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19/10/2007 00:00:00

Canada: O Cannabis! Canada rethinks its drug policies.

ONE OF THE UNTOLD successes of the Bush administration has been the
progress made in the fight against illegal drugs. During the past six
years, during which John Walters has been director of the Office of
National Drug Control Policy, drug use among the most critical American
age groups, 12- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 25-year-olds, has fallen
dramatically. Usage in these age groups rose between 1993 and 2001, but
under Walters, teen drug use, for example, is down more than 20 percent.

Many European governments, faced with the consequences of permissiveness
and mounting data on the harmful effects of even soft narcotics such as
cannabis, are turning against drugs, too. And now, the Great White North
may follow suit. On October 4, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
announced a change in direction for the government's drug policy.

Marijuana has been increasingly tolerated by Canadian authorities, with
three bills aiming to legalize possession of the substance introduced in
parliament during the last five years. Those measures stalled and Harper
has now proclaimed that Canada will embark on a different course,
emphasizing treatment for drug users and jail for dealers and producers.

Harper's new plan will devote $43 million to improved treatment
facilities and a public awareness campaign about the dangers of drugs.
Another $21 million will go to increased law enforcement, prosecutors,
and intelligence assets. "If you're addicted to drugs, we'll help you,"
Harper said. "If you deal drugs we'll punish you."

The other important component of Harper's proposal will
be the creation of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes, which
he'll bring before parliament later this fall. "There are no minimum
prison sentences for producing and trafficking dangerous drugs like
methamphetamine and cocaine," he explained. "These are serious crimes.
Those who commit them should do serious time."

In part, the changing attitude may be due to the cascading drug problems
Canada has encountered in recent years. The International Narcotics
Control Strategy Report notes that as Canada opened government-sponsored
injection sites and drug-paraphernalia distribution centers and became
increasingly tolerant of marijuana use, the country's drug problems
worsened dramatically.

"Canada has graduated from being a transit country to a source country
for ecstasy," the INCSR reports. And "commercial marijuana cultivation
thrives . . . in part because growers do not face strict legal punishment."

Attendant drug usage has risen sharply. Since 1989, the number of
Canadians using cannabis has nearly doubled. A 2004 report from
Statistics Canada shows that in 1989, 6.5 percent of Canadians reported
having used cannabis at least once in the previous 12 months. By 1994,
that percentage had risen to 7.4 percent. By 2002, it was 12.2 percent.
The breakdowns by age cohort are even more striking: 23 percent of 18-
and 19-year-olds reported usage in 1994; the number jumped to 38 percent
in 2002. Twenty percent of 20- to 24-year-olds reported usage in 1994;
that number jumped to 35 percent in 2002. Among Canadians who reported
using cannabis in the last 12 months, 47.3 said they used it once a
month or less; 18 percent said they used 1 to 3 times per month; 34.7
percent said they used once or more a week.

The use of harder drugs has also risen in Canada. In 1994, 1.6 percent
of Canadians reported having used one or more of five other drugs
(cocaine/crack; ecstasy; LSD; speed/amphetamines, heroin). In 2002, that
number rose to 2.4 percent, an increase of 50 percent.

Even in the face of this worrisome data, some Canadian liberals have
attacked Harper's new plan. Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis called the
strategy a "George Bush-style war on drugs." Harper's plan differs
considerably from America's drug strategy, and, under President Bush,
drug usage has fallen dramatically in the States. But never mind all
that. Part of Harper's pledge was "to change the culture" in Canada.
Judging from the frantic, nonsensical reactions on the Canadian left,
the culture may already be changing, for the better.

Jonathan V. Last is a staff writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

Author: The Daily Standard via UKCIA

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