We need to change our thinking on the war on drugs

Plain Rhetoric
By Bill McQuarrie
November 7, 2017 - 5:34am

KAMLOOPS — Let’s talk about crime, drugs, shootings, sex and Kamloops.  Actually, forget the sex part as I just tossed that into the mix to get your attention.


You see, we had another shooting in Kamloops this past weekend and while there is no official statement linking it to drugs, the number of specialized RCMP investigative units involved in the case suggests it is a strong possibility.


Over the weekend, Mayor Ken Christian spoke out on the matter and as CFJC’s Vanessa Ybara reported http://cfjctoday.com/article/595912/mayor-christian on Sunday, Mr. Christian is concerned about the spike in serious crimes.  While speaking highly of the efforts of local RCMP, Christian added, “...so we have to make sure we as a province do everything we can to interrupt the drug trade.”


Later in an email exchange with me on Sunday evening, the Mayor reaffirmed his concern, writing, “As for this current spate of violent incidents in Kamloops I am very concerned about those attributable to drugs and gangs.”


City Councillor, Arjun Singh commenting on Facebook stated, “We need to figure out if this is a blip or the start of a worrying trend. I’ll work on this in the coming week. Our community safety professionals in Kamloops are top notch and I know are on this too.”


These comments raised an interesting question as I wondered if our approach to drugs and drug related crimes that now included shootings, was stuck in the past century’s mindset?  


Was the War On Drugs lost a long time ago and we simply don’t want to admit it?  After all, it has cost billions of dollars to wage this war and if as I suspect, it was lost sometime ago, are we simply too embarrassed to admit our costly failure?


Is Mr. Christian’s thoughts on interdiction and more police the answer?  What does Mr. Singh really think he will be working on this week?  What are the specific and tangible outcomes expected in his seven-day foray into a huge problem that has existed in the West for hundreds of years?  


We know from experience that more money, more police and more people in jail doesn’t work.  We also know that an aggressive criminalization process and societal stigmas are killing people as it often necessitates hiding drug use behind closed doors or in dark alleys.  The fentanyl/opioid crisis is a prime example of how illegal drugs and fear of being found out are killing people on a daily basis.


In one respect, I agree with both Christian and Singh as we should be worried about the increase in drug related violence but that’s where my shared opinion ends.  


Year after year, decade after decade we’ve seen that increased enforcement and harsher penalties have failed.  And to suggest doing the same thing and thinking this week, month or year is going to be any different is to live in a fantasy world that ignores what history and billions of wasted ‘war on drugs’ tax dollars has proven again and again...the old ways never worked and we need to change our thinking.


To suggest as Mr. Singh has that he’ll work on it this coming week is either pandering or naivety.  Mayor Christian’s desire to interrupt the drug trade, while admirable and goal driven, will as it has everywhere else that tries, fail to fix the problem.


We seem incapable of facing reality or moving forward with solutions that might be politically unpopular.  Even something as simple and straightforward as the coming legalization of pot has the potential to be botched at the local level.  


Legal or illegal, drugs are not going to go away.  Crime and punishment has not worked and has created one of the longest and most costly wars we have waged.  Societal shaming has failed and in some cases made the problem worse.  The profits from the illegal trade in drugs are so lucrative as to guarantee an endless supply.  


So what makes Mr. Christian or Mr. Singh feel increased enforcement or working on it this week is going to accomplish anything?  Especially anything that would be long lasting and curative.


There are new solutions in other jurisdictions that seem to be working.  One, in Portugal has been in place for over 15 years with dramatic and positive results. So let’s think about calling off this expensive enforcement-based war and try something that could work instead.  


In the meantime let’s also stop pandering to community fears with vague promises to look into it.