Today the Frontier Centre for Public Policy published A Blueprint for Reorienting Canadian Drug Policy, a new report by policy analyst Steve Lafleur and research intern Andrew Chai.
In the report, the authors assert that the War on Drugs, in its current manifestation, is not working. Although many politicians seem to recognize as much, the report notes that they have been hesitant to pursue meaningful change, partly because they are not sure what effects liberalization might have, and how to mitigate potential side effects.
“Many politicians are reluctant to take steps toward liberalizing drug policy, fearing that it would be like opening Pandora’s Box. Legalize marijuana, and eventually the government will legalize heroin, goes that line of thinking,” states Lafleur.
The authors argue that drug policy should be re-oriented to match punishments to the actual harm of specific drugs. In other words, the governments should pursue a true harm-reduction approach. Soft drugs that are widely used, such as marijuana, should be legalized, regulated, and taxed. More dangerous and addictive drugs, such as heroin or crystal meth, should be either decriminalized or remain illegal, depending on objective assessments of their effects on both users and broader society.
While some claim that marijuana is a gateway drug, the evidence suggests that it is the distribution method rather than the drug that can create a gateway effect. In other words, black market marijuana might be a gateway drug because potential consumers have to buy it from people who are also selling harder drugs that they want to push.
The authors argue that liberalization of softer drugs will disrupt the market for harder drugs by eroding black market distribution channels. Drug dealers, after all, are known for attempting to up-sell clients from softer drugs to more lucrative drugs.
Bringing drugs like marijuana into the legal market would make it harder for drug dealers to push harder drugs, since they would no longer be able to attract customers with marijuana and up-sell them on cocaine or heroin.
“Liberalizing soft drugs would have several positive effects. First, it would allow governments to tax sales and production and deprive gangs of revenue. Second, it would allow governments to concentrate their resources on keeping the most dangerous drugs off the street,” says Lafleur, also noting the positive effect liberalization would have on alleviating the stress put on the criminal justice system and on keeping inflated incarceration numbers down.
The report concludes by suggesting that this approach to Canadian drug policy is not an abdication of the War on Drugs, but rather a new strategy to win the war on the most harmful drugs.
Download a copy of A Blueprint for Reorienting Canadian Drug Policy here: http://archive.fcpp.org/posts/a-blueprint-for-reorienting-canadian-drug-policy