if you went to it and proposed
that the government should restrict its involvement to quality control,
education programs and treatment programs and should intervene only when drug
users abused public peace?
Dr. Beauchesne: If the State intervened only when drug use posed a threat to
others, I think this would be sending a much more coherent message to my
children. First of all, it would enable me to speak about real drug policies,
whether it be with respect to prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco or something
I would then be able to tell them that the government's objective is to make
available, as it does with alcohol, options in terms of the use of soft drugs --
whether in the case of alcohol or other drugs, there are different kinds of uses
-- and to impose restrictions in certain instances.
Am I going to wake up one morning and lecture my children on drugs? No,
because that is not my style. My children are growing up and as they become more
capable of absorbing information, the amount of information thrown at them also
increases. I do believe, however, that it would be easier for me, as an
educator, if our society did not remain silent, or if it did not convey messages
designed to frighten when all the while I am trying to teach my children to be
Consider the following example. I believe many of you are familiar with the
fifties and sixties. You will recall that pre-marital sex was taboo back then.
Sex was something that happened only when people were married. When a young girl
became pregnant, she left town to deliver her baby in some secret location.
People continued on with their lives as if nothing was amiss. AIDS has forced us
to talk about sex and to admit that reality is quite different. People knew that
then, but did not what to admit it.
The same is true of drugs. To say that young people will not be offered drugs
is false. To say that they will not find themselves in situations where they
will be forced to make some choices is false as well. I for one prefer to talk
to my children about drugs so that they learn to handle themselves in difficult
situations and so that they do not rebel because they think I do not know
I recall that when I was a young girl in the sixties, people would say that
if you drink, you will end up a wino living on the street. However, when you
grow up and come to realize that if you have a drink, you will not necessarily
end up like the street drunk, you tell yourself that what people were telling
you all along about drinking may not be true, even though they may have had some
sound advice to pass along to you about prevention. Because some of what they
told you was so far out in left field, you end up throwing the baby out with the
bath water, so to speak.
In short, when it comes to education, an approach aimed at making young
people independent rather than one that focuses on prohibition and restrictions
would help me considerably to be more consistent in terms of teaching my
children about drug use.
Senator Kenny: The direction of my question was more with regard to how you
think the parents of the children in the school would react to that proposition.
Do you think you would be well received, or do you think you would have a
difficult time with them?
Dr. Beauchesne: I have held many conferences for parents in school settings.
Unfortunately, it is very hard to get parents to come to school for these
conferences. I talked to small groups of between 15 and 20 people.
My approach is pretty much the same in each instance. I ask them what they
want for their child or what they think can happen to him in today's world. It
is well known that the majority of young people will have an opportunity to try
drugs, and will probably do so in high school. I ask them if they think their
child will be an exception and fall into the minority group and whether they
want their child to be an exception. I talk to them about their hopes and
aspirations for their children.
We discuss what they want for their children and wonder what kind of policy
the government has in place either to facilitate or not facilitate matters. I am
not saying that after three hours, people leave convinced that drugs should be
legalized. Besides, that is not my objective. My goal is to get them to think
about the best way of preventing abuse. After talking to parents in a room for
several hours, they are pretty well convinced that criminalizing drugs is not
the best solution.
Senator Carstairs: Prior to entering politics, I was a high school teacher. I
have taught family life education, drug education, and anti-smoking programs. I
believe that most of them failed. They failed, first, because attitudes within
the school structure are very diverse. Family life education is perhaps the most
difficult subject of all. The spectrum ranges from parents who say, "I
cannot teach sex education in my home, so please teach it in the school,"
to parents who say, "Do not teach my kids sex education because that will
teach them to be promiscuous."
The second problem faced in the education milieu is that many teachers do not
want to teach those things. It is entirely inconsistent for a teacher who smokes
to teach an anti-smoking program. The kids all know that he or she smokes in the
back room. The students know more about their teachers than does the school
We place such emphasis on changing education policies, but how will we make
Dr. Beauchesne: My views on this are similar to those of Dr. Oscapella and in
fact they tie in with the aims of this committee. I believe that until such time
as the public is educated and changes some of its perceptions, fear will
continue to be the dominant emotion.
Let me give you an example that illustrates what you just said. I have worked
with high school students between the ages of 13 and 16 from upper class
backgrounds. They were entitled to attend university for one week. I repeated
the experiment twice and both times the results were the same. I was using a
60-page Department of Education paper entitled, "Les drogues, des choix à
faire." My goal during this week was to initiate a dialogue on drugs with
these young students. I met with their parents on the Saturday to explain my
approach to them. I informed them that this was a golden opportunity for them to
discuss drugs with their children and that each day, I would be discussing eight
pages of this paper with their children. When the young students showed up on
Monday morning, I asked them if their parents had told them anything about the
training they would be receiving. Every student except one -- and there were
around 60 students in all -- informed me that their parents would not be
bothered to read the government paper and that if I told them that occasional
drug use was not a serious problem, they had the right to leave.
Therefore, it is not easy to impart different information to people. As I see
it, a considerable effort must be made to impart this information and to counter
the fears spread by the media, sensationalism and disinformation campaigns. This
is most likely one of the principal tasks that your Senate committee needs to
take, namely finding mechanisms to impart this information. In this respect,
your newly-created committee has a valuable role to play.
Senator Carstairs: Therefore, you agree that any educational component must
deal with the entire community rather than just young people?
Dr. Beauchesne: In my book on drug abuse prevention programs, I focused on
those program components that are critical to getting a message across to young
Three conclusion could be drawn from this study. Firstly, it is important to
talk to young people about different kinds of drugs and about the messages
imparted by prescription drugs, alcohol, and illegal drug advertisements. Young
people make certain connections, even if adults do not. If they get the
impression that drug use is dealt with differently, then the message conveyed is
watered down considerably.
Secondly, the study found that it was essential for the person conveying the
message to students in the classroom not to be a so-called expert. Young people
are quick to understand that their teacher is the person who passes along
information to them.
Teachers tell them about proper nutrition, about health care and about the
importance of self-esteem. All of a sudden, no one at school is prepared to talk
about drugs without bringing in an expert. Young persons are more receptive to
certain messages when they come from the adults with whom they interact.
Thirdly, the message delivered at school carries more weight when it is
similar to the message conveyed at home. These were the three basic findings. We
cannot scrimp on drug abuse prevention programs without this having some impact
Senator Carstairs: One direct program that was initiated in the province of
Manitoba was very broad-based. That anti-drug education program included coffee,
alcohol and nicotine. It lasted two weeks before the parents came down in spades
because many of them smoked, they all used alcohol and they all drank coffee. To
have cannabis, cocaine and heroin in the same educational program as coffee,
alcohol and nicotine was totally unsatisfactory to them. Yet, if we are to give
our young people some sense of what drugs are all about, we have to have a
broad-based drug strategy. How do we cross that barrier?
Dr. Beauchesne: In answer to your question, in my brief, I refer to a drug
abuse prevention program, Prospective jeunesse (1996), which targets primary
school age children. Teachers are taught how to speak to their young charges
The main program component involves shattering the myths educators have about
drugs. At the same time, the program stresses that just because children are in
primary school, this does not mean they do not hear about drug problems in the
news or that they do not have questions about others topics, including sex. The
point is not to plan specific programs for primary school students to discuss
drug problems. Rather, it is a question of ensuring that teachers are ready to
answer questions that children may have, just as they are prepared to answer
other questions of a social or educational nature.
The Prospective jeunesse program is very costly to run. Organizers look for
teachers who are willing to volunteer. Initially, the program is presented in
the schools, with some teachers agreeing to receive the appropriate training. If
the schools agree to it, the teachers are then trained. This has been the
procedure followed for the past several years. However, the going is not easy,
because the program is controversial. Nevertheless, it shows that there are
other ways to talk about drugs and that when legal and illegal drugs are spoken
of in the same breath during a presentation on prevention, an individual's
personal values about drugs are called into question. Education is the key to
change, not information about products. It has long been believed that a police
officer who comes to school to show students illegal products was serving an
education purpose. Programs of this nature are of interest to curious children.
More needs to be done. We need to ask ourselves the following questions: what
constitutes high-risk use, harmful effects, and so forth? We need to talk about
the black market and the lack of control over product quality. Young people can
be educated about these facts in school, even in today's environment. However,
the biggest obstacle in our path is the lack of support from the school system
for this kind of prevention program.
The Chairman: We will have to agree that the brief will be included in our
Would the legalization of cannabis, for example, lead to an increase or
decrease in consumption of this particular drug?
Dr. Beauchesne: To answer that question, let me give you two examples. In
1979, legislation was passed to allow corner stores in Quebec to sell beer and
wine. That year, the number of outlets in Quebec selling alcohol rose from 350
to over 12,500. The hours during which alcohol could be sold were also expanded.
Substantial data is available on alcohol consumption since 1972. We can
ascertain if alcohol consumption changed in any way after the legislation was
passed. Quebec has always had one of the lowest rates of alcohol consumption in
Canada. Statistics show that after the legislation was passed, consumption
levels did not change in any significant way.
The Chairman: There was no change.
Dr. Beauchesne: Consumption even declined the following year, as was noted in
all other Canadian provinces with intensive alcohol abuse prevention programs in
place. As a result of a new focus on health, consumption declined more rapidly
that in the other provinces. The figures show that while availability does
facilitate product consumption, it is not the only factor that weighs in the
Changes have, however, been noted in consumption patterns. Prior to 1979, the
vast majority of Quebeckers limited their alcohol intake to beer drunk before,
during and after meals. Aside from beer, they did not consume very much else in
the way of alcoholic beverages. As a result of this legislation, many people
discovered wine because they simply had more alcoholic products from which to
choose. Do you feel that consumption would increase if cannabis were legalized?
Would this increase people's drug choices? Just as I choose to drink one
particular alcoholic beverage on any given evening although I have a wide range
of choices available to me, marijuana would be one possible choice among a
number of others. When any new product comes onto the market, we can expect a
slight increase in consumption because people want to try out what the
government is selling. We can assume that the government will accept its
responsibilities where marijuana is concerned, just as it did with alcohol, and
that it will encourage precise labelling and products with low levels of THC,
that consumption of products with high concentrations of THC will be restricted
to certain areas.
People often make the mistake of imagining what legalization would involve by
using the current illegal drug market as a starting point for comparison. When
alcohol was legalized again following prohibition, moonshine was not legalized.
Most types of alcohol available during prohibition were 90 per cent proof
because financially, this was more profitable. When the government decided to
lift the ban on alcohol, moonshine was not the product it had in mind for the
Certain products are associated with the black market. Some products exist
only because of the black market. Of course, some people still make moonshine,
but this is nothing compared to what went on during prohibition. Therefore, we
need to rethink marijuana's place in a regulated marketplace and consider how
the government can provide more information about the product, so as to
emphasize low-risk as opposed to high-risk use, much like we see for any other
product on the market.
In my opinion, it is always a risky proposition to imagine how the illegal
market works and to think that it will be the same if a product is marketed
legally. For example, during prohibition, it was customary for people to get
together in a particular location and consume large quantities of alcohol in a
very short period of time. The reason was that the alcohol could not be consumed
off the premises and opportunities to drink were rare. This is not how people
consume alcohol in a regulated market. When alcohol was illegal, people got
together in a specific place, with great excitement, to consume a banned
When a product is legal, consumption patterns change. When avoidance of
habits that are harmful to one's health is stressed, along with self-esteem and
healthier lifestyles, people learn to use alcohol and other drugs wisely. The
government has a responsibility to bring in regulations to ensure that drug use
is as safe as possible. There is a considerable learning process to be
undertaken on this front.
The Chairman: In one of your slides, you made mention of European
Protestant-style moral values. I would like you to share with us the Swiss and
Dutch experiences. Can we North Americans learn anything by observing what has
gone on in these countries?
Dr. Beauchesne: We can certainly gain some insight into this issue. Firstly,
in so far as the difference between North American and European Protestantism is
concerned, I cannot really answer that question succinctly. However, I can say
this: the Protestant trend that developed in North America is tied to the
development of the United States and English Canada and the Protestant church
and its religious followers were the first groups to promote their own schools.
The legal moralism of these institutions seemed rather normal, given the lack
of social order that existed before these religious groups arrived and began
setting up the first villages and communities. The Protestant ethic firmly took
hold and it was viewed as legitimate to impose a value system to establish
communities, because the values and concerns of the coureur de bois were
fleeting; these values proved inadequate for the settlers, many of whom were
women, who were demanding schools and villages. This North-American Protestant
movement, which gave rise to the temperance movements with which most great
North-American feminists are associated, claimed as members Anglo-Saxons as well
as large numbers of women. Why was this? Because the temperance movement was the
first to demand the vote for women.
For years, these temperance groups were very progressive in the social order.
However, in the 19th century, racism became an added element. It became
important to protect White Anglo-Saxons from other social groups. Even people
with drinking problems were no longer accepted into temperance groups which
consisted of English Canadians and Americans. Francophones, Jews, Eastern
Europeans and the like were excluded. Legal moralism where drug issues were
concerned was tinged with racism and intolerance. I will not get into that at
this time, because it would take too long.
In Europe, the Protestant thinking about drugs did not come out of newly
merging countries, but rather countries trying to distance themselves from
Church hierarchy, the Vatican and organized religion. It was also the product of
the bourgeois class attempting to take its place among the aristocracy tied to
They were prepared to accept the government's involvement in regulating
social life, but were unwilling to have the State interfere in people's homes
and private lives. Privacy was viewed as a fundamental right and the first
charters entrenched the Protestant belief in the right to privacy. In this
respect, governments were thought to have a duty to regulate behaviour that
could promote social unrest and to ensure public safety -- in short the legal
liberalism promulgated by great thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Does
this mean that our systems are perfect? No, but this view weighs heavily on
people's perception of the values and drug issues.
During the 1960s, a new phenomenon was observed in the Netherlands and
elsewhere. Whites were consuming new drugs, and the counter-culture and hippy
movements blossomed. The Netherlands, like countries in North America, began to
take a hard look at the drug question.
The Baan Report was released. On closer examination, we note that the
report's contents are fairly similar to the LeDain Commission findings, in terms
of knowledge of drugs. With respect to marijuana, the Baan Report found that
what sets this drug clearly apart from others is that people have learned to
manage their use and consumption fairly well. It proposed that this substance be
made available on the market so that users do not have to resort to criminal
elements and be exposed in the process to other much higher-risk drugs.
This reflects the pragmatism associated with Dutch Protestantism, where the
State asks what it can do to avoid social unrest and harmful effects of drug use
on society. Following the report's release, the Netherlands advised their police
forces not to charge people in possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana.
Police officers are free to charge people if they wish, but in actual fact,
their policy has been not to lay charges.
The Netherlands did not legalize marijuana or any other drugs. They simply
took a legal stand that most closely approximated the liberal thinking of the
times. They also financed the so-called "junkiebund" or junkie unions.
I am not certain if that is a proper translation. These are types of
associations of IV drug users. Places were set up where users of more high-risk
drugs could meet with professionals and get information about less risky uses
and better ways of consuming drugs. In the short term, we could take steps to
disseminate information about less risky practices, even those involving other
drugs. Very early on in the game, the Netherlands were prepared to launch AIDS
prevention programs since the "junkiebunds" were already in place to
provide information about needle exchange and other programs.
This brings me back to what Mr. Oscapella was saying earlier. For the State
to consider options other than the existing prohibition on drugs does not mean
that it is backing down. On the contrary, it means that it is taking a hard look
at what it can do to minimize the harmful effects of drug use. The Netherlands
opted for the latter approach. They allowed so-called coffee shops to
proliferate to satisfy the demand for marijuana.
Given the current ban, supply problems are common. However, to those who say
that the Netherlands' policy is contradictory because trafficking and possession
are still illegal, although the "coffee shops" are allowed to stay in
business, I would answer that we do not have anything to brag about. The
Department of Health currently funds needle exchange programs and programs that
put people on the streets to hook up with illegal drug distribution networks,
all with a view to minimizing the harmful effects of drug use among IV users. At
the same time, the police make arrests for marijuana possession. The advent of
needle exchange programs, which have grown in popularity as a component of the
AIDS prevention strategy and of programs designed to minimize the harmful
effects of drug use, have impacted arrest statistics. Cannabis-related arrests
have increased dramatically, while heroin-related arrests have plummeted to
virtually zero. Heroin users fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of
Health, while marijuana users must answer to the Justice Department. I am less
disturbed by the contradictions present in the Netherlands' policy on drugs than
I am by our own situation.
The Chairman: Thank you very much, Dr. Beauchesne, for your testimony. As I
said to Dr. Oscapella, there certainly will be questions for you later. I hope
that you agree to answer them in writing. Thank you as well for taking the time
to prepare your submission. It will prove to be a valuable reference tool.
Honourable senators, our next witness is a professor in the School of
Criminology at Simon Fraser University. He is the author of five books, several
dozen academic articles and many articles for the popular press. He has written
widely on the subjects of drugs and violence. His 1991 book, High Society: Legal
and Illegal Drugs in Canada, was a critical assessment of drug control policies
both historically and within the present era.
Professor Boyd has consulted our archival records and interviewed policy,
police and court officers, illicit drug dealers and users, academics and
policy-makers, in the course of his work in this realm. His most recent book was
published by Douglas & McIntyre this summer. It is called The Beast Within:
Why Men Are Violent.
Welcome, Professor Boyd.
Mr. Neil Boyd, Professor, School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University: I
thought I might talk today about issues subsequent to the book High Society:
Legal And Illegal Drugs in Canada. You probably have before you an outline of my
comments, but I will be brief because I understand that this session is to be
devoted largely to questions and answers.
On the topic of the origins of the criminalization of mind-active drugs, my
primary point is that the idea of criminalizing certain mind-active drugs is a
product of the 20th century. This idea is not found often in the past in any
kind of recorded history. We have examples of coffee drinkers in Constantinople,
as it then was, being treated horribly. We have examples of people who smoked
tobacco on the battlefield having their arms and legs lopped off as a
punishment. Those things are inconsequential in terms of the contemporary
approach, in terms of the last 100 years when we have had the idea that certain
kinds of drugs are so dangerous that we ought to apply the criminal sanction to
use and distribution.
That is selective criminalization. When these laws first came into place in
Canada in 1908, very negative sentiments existed not only about illegal drugs
but also about legal drugs. The penalties for tobacco distribution that were
promulgated in the first decade of the past century were more substantial than
anything until about the 1990s. Of course, we have the short-lived prohibition
of 1918. We have countless plebiscites trying to make dry certain counties in
Ontario and elsewhere.
It is a mistake to see illegal drugs in a separate category from the legal
drugs insofar as the history of criminalization is concerned. We have compounded
that difficulty today because we do not tend to see the legal drugs in the same
limelight as the illegal drugs. To demonstrate that, we use the phrase
"alcohol and drugs" as if alcohol were not a drug, as if police
officers who go to domestic disputes do not know already that the major drug
problem they will likely find at that dispute is alcohol abuse, as if we do not
already know that more than 70 per cent of all homicides involve alcohol abuse
as a critical factor. For us to pretend that the consumption of alcohol is on a
morally different plane from the consumption of illegal drugs seems to be a kind
of cultural folly that speaks volumes about the cultural blinders we wear as we
go about our business in everyday life.
If I could turn back the clock 100 years to Vancouver, Victoria and New
Westminster, I could show you opium-smoking factories which were started in the
late 1870s and persisted for 30 years without complaint. The labour surplus and
the depression in the first decade of the 20th century led to concerns that led
to the original legislation. It is noteworthy that the Opium and Narcotic Drug
Act of 1908 was introduced by the Minister of Labour. When he introduced the
act, he said, "We will get some good out of this riot yet," referring
to the anti-Asiatic riot in Vancouver in September of 1907.
Imagine, today, the idea of illegal drug legislation coming forward from the
Minister of Labour because he or she is seeking to get some good out of a labour
crisis on Canada's West Coast. The situation in California was similar.
In the last couple of years, I have gone to the Public Record Office in Kew
Gardens and to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., because I realized,
after writing about the early history of narcotics legislation in Canada, that
Canada was a relatively minor player in the origins of criminalization. The key
players were Britain and America. I found that Great Britain was very worried
about the idea of criminalization, which was very much an American invention.
The Bishop of the Philippines, Bishop Brent, was the prime mover. His concerns
were largely driven by morality as opposed to any conception of public health.
It is certainly true that opium was being abused in England in that era and it
is certainly true that the patent-medicine manufacturers did a great disservice
in promulgating their remedies in the form of opiated tonics, elixirs and
analgesics, and cocaine-laced tonics, elixirs and analgesics. That abuse, in
some direct sense, led to the problem we are facing today of how to dismantle
this massive criminal justice apparatus that we have constructed around
something that is best seen as a public health problem.
The Shanghai Opium Commission of 1909 is often referred to as the turning
point away from regulation and toward criminalization of distribution of certain
illicit drugs, primarily the opiates but later cocaine and marijuana. However,
the die was really cast before the Shanghai Opium Commission. It was already
clear by that time that America's approach would be embraced and that, despite
the British reservations, a system of global criminalization was about to be put
The British wrote from Peking, as it was then known, that, in a population of
some 400 million people, where smoking opium was freely available, there were
only 13 million opium smokers. In terms of the population in any county, perhaps
10 per cent of the adult males were opium smokers. That was about the greatest
extent of opium smoking.
One of the greatest mythologies connected with illicit and licit drugs is
that if you make a drug more available, you will necessarily get more use and
more abuse of that drug. I think the best example of the flaw in that logic is
tobacco. Since 1965 we have made that drug, if only by default, more available
to more people in more circumstances than ever before. We can take that as a
matter of fact from urbanization, migration from the country to the city, and
the fact that it does not take you very long to buy a pack of cigarettes today,
if you want to do so. From 1965 to the present, we have dramatically reduced the
percentage of tobacco smokers in Canada. In 1965, 50 per cent of adult Canadians
smoked. Today, the figure is closer to 25 per cent. We have done that not with
criminalization, but through aggressive education and public health strategies,
and I suppose, to a significant extent, with the promotion of non-smokers'
rights. Another example is, of course, the Netherlands, where since 1975 you can
buy marijuana in hundreds of so-called coffee shops. The truth is that the rate
of consumption of cannabis is much lower in the Netherlands than in either
Canada or the United States, where of course we have schemes of illegality in
place, schemes of criminalization.
I will just say one or two more things about the origins of the
criminalization of mind-active drugs. In 1911 cocaine was added to the schedule
of prohibited drugs. If one were to look at the Hansard record, one would be
somewhat embarrassed by the racism and the ill-natured logic, if you like, of
what was trotted before Parliament at that time. It was said that morphine is
nothing to cocaine, which is the agent for the seduction of our daughters and
the demoralization of our young men, playing upon fears that cocaine use would
lead young white women to sleep with black men. We had the same kind of yellow
peril with respect to opiates, particularly in the province of British Columbia.
In 1923, marijuana was added to the schedule of prohibited drugs with the
simple statement there is a new drug in the schedule. There was no debate.
Maclean's magazine had serialized the writings of Emily Murphy, a prominent
suffragette and a fervent anti-drug crusader. She wrote of marijuana, that those
who smoke the dry leaves of the plant become raving maniacs, immune to pain, and
likely to indulge in the most extreme forms of violence imaginable. Today we
know that that is not true because we have millions of experientially informed
consumers who will tell us otherwise. We have an enormous body of sound
empirical data, from the time of Le Dain forward, indicating that what was
written at the time was fundamentally inaccurate. Still, criminalization
persists. People get criminal records and travel and employment disabilities
relating to their consumption of that drug.
Since 1950, much has changed with respect to drugs. There is increased
purity, lower prices and greater availability, all in the wake of more intensive
enforcement. It should strike us as somewhat ironic that marijuana has higher
THC levels today than 20 years ago. It is often said this new high THC is a
recent development. In fact, it is not that recent. This has been going on for
about 20 years. Nonetheless, purity has increased, prices have dropped relative
to inflation, and availability has increased. Heroin is more available and at a
higher purity. There have been times recently in Vancouver when that has not
been as true, but if we look at it longitudinally, from 1950 to the present, we
see that heroine is still much more available and at a much greater purity than
in the past.
Of course, the drugs have changed. In the 1940s and 1950s in Vancouver,
injectable morphine began to appear. Now we have injectable heroin and
injectable cocaine use in crack. If we turn the clock back 25 years, there was a
little bit of cocaine, but it was powdered and people sniffed or snorted it
rather than injected it. Today we have a terrible problem of injectable cocaine
use, especially in Vancouver, in the downtown east side. Again, all of this is
in the face of more intense enforcement in relation to illegal drugs.
I think it is noteworthy that marijuana has moved from an import-export
business to decentralized domestic production. That is an interesting
development because, to some extent, it mirrors what has been going on in
relation to cocaine, with the Medellin and Cali cartels. I suppose when we look
back to 1993 and the murder of Pablo Escobar, we could say that that was a
turning point in the war against drugs and that things would change because the
Medellin cartel was being dismantled. Of course, we know that business shifted
to the Cali cartel, and then we got this sense that things would change because
of the Cali cartel's demise. The former president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper,
was involved in controversy over a donation from the cartel, and that cartel was
placed in prison and appears to have been dismantled. What we have now from all
accounts in Colombia is a decentralized form of distribution, with
trans-shipment in Mexico and other places.
Cocaine is more plentiful and more available, and it does to some extent
mirror marijuana, although marijuana, unlike cocaine, can be produced anywhere.
In Canada we have a situation now in which it is being produced everywhere
domestically, both indoors and outdoors. It is more available. The price has
dropped. The Americans, particularly in Washington state and south of Alberta
and British Columbia, are complaining about what they see as a problem of
marijuana coming over the border, flooding over the border into their
jurisdictions, where it can be sold for about 50 per cent more than what can be
had for a similar amount on the streets of Vancouver.
I have been interested in this issue and have always grappled with this for
about 25 years. I was first involved in 1973, when I was at the University of
Western Ontario on a summer scholarship granted by the Non-Medical Use of Drugs
Directorate of Health and Welfare Canada. Is this fundamentally a problem of
public health, or is this a criminal law problem of morality? That is a very
simple question, but it is a very important question that we have to address.
For me, the conclusion has been, for at least 25 years, that using the criminal
law has only made this situation worse. We really have to get away from talking
about prohibition or legalization.
In the 1950s, Life magazine ran an advertisement that said, "More
doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." In that ad there is a
doctor wearing a lab coat and stethoscope and smoking a Camel cigarette. On the
corner of the ad there is a life expectancy table that establishes that, at the
turn of the century, life expectancy for men was about 40 or 45 years, and here
it is, 1940, and life expectancy is 68 years. The clear implication is that
tobacco, the pause that refreshes, is also a substance that can increase
We know very clearly the dangers of laissez-faire legalization, of simply
allowing drugs to be promoted and of the idea that any drug can be sold
anywhere. To go back to the Surgeon General's report of 1960, we have become
aware of the problems of taking a completely laissez-faire approach to drugs,
both legal and illegal. With deference to my younger colleagues on the West
Coast, the young hempsters, I do not think that the correct approach with
respect to cannabis is simply to put it in the marketplace and treat it like any
other commodity. One has to be creative. One has to work within the extreme of
prohibition and the extreme of laissez-faire legalization. I am quite sure that
the answer lies, as they say, in somehow dismantling this very corrupting and
very inappropriate criminal justice apparatus we have constructed around illegal
drugs. I am convinced the answer is not to put marijuana in corner stores.
Although I do not want to exaggerate the dangers of cocaine or heroin, I do
think we need to develop creative strategies that will remove the criminal
status from users, while at the same time not move us into any kind of
difficulty in terms of increasing use or abuse.
It is important to address the nature of the logic that divides legal from
illegal drugs. I do not think we can say that the person who goes home at the
end of the day and smokes a joint is engaging in an activity of a morally
different character than that of a person who goes home at the end of the day
and has a glass of wine or beer. Those are not morally different activities,
notwithstanding the current state of the criminal law.
We must understand that each drug is different. Each drug carries different
kinds of risks. I do not believe that any drug ought to be advertised or
promoted. I do not believe the use of any drug ought to be criminalized. Again,
the great task ahead in terms of public policy in the next 30 to 50 years is how
we change globally to reflect the new reality that acknowledges the science of
the past 50 years and the changes in enforcement.
I am dismayed at times when police and the judiciary are derided for their
approach to drugs. In the absence of a legislated will with respect to all
illegal drugs during the past 30 years, it is the police and the judiciary who
have had to soften the brunt of the criminal law. In the 1970s the police would
break down your door if they thought you were in possession of cannabis. That is
no longer the case. In 1968, more than 50 per cent of Canadians who were
convicted of marijuana possession went to jail for that crime. That is no longer
the case. In the absence of a legislative will, the judiciary and police have
picked up the policy ball and have been running with it. It is quite unfair to
attack the shortcomings of the police or the judiciary in relation to policy
when legislators have been fundamentally unwilling to act in relation to illegal
drugs. There are a few individual exceptions, of course.
I shall now address cannabis and current policy choices. The Parker decision
from the Ontario Court of Appeal and the medicinal use of marijuana have cast a
new light on marijuana. I am sure honourable senators remember the Throne Speech
of 1980, when the Trudeau Liberals promised to soften penalties related to
marijuana possession. In 1976, Jimmy Carter promised to decriminalize possession
of marijuana. That all changed in the 1980s, partly because we had a change to a
more conservative political time, with Ronald Reagan coming into power in the
United States and Brian Mulroney coming into power in Canada. At the same time,
there was a more important change that directed drug policy, especially in
relation to marijuana.
It became known that people in junior high and high school were using
marijuana. That fact flew in the face of the logic, for many at least, of the
decriminalization of possession and softening at all with respect to cannabis.
It was one thing for the public to think about adults using illegal drugs or
cannabis. It was quite another for the public to consider the possibility that
people as young as 12 or 13 were using cannabis.
I understand why that happened. I do not think it ought to have changed the
trajectory of reform or ought to have changed the direction that the Trudeau
Liberals were urging or what Jimmy Carter was advocating in the United States.
We should have continued to head down that road.
I do not think it is a good idea for children to use legal or illegal drugs:
coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, cocaine or what have you. Whether we
need to use criminal sanctions to deal with that problem is another matter. Both
France and Italy have limited legislation with respect to alcohol consumption by
young people. Interestingly, alcohol plays a much more destructive role in
French culture than it does in Italian culture, at least if we are to go by
rates of cirrhosis of the liver and death from alcohol related problems. Those
two jurisdictions are very similar in terms of their policies with respect to
tobacco. They do not enforce any kind of strong prohibition with respect to
young people, and yet there is a great difficulty with alcohol in one
jurisdiction and not in the other.
I am not sure we were really headed down the right road in the 1980s. Things
changed again in the 1990s with an upsurge of cannabis use that is not
restricted to Canada, but that we can see in most western industrialized
cultures. That is not easily explained; it probably has to do with the children
of the baby boomers coming of age and the passage of culture from one generation
to the next. In any event, rates of use are still much below the peak years of
I am worried about the prison-building movement in the U.S. and the
development of a substantial inertia now in relation to that prison-building
movement. The U.S. has put enormous numbers of drug offenders behind bars. The
prisons are in rural areas where the entire economy is dependent upon the prison
for its existence. It is very difficult to know how it will be possible to
change law in relation to this problem of incarcerating people for the simple
use of illegal drugs.
In Canada, the federal government in the next parliament will have to
determine what to do about the Parker decision. My guess is that it will carve
out some kind of regulatory exemption for cannabis. However, I doubt that the
government will do what it ought to do to carve out an exemption policy. The
Parker decision should not stand on its own. Legislation should be written that
would accomplish the de facto decriminalization of possession and provide more
power to physicians.
I am sure the situation will be more restricted and that licences will be
required, and so forth. It will become a bureaucratic quagmire. The difficulties
for people who need marijuana for medicinal reasons will undoubtedly continue
for the next five to ten years, or more. I hope that is not the case, but I
think it is likely.
With cocaine, heroin and methadone, there is a need for the expansion of
methadone. I see that in Vancouver where I live. There are many controls for the
amount of methadone that can be prescribed. Those controls effectively ensure
that the people in question will continue to seek out heroine on the black
market. The amount of methadone that doctors are able to prescribe to those
people is not sufficient for their needs, thus they inject once or twice a day
to add to it.
Even if you gave users the methadone they needed, they probably would
continue to inject once or twice a day. However, experience from Europe and
elsewhere suggests that limiting the amount of methadone and subjecting people
to urine tests, kicking them out of the program if they have positive urine
tests for heroin, really work to make methadone maintenance non-functional. It
is not a useful alternative to the black market. I thought the idea of methadone
was to get people away from the illicit market, to stop the property crime that
goes with the desperation of the heroin or cocaine habit.
In 1973, the Le Dain commission recommended small-scale prescription of
heroin on a closely monitored trial basis. I do not think that is a radical
suggestion. It is a relatively conservative and thoughtful suggestion. The Le
Dain commission was not a woolly-headed bunch of wildly liberal people. It was a
very conservative cast of jurists. I remember taking constitutional law from Mr.
Le Dain in my first year at Osgoode and I can attest to the fact that he was not
some sort of wild liberal or wild radical. Yet, in 27 years, we have not even
begun to try to follow that commission's recommendation. The federal government
will not permit it. The provincial government in British Columbia has collapsed
in the face of federal government opposition and municipal opposition in
Vancouver. It will not happen.
I see the expansion of methadone as necessary. I thought we wanted to reduce
violent crime and property crime. It seems to me that we need to be more
creative. These are not radical steps. This is not about making heroin widely
available. This is very controlled and restricted. It might not even raise the
ire of the United States.
Safe injection sites in Vancouver are talked about at some length. I think
the major reason for these safe injection sites is that it is perceived that
they will result in a lower risk of overdose. The main concern is that that will
establish networking, which will lead to an in increase in injectable drug use.
Again, only a very small percentage of the Canadian population, less than 1 per
cent, has any interest in engaging in this type of activity. There is no sign
that that percentage has grown markedly in the last 30 years. What we have
experienced is an increasing toll in respect to property crime and violent crime
as a consequence of the policies that we have been pursuing globally.
In all this criticism, I recognize that it is fair to say that Canada cannot
easily come up with its own solution. Canada can do more than it is doing. It
could decriminalize the possession of cannabis. It could adopt the
recommendation of the Le Dain commission of 1973 for experimental, closely
monitored prescription trials for heroin, and possibly even for cocaine. After
all, some users are more difficult in terms of their behaviour and are at
greater risk of ill health and premature death because they are using not only
heroin, but also cocaine and alcohol.
A few years ago a graduate student looked at heroin overdoses in the downtown
east side. It is really not correct to say that those are primarily heroin
overdoses. In fact, most of them are heroin/alcohol overdoses. People are
drinking a lot, they take heroin and, having forgotten that they have taken
heroin, they take some more. Increasing purity has, of course, a lot to do with
the increased risk of overdose. In a sense, it is about protecting people who
cannot or will not protect themselves. It seems to me that the state has a role
in doing that.
I urge Canada to do two things without global reassessment. The first would
be to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana and to stop the travel and
employment disabilities that follow upon conviction. It might be possible to
look even a little further than that, at what is being done in Alaska and South
Australia. I talked earlier of a range. We should not consider that we are
choosing prohibition on one end of the continuum and legalization on the other.
If you want to get people away from the illicit market and criminality, and
if they want to use cannabis and we are decriminalizing its possession, then we
are saying that, as an adult, you have a civil right to use this drug in private
among consenting adults. One of the things we might do, as was done in South
Australia and Alaska, is to allow people to grow small amounts of cannabis for
their own use in conjunction with the decriminalization of possession. That is
taking a step short of the Amsterdam approach, which is to give it more
visibility, to allow it to be put in store fronts and so on, and to be sold in
that manner. It still would not really upset the Americans that much because
prohibition against the growers and distribution would remain. However, you
would be honest with young Canadians by saying, "We recognize that your use
of cannabis is fundamentally no different from our use of beer, wine or spirits,
and it is probably a good deal less dangerous if we look at morbidity data, so
we will not treat you as criminals for doing this. Here is our deal -- you can
use it and you can grow a small amount of it. At the same time, let us be
honest. This is not entirely a benign drug without risks. This is not a drug on
which you should go to school or work, unless you want to be three or four steps
behind the game."
The second point I would make is probably a more serious one in terms of
protecting life -- the risks of overdose -- and protecting Canadians from
property crime and violent crime. We need to try the Le Dain recommendation of
1973, the possibility of prescription on a closely monitored trial basis.
The suggestions I am making are relatively conservative. In fact, they are
probably more conservative than some of the suggestions I might have advanced 15
years ago. I want to see some change in this area. Pragmatically, these seem to
be the only sources of potential for change.
Senator Kenny: Welcome, Professor Boyd. You tempt me too much with your last
statement. What has made you wiser in the last 10 or 15 years so that you have
modified your views?
Mr. Boyd: As you get older, you see some of the downside. You see some of the
wasted time and abuse. I suppose things tend to be more grey than black and
Senator Kenny: In a public health context, what is the hierarchy of dangerous
drugs? What are the characteristics that you measure? How do you rank them? What
jumps to my mind is the government's figure of 45,000 deaths per year related to
tobacco. Can you give the committee a short run-through on what characteristics
you would look at if you were trying to rank drugs and how you would go about
Mr. Boyd: There are two that jump to mind. The first is premature death as a
result of use of the drug. The second is overdose death, more or less
instantaneous as a direct result of consumption. There have been many surveys of
physicians and health professionals looking at the dangerousness of licit and
Another variable in addition to possibility of overdose and premature death
would be the extent to which the drug is addictive, that is, its potential for
dependence. The drugs that are thought to be most likely to create a pattern of
dependence in terms of physical addiction are tobacco and heroin. As you
indicated, the drug that is most likely to be a leading cause of death for
Canadians is tobacco, followed by alcohol. If you add up all the illegal drugs,
you will see that they are a drop in the bucket in contrast to the legal drugs.
Many would say that that ought to be a lesson to us, that we should never go
down the road of liberalizing laws with respect to illicit drugs because of our
experiences with licit drugs.
If you compare current rates of use of cannabis with current rates of use of
tobacco or alcohol, it is quite clear that cannabis is a less dangerous drug in
terms of overdose, of death due to use itself and of addictive potential. We
often talk about deaths related to heroin overdoses. However, a recent report
indicates quite clearly that, in the city of Vancouver, during the past five
years, there have been many more deaths from alcohol overdose than from heroin
overdose. That does not get attention because, of course, the captains of the
alcohol industry are treated as contributing corporate citizens, while the
people who sell illegal drugs are treated as pushers. It seems to me that that
is a very inverted kind of logic. The people who are sanctioned and given the
power to promote a drug are the pushers. The people who sell drugs in
clandestine settings to willing consumers are not pushers in the same way that
people who run alcohol and tobacco companies are pushers.
I learned a valuable lesson with this when I was hired 10 years ago by CTV to
work on a documentary. I think it was the last major documentary that Murray
Chercover signed before he departed from CTV. In a rough cut that was shown to
the president of CTV, I was shown making the point I am making now, that the
real pushers are the people who sell legal drugs. He said, "Who is this
expletive?" and threw his books down and walked out of the room. That is
what was reported to me by the producers of the film. They did not have to be
told to cut me out. There is a corporate reluctance to acknowledge that the
people who sell legal drugs are, in fact, pushers, in a way that I think is much
more descriptive and accurate than it is an accurate description of the people
who sell illegal drugs.
The Chairman: May I interject? You mentioned dependency on heroin. Of course,
probably everyone thinks it is highly addictive. You take heroin and that is it,
your are addicted. I think that is not true.
Mr. Boyd: No, it is not true. I think it is more likely to produce physical
dependence than some other drugs.
The Chairman: I want you to be more specific on that. Why? First, because I
think a lot of people are listening to that and they say, "I knew that. It
creates dependency." You and I know it is not true and it needs to be
properly and rigorously explained to the Canadian population.
Mr. Boyd: The first place that really hit home was when I was interviewing
people in prisons, people who were heroin-dependent. I noticed -- as anybody who
has been in a prison notices -- that there is a very high rate of tobacco use in
prisons. I started asking tobacco users about tobacco and heroin, wanting to
know which was more difficult to leave behind. There were exceptions, but nine
out of ten told me that it is much more difficult to quit tobacco. They would
say, "When I am in here, I do not get heroin all the time, although I can
get it reasonably regularly, but the government supplies me with a steady stream
The Chairman: Can you talk to us about the experience during and after the
Mr. Boyd: I think that is an interesting example. As you probably know,
Richard Nixon was very keen on treatment as a result of people coming back from
Vietnam addicted to heroin. However, what they found was that the overwhelming
majority of those people stopped using heroin after they were out of that
life-and-death environment in Vietnam. They ceased its use.
I was at a conference two weeks ago at the University of British Columbia.
People from Europe -- from Zurich and Frankfurt -- had been invited, and they
were talking about what makes people stop using heroin. We heard from a cadre of
treatment people, counsellors, grief counsellors, counsellors of every
conceivable description, and the thought among that group of people is that it
is their skills that lead people to stop using those drugs. When you survey
former drug users, that is not what they say. Very rarely do I hear former drug
users say, "Yes, it was the counselling." It was usually some change
in their life, someone coming into their life. Sometimes it was religion, more
often it was a person, a romantic involvement, a commitment, an understanding
that there was a better life that they could lead, that there was another person
who cared enough about them and about whom they cared enough to stop.
We fuel a lot of industry, of treatment and counselling and so on, but the
best evidence suggests that people stop because of changes in their
circumstances. The Vietnam example is a good demonstration of that. The person
from Frankfurt, who had interviewed more than 100 people who had stopped, said
that most of the ones who had stopped, had stopped not because they went back to
explore their childhood or because they went into some group counselling or
Jungian or Freudian kind of thing, but because something changed in their life
The Chairman: I am sure you do not want to diminish the work of Narcotics
Anonymous or others, working in this area.
Mr. Boyd: No. Those people work not so much with professional counsellors and
the like, but they work on a kind of bonding with each other to give each other
a kind of moral support for abstinence.
One of the problems that we have been wrestling with in British Columbia is
that sometimes those folks are not given enough credit or appreciation, in the
sense that if you have an abstinence-based program, you do not get the funding
that you might get, at least from our provincial government, if you included
people who were not in abstinence-based programs, such as those on methadone. We
should have a big enough tent to allow for different treatment modalities.
Senator Kenny: You appeared to discount the slippery slope theory, professor.
To what do you attribute the wide acceptance of that theory?
Mr. Boyd: It is puzzling in some respects, because if we were going to talk
about the gateway drugs in our culture -- a notion closely allied with the
slippery slope theory -- they are tobacco and alcohol. Those are the drugs
people are most likely to use. Just about everyone used them. The people I
talked to in prisons said that their first experiences were not with marijuana,
heroin and cocaine; their first experiences were with alcohol and tobacco. Those
are usually the drugs they still have the greatest difficulty with.
The slippery slope theory is the idea that if you start using marijuana --
and that is the drug most often mentioned -- you will go on to use other drugs.
It is probably undeniably true that if you use an illegal drug there is a
greater probability that you will use another illegal drug than if you have
never used an illegal drug. The logic of that is not based on pharmacology, it
is based more on law and understanding of deviance.
To give you an example, in 1977, when I was in my third year at Osgoode Hall
Law School, a survey undertaken of our graduating class determined that 85 per
cent of the graduating class had used marijuana. There was virtually no use of
any other illicit drug -- less than 1 per cent. We know this from self-report
data. One of my colleagues from Simon Fraser University has, for 25 or 30 years,
been collecting data with respect to drug use among the first-year class,
incoming students in psychology. He has found, again, that the percentage of
marijuana use has gone from a high of maybe 20 per cent, at least as expressed
in the questionnaire, which is probably an underestimate, down to 5 per cent or
10 per cent, whereas cocaine and heroin use falls far lower than 1 per cent.
So, the empirical data does not really support the notion of a slippery
slope. The only thing one can say in support of the notion of a slippery slope
is that, if you have used an illegal drug, you are probably going to be somewhat
less reticent about trying another illegal drug.
Senator Kenny: What does the empirical data say about the increased use of
alcohol in society?
Mr. Boyd: There is no doubt that there has been a steady increase since
prohibition, but that stopped in about 1975. Since 1975 we have had quite a
decrease in the consumption of spirits per capita, but that has been mirrored,
if you like, by an increase in beer and wine consumption. The more important
point is that, since 1975, there has been no increase, and arguably a slight
decrease in consumption per capita of spirits, as I understand it. I am not sure
I have the last five years of data, but certainly there has been no significant
change in the last 25 years. Again, I think we have to acknowledge there has
been a greater availability of alcohol. We have repealed a lot of restrictive
laws with respect to the availability and use of alcohol in a wide range of
Senator Kenny: What about statistics in relation to cirrhosis of the liver or
alcoholism, or alcohol dependency?
Mr. Boyd: I am not aware of that data. I would be surprised to hear that
there were really significant changes during the past 25 years. I would expect
that there were increases from 1918 through to 1975, maybe even a little bit
beyond because there is a bit of a lag effect, but I would not expect there has
been any increase in the last 15 or 20 years, although I do not know.
Senator Carstairs: I want to explore two areas. First, you talk about
methadone and heroin. All you are doing with methadone, surely, is replacing one
drug with another.
Mr. Boyd: That is right.
Senator Carstairs: What advantage do you see of methadone programs over the
limited prescription for heroin programs?
Mr. Boyd: To be callous or cynical, it is more politically saleable to have
people drink methadone than to have them inject heroin. One could also argue, I
suppose, that injecting regularly imposes a health risk that is not present with
the oral use of a drug, but that is a pretty minimal risk in the overall scheme
of things. It is a particularly minimal risk, given that it is very difficult to
attract many injection heroin users to methadone.
The rules around methadone must be changed. By putting in place special
licences, we created methadone doctors, which centralized the problem rather
than decentralizing it. We need to get doctors to consider, as part of their
practices, depending upon where they live, having one or two methadone clients.
Rather, we have a concentration of methadone clients with a few doctors.
With cannabis, some consider that there is much less at stake, although there
is not really, when you think of the wasting effects of AIDS and the nausea
caused by chemotherapy. I fear we will run into similar kinds of problems there,
with marijuana doctors.
Senator Carstairs: The primary problem with injection is dirty needles.
Mr. Boyd: Yes, primarily.
Senator Carstairs: Something unknown to me must be going on in B.C. You said
something to the effect that the B.C. government wanted to move into an area but
had been limited in that by a lack of support from the federal and municipal
Mr. Boyd: That is what I heard.
Senator Carstairs: What was the B.C. government going to try to do?
Mr. Boyd: The minister responsible wanted to bring forward a proposal;
however, Premier Dosanjh is on record as being opposed to the decriminalization
of marijuana, so I do not expect anything very progressive there.
The Chairman: Was the proposal for an injection clinic?
Mr. Boyd: Yes. The idea was to have safe injection sites.
The Chairman: Similar to what they have in Switzerland?
Mr. Boyd: It would be similar, although in Switzerland one can also get the
drugs to inject as well. The idea I referred to with respect to B.C. was that a
user would bring in his or her own drugs but a nurse would supervise the
injection, thereby reducing the risk of overdose.
In Frankfurt, initially people were not given illicit drugs at the site. The
logic is that the number of overdose deaths will be reduced if observation takes
place. As you know, we have 300 overdose deaths a year. I would have thought
that this would not have been thought of as a bad public health measure. It
requires only a room, a chair, a nurse, and freedom from police harassment.
The Chairman: We will look into that.
Mr. Boyd: I did not learn this from the minister, but rather from someone who
is actively involved in the issue.
Senator Pépin: I am still skeptical about your contention that drug use does
not lead to dependence, particularly in the case of heroin. Obviously, if one
drug is substituted for another, then I would agree with you. However, I know of
few people who have decided to kick their heroin habit, who do not use
methadone. That is the standard course of treatment. It seems that heroin is one
of the toughest drugs to kick because it is so addictive. People become
dependent on it.
Mr. Boyd: There is some dispute in the literature about how addictive
methadone is and about how difficult it is to cease use. It would be better if
it were injectable heroin, but there seems to be no political will to move in
that direction. With regard to substituting a potentially more addictive drug,
the literature is not unequivocal that it is more addictive. I have heard that
from people who use it, but the studies I have seen have not convinced me that
that is the case.
It is regrettable, of course, that people are taking painkillers as powerful
as heroin or methadone just to get through the day, but that is the way those
people have chosen to live. I believe that using the criminal law only compounds
the public health difficulties that necessarily arise from heroin or methadone
use, which are primarily constipation and reduced sex drive. Those are
relatively trivial health difficulties in contrast to the cancer and emphysema
that flow from tobacco consumption.
The Chairman: Are you satisfied with that answer, Senator Pépin? I sense
that you and Mr. Boyd are not on the same wavelength.
Senator Pépin's point is that her understanding is that heroin is highly
addictive. She questions changing from methadone when heroin is even more
Mr. Boyd: It is pretty clear that any drug that is smoked or injected has a
higher risk of creating dependence. The route of administration matters in
relation to drug dependence. Injecting heroin creates a much greater risk of
dependence than taking it through some other route.
I have asked prisoners in drug awareness groups why they would not choose
methadone. Some of them expressed very little interest in methadone. This is one
of the problems with expanding the methadone program as a single solution. I
know that there are people for whom an expanded methadone treatment program
would be beneficial, but there is a very large group of users, although perhaps
not the majority, who would want to continue injectable heroin use.
Largely, it is the route of administration, the rush that comes with the
drug. An area of less significance in relation to health is marijuana
dependence. People who have what might be termed a marijuana problem are often
told to stop smoking it and start eating it. Very often that does not work, for
precisely the same reason. The smoking delivers what people want very quickly.
Senator Pépin: Is the effect the same?
Mr. Boyd: No, the effect is different. Smoking marijuana produces an effect
within five to ten minutes; eating marijuana may produce an effect within an
hour or two, but the effect will be very unpredictable. It is difficult to
titrate, to get the right dose.
Injecting heroin gives a very different feeling than does drinking methadone.
Every user will agree it is a high, but it is not the same high.
Senator Pépin: If we compare the drugs, regular marijuana use has quite a
different impact than regular heroin use. What if we were to decriminalize
marijuana and instead, as you say, educate people as we do for alcoholism?
Perhaps we can start by decriminalizing some drugs, say marijuana, and keep
heroin as an offence. People who are using marijuana can carry on working and
doing other things, compared to those who are addicted to heroin, who seem to
have a very hard time pulling themselves together.
Mr. Boyd: I do not think that is true. Our experience in England tells us
that it is not true. In the 1960s, a wide range of people were given the
opportunity to use injectable heroin, which is very different from injectable
cocaine. Injectable heroin can be used two or three times a day and then the
user can go about his or her business. I was introduced to someone in England
who was a regular heroin user. This person looked like a member of the stock
exchange, dressed in a three-piece suit. You would not know he was a regular
Someone has made the point, and I think it is correct, that dependence on
heroin could be as consistent with social productivity as dependence on tea or
coffee. Our view of the heroin addict is very much structured by images of
street use and, I suppose, of Keith Richards as well. That is a different
Senator Pépin: Maybe it is because I have worked with street kids.
Mr. Boyd: That is a big part of it. If you go to downtown Vancouver -- you
are absolutely right -- and look at people who use injectable heroin, you see a
certain image; but it is not the drug you are seeing, it is the lifestyle. In a
very real sense, we have created that lifestyle. Illegality creates a false
scarcity of the drug, which drives up the price, so these people resort to
prostitution and to property crime and to robbery to obtain drug money. The
cycle continues. They are already marginalized youth by the time they begin
Senator Rossiter: You talk about good drugs and bad drugs and legal drugs and
illegal drugs. These terms carry various connotations. I want to quote from
Where Can We Go From Here?:
There are no good or bad drugs, though some are more toxic, some are more
likely to produce dependence, and some are very difficult to use without
If that describes bad drugs, then Valium and Prozac can be considered just as
Mr. Boyd: Yes. The elderly in our population are most likely to be prescribed
the so-called minor tranquilizers, but they very much resist the notion that
they are drug addicts. They are much more upset about a grandson's use of
marijuana than they are about their own consistent use of something like Ativan.
This is another example of how we go through life with cultural blinders and
how the law has served to create these cultural blinders in making us think some
drugs are good because doctors prescribe it. We need to look at the track record
of the medical profession in relation to prescriptions, a track record that has
not exactly been wonderful, with its opiated tonics, elixirs and analgesics. We
have to be somewhat skeptical.
In talking about good and bad drugs, there are many drugs that I would
suggest that people never use. I would suggest that one should never put a
cigarette in his or her mouth because the evidence shows a young person who
smokes about seven or eight cigarettes will go on to a lifetime of difficulty
and will die seven years earlier. Right now, we have a situation in which
non-smokers are having pension incomes subsidized by smokers.
There are other drugs, like PCP, that produce such unpredictable experiences
that they are not likely to be abused. The drugs most likely to be abused are
those that give predictable experiences, drugs like tobacco, marijuana, alcohol,
cocaine and heroin. Some of the psychedelics seem to me to be less susceptible
Senator Pépin: Regarding child prostitution, we hear that 98.8 per cent of
these children are on drugs. These children are put on the street and given
drugs, and in 48 hours the drugs are gone. They are on drugs all the time.
Mr. Boyd: The Fraser committee on prostitution and pornography was able to
give us a sense of the trajectory of people who are involved in that kind of
lifestyle. We know that young girls who become child prostitutes -- it is a
contradiction in terms <#0107> have typically left homes in which they
were sexually abused, at least in most cases. In any event, they are using the
heroin to dull the pain.
Senator Pépin: Are not the pimps providing the drugs to keep them there?
Mr. Boyd: That is probably true, but we also have to ask how they got there?
The Chairman: We will find the proper answers to those questions. Those are
very valid questions that Canadian society is asking.
Senator Pépin: It is a dependency on drugs.
The Chairman: We will find the answer.
Mr. Boyd: To respond to that, if it is true that one reason for involvement
in prostitution is drug dependency, then it seems to me that the greater evil is
prostitution and the lesser evil is the drugs. Obviously, we do not want people
suffering health consequences as a result of drugs, but if access to drugs is
the reason for young girls becoming involved in prostitution -- which we see as
the greater evil, with its pimps and all of that business -- then, if they were
able to obtain their drug without the aid of pimps that would be a better
situation. They could escape from prostitution.
The Chairman: Professor Boyd, can you explain further the historical root of
prohibition. What were the forces at play when prohibition started? You have
mentioned Emily Murphy. My colleagues need to understand the historical roots of
prohibition. Why was our country involved in prohibition 90 years ago? You
mentioned something about pharmaceuticals. What about the role of international
trading? What about the doctors? You talked about racism. How were all those
forces created and why did we invent prohibition? Let us talk first about North
America and then, if we have time, Europe.
Mr. Boyd: In Canada, we had the first piece of legislation dealing with this
issue in 1908. I suppose the story begins in about 1875, with the building of
the CPR and other industrial mega-projects. The Chinese were brought to Canada
for the purpose of cheap labour. They would work for 40 per cent of what white
trade unionists were working for. They were invaluable in terms of those
industrial mega-projects. Some of them brought with them smoking opium, and they
began to set up smoking opium factories. Over time, equal amounts of smoking
opium were sold to whites as to Chinese.
If you look back through the issues of Vancouver Province or the Victoria
Times Colonist, you find advertisements. You do not find any expression of
concern or anger about those smoking opium establishments, but you find
advertisements. You do find concerns about alcohol. That was the time during
which the Women's Christian Temperance Union was formed. I suppose women knew
all too well about the beatings they received at the hands of drunken husbands
and were concerned about conduct in relation to alcohol abuse.
At the turn of the century, what had initially been a labour shortage became
a labour surplus, and the Chinese were resented and feared. If you look at the
Vancouver Province, virtually any front page in the first five years of the 20th
century, there are racist cartoons warning about the yellow peril, about how
British Columbia is going to be swallowed up by the Chinese, and about another
There were changes to the Immigration Act. There was the head tax of first
$50, then $100, then $500 by 1904. That effectively changed the flood of cheap
labour immigrating into Canada, but owners of West Coast industry were not all
that concerned because they substituted cheap Japanese labour for cheap Chinese
labour. You can see in immigration statistics that the number of Japanese coming
into Canada increased from just a handful in about 1900, to about 6,000 or 7,000
a year by 1907, just at the time that, because of the head tax, the number of
Chinese was declining markedly from about 7,000 at the turn of the century to a
handful by 1907. At the same time, there was an anti-Asiatic sentiment. The
public in British Columbia did not differentiate between the Japanese and the
On September 7 of 1907, what has been referred to as the anti-Asiatic riot
occurred. It was in what is now known as the Carnegie Centre, which is where
City Hall was at the time, at the corner of Main and Hastings. A crowd of about
10,000 people, in a population of 100,000, converged on City Hall to demand an
end to all immigration from Asia. That would be like 200,000 people showing up
today at 12th Avenue and Cambie Street demanding an end to the CUPE strike. The
federal conservative politicians and trade unionists -- some might say an
unlikely alliance, but I am not so sure -- took to the hustings and demanded an
end to immigration from Asia. At the close of the meeting, that angry mob
drifted into the Chinese and Japanese quarters and beat up people and inflicted
a substantial amount of property damage.
Wilfrid Laurier, the Prime Minister of the day, dispatched his young deputy
minister of labour, McKenzie King, to Vancouver in the fall of 1907, to settle
Japanese claims arising out of the riot. King wrote in his diaries back from
Vancouver, asking why we were settling only the Japanese claims and not the
Chinese claims arising from the riot. Laurier said, "We do not really need
to be concerned about the Chinese; the Japanese are a more important trading
Ultimately, Laurier was convinced, and King was sent back about nine months
later, in May of 1908, to hear claims from the Chinese merchants who had had
their businesses vandalized. During the course of those hearings, he received
two claims from local Chinese opium merchants, and his initial response was
chronicled in the Vancouver Province of May 29, 1908. He said, "I will look
into this drug business. It is very important that if Chinese druggists are
going to carry on business as such, they should be licensed in the same manner
as white druggists." Three days later, after receiving a deputation of
local Chinese clergymen and merchants who were interested in anti-opium
legislation, he told the assembled commission, "I think it should be made
impossible to manufacture this drug anywhere in the Dominion. We will get some
good out of this riot yet."
King went back to Ottawa and prepared a 33-page report on the dire
consequences of the opium traffic, submitted it to the Minister of Labour, and
within three weeks it was law. Merchants were given six months to sell off
existing stocks. I suppose you can see it as a kind of going-out-of-business
sale, somewhat cynically in retrospect. In any event, possession was not
criminalized. I think that was important. It was just the criminalization of
manufacture and sale.
Between 1908 and 1911, the police corresponded with the minister and made it
clear to the government that it was almost impossible to get convictions for
manufacture or sale without a possession charge. They were not arguing that use
was criminogenic. They were not arguing that there was any real basis for this,
other than that unless you catch these people red-handed, you cannot get a
conviction for manufacture. They wanted the possession charge that would enable
them to use that particular medium for attacking the problem. The government
agreed. The government was only listening to one particular constituency, the
police. It is a little different today, I suppose, in that they are supposed to
be listening to a wider range of constituencies.
The report that led to the Minister of Labour introducing the legislation
that first criminalized opium was not scientific. It just talked about the dire
consequences of the opium traffic. That is one of the things I talked about
earlier in response to your question, along with seeing things more grey than
black and white.
In fairness, there were some problems around indiscriminate opiate use in
Britain, particularly in the 19th century. Those problems were exacerbated by
the patent medicine industry, which was pretty unscrupulous in the manner in
which it urged people not go to a doctor, but just to take its products. We have
advertisements for a wine with cocaine in it and for opiated tonics, and people
became dependent without recognizing what was in those tonics.
Parallel to the 1908 criminalization of smoking opium, in 1907 Canada passed
the Proprietary or Patent Medicine Act, which for the first time required that
the patent medicine manufacturers list the ingredients of their nostrums on the
package. It was not criminalization of opium; it was criminalization of smoking
opium -- a particular kind of opium used by the Chinese. It really was a means
of getting some good out of a riot, because up until 1923 the patent medicine
manufacturers were allowed to continue to sell patent medicines that contained
opium. Opiated tonics, elixirs and analgesics persisted in the marketplace long
after the criminalization of smoking opium. There is a real sense in which we
did not appear to know what we were doing, and I do not think that sense has
The Chairman: In Europe, the roots of prohibition are a little different.
They did not have that Asiatic influx of manpower.
Mr. Boyd: No. I saw that in the last couple of years when I went to the
Public Record Office in England, the Library of Congress in the United States
and the archives of Maryland, and I got some sense of how England and America
really saw the problem very differently at the turn of the century. Even today,
obviously, the two jurisdictions see the problem quite differently. There is a
much more pragmatic approach in Europe. For America, it was a war mentality.
That was reflected as early as 100 years ago. The architects of the American
model were devoutly religious, and for them it was a moral crusade, whereas in
Britain, while they were probably religious people, that was not the guiding
policy in Peking and in the home office in Britain. The correspondence contained
detailed reports about the extent of opiate use, what the problems of opiate use
were and what might happen if the policy were to change. The British were very
concerned about launching the new global order of criminalization. However, they
were pretty much steamrolled by the Americans.
Bishop Brent was a close personal friend of Teddy Roosevelt's. You find a lot
of correspondence between Roosevelt and Bishop Brent. It was clear that the
Americans were even enlisting the support of the Chinese Manchu dynasty, which
at that time was supportive of criminalization. There was a kind of moral tenor
to their argument that did not exist with the British argument.
Senator Rossiter: Is laudanum another term for opium?
Mr. Boyd: Yes.
Senator Kenny: Professor, I take it you favour a middle ground that combines
the availability of some drugs with vigorous efforts to restrict consumption.
Mr. Boyd: We have been remarkably successful with tobacco. I think tobacco
represents a significant health problem. We have not criminalized the users of
tobacco. Some people who use tobacco might say that we have stigmatized users in
an inappropriate manner. In my view, we have struck a kind of appropriate
balance in terms of the health risks of tobacco consumption and how we have
responded. If we want a real success story in the war against drugs, it is not
the murder of Pablo Escobar in 1993, it is the remarkable drop in tobacco
consumption and the consequent saving of life as a result of aggressive public
education. We have to give credit to the non-smokers' rights groups. Their
initiatives have had an impact.
Senator Kenny: Your figures are not accurate for 1994 and on in terms of
young people. The situation is quite the contrary.
Mr. Boyd: Globally, the figures are correct for the percentage of the
population using tobacco today as opposed to 30 years ago. I agree that there
are some concerns, particularly around young women using tobacco.
What do we have with illicit drugs? We have greater purity and availability,
along with significant problems in terms of overdose death, crime and the number
of people in jail for drug-related offences. In terms of tobacco, I agree there
are some recent data that are somewhat worrying. However, the overall picture of
the past 30 years is much more positive.
Senator Kenny: What I was trying to establish was that you are seeking a
Mr. Boyd: Middle ground being what, senator?
Senator Kenny: The grey zone, if you will. What I had hoped to ask you was
this: What arguments and obstacles do you see that will have to be overcome
before there is a public consensus for that?
Mr. Boyd: American policy represents a really significant obstacle. They have
an extraordinary amount of power globally. While they get it, they will not say
as much. I see the power of the United States as a major obstacle.
As I said earlier, there are still things that a Canadian government can do
in opposition to American policy. We already have a somewhat different approach.
We put a lot more money into treatment than America does on a per capita basis.
Notwithstanding what I said earlier, I would rather see a treatment approach, an
approach of help and assistance, than an approach of punishment. I am not sure
if I am answering your question, though.
Senator Kenny: You are advocating an approach of availability of some drugs
while educating people about them. Where are the problems in terms of building a
consensus in Canada? Where do you expect to hear a push back from when you say,
"Look, here is the way we should go"? What will the critics say to
Mr. Boyd: We have to take it on a drug-by-drug basis. When we think about
alcohol and tobacco policy, we do not blend them together as a single policy. We
have different policies for them, which is appropriate. When we think about
cannabis, we have to ask ourselves where the concerns will be. The concern will
be about young people using cannabis. We have to deal with that. It is totally
appropriate for schools to be drug-free zones. We have to support that notion.
At the same time, it is completely inappropriate for the state to tell
adults. It is a bit like Pierre Trudeau's comment about the state having no
place in the bedrooms of the nation. The state has no place in the lives of
consenting adults who want to use cannabis in private. I think you can convince
Canadians of that point. However, you have to be very tough on the other points,
which are the drug-free schools and no use among young people. You have to be
willing to support those notions.
As I said, the grey zone demands some kind of willingness to acknowledge that
there is a problem with marijuana. If you use it all day long, you are going to
go through your day fairly sedated. We were wrong in the 1960s and 1970s to say
it is a drug that people cannot become dependent on. Yes, people can become
dependent on it. At the same time, let us place it in an appropriate context.
Let us not try to pretend it is as dangerous to public health as tobacco or
alcohol. It is not.
When we talk about heroin, we have to convince Canadians about the problems
of crime. In terms of trying to closely monitor a prescription trial, the Le
Dain commission was quite careful in its selection of that particular model. I
do not know why we have been so afraid to go down that route. Implementation and
evaluation is the key to good policy making. Let us try it with 100 people and
let us see what the impacts are in terms of crime reduction and the health of
those individuals. Let us go down that road and let us do it very carefully. I
think Canadians could be sold on it, but it will have to be clear that all those
controls are in place and why we are doing it. We are doing it to reduce crime
and to better the health of those individuals. This notion of harm reduction is
sort of the middle-range policy option. Some people say that it is resignation
in the face of this problem. I do not think so. I think it is an informed kind
of pragmatism. It says that, of course, we do not want people injecting heroin.
The idea that a certain percentage of the population will inject the world's
most powerful painkiller every day as a form of recreation or as a kind of
painkilling remedy is not at all desirable. However, given that they are going
to do it, we want to reduce other harms associated with consumption. That is why
we have to look at the approaches being tried in Frankfurt and Zurich.
It became clear to me at that conference, with the Swiss representative
speaking, that they did not do this because they have some kind of late 1960s
tolerance of illicit drug use. They did it on very conservative and pragmatic
grounds. They wanted to reduce property crime and violent crime. They felt that,
with a regimented approach to the user, they could deal with the problem, and
the statistics bear them out.
The difficulty that we will face with respect to heroin will be partly
American. However, I do not really think that the U.S. will raise a huge ruckus
over a closely monitored prescription trial with heroin. If we start to talk
about allowing any physician to prescribe heroin, there might be a problem.
The Chairman: Professor Boyd, I have to stop you here. We have a strict rule
in this institution that committees cannot sit while the Senate is sitting.
Thank you very much for appearing before us today.
If we have other questions to ask you after thinking about your testimony,
will you agree to answer them in writing?
Mr. Boyd: I would be happy to, Mr. Chairman.
The committee adjourned.