Over at Small Dead Animals there is a post on “The New Normal” in Vancouver. Kate didn’t post it but the chap who did seems to want to throw pot shops and fentanyl into the same “end of the world” bucket. I commented:
I just published a book on Starting and Running a Marijuana Dispensary or Pot Shop (http://amzn.to/2g3Oqn4) I looked hard and could find next to no serious scientific evidence as to the medical efficacy of pot. Even the anecdotal material was pretty useless as it rarely dealt with dosage. Medical pot is, generally, a wedge issue to open the gates of legalization. And it worked.
The dispensary/pot shop movement is very strong in Vancouver and Victoria with the municipal governments on board and the police and Crowns uninterested in prosecuting offences concerning what is still an illegal drug. In other jurisdictions there is more of an appetite for prohibition.
Which way the federal government is going to jump will become clearer when the McClellan Task Force reports. This could be as soon as next week. My bet is that Canada will have legalized and heavily regulated recreational marijuana using a “top down” model and attempting to eliminate the grey market. Not, by the way, because this is good policy; rather because the multi-million dollar, publically listed, legal marijuana growing industry has been lobbying hard to put the competitive dispensaries out of business.
The fentanyl driven overdose epidemic is a whole other story. It is not confined to the meaner streets of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. In my little Lake Cowichan community, two people have died in the last few months. Nor is it confined to injectable drugs – apparently fentanyl is turning up in cocaine with fatal and near-fatal consequences.
Fentanyl is dangerous enough, and cheap enough, that it will kill a lot of people in the next few years. Some of those people will be the down and outs of the DTES who, for some reason, people on SDA seem willing to write off as losers who made “bad choices”. It is certainly a position but it is hardly a moral position or a Christian one.
However, unfortunately, the people who are “trying to help” at Insite and the pop-up injection sites, are not willing to face the fact that nothing that they are doing is more than a strategy of postponement. They are unwilling to accept that addiction left untreated will kill eventually. Getting addicts through “a day at a time” is an expensive and almost certainly doomed approach.
There is a tendency to malign “do-gooders” but, unfortunately, for the wrong reasons. The biggest error of the “do gooders” lies in the fact they believe that they should treat addicts as autonomous, adult, agents with all of the rights of functional citizens. The police, social services, the justice system all buy into this view and, frankly, it is not working.
To actually “do good” systems and legal mechanisms and funding have to be put in place to remove these people from the toxic environment in which they live their addiction, place them in involuntary care, treat the addiction and monitor the recovery – often for years at a time. Facing that nasty reality is, apparently, harder than watching addict after addict overdose and, eventually, die.
A serious program of involuntary care is one side of the equation. The other side is to prosecute dealers and suppliers who adulterate the drugs they are selling. Basically, create a new offence of “adulteration” and put in a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence. Have as part of the offence “provision of adulterating substances” with the same sentence. And, just to make the point clear, set this as a “strict liability” offence so that the defence “but I didn’t know it was fentanyl” is unavailable.
The marijuana ship has sailed. It is a colossal waste of time to whine about legalization although how legalization occurs in Canada might be worth paying attention to.
The question of what to do about harder, more deadly, drugs needs serious re-examination. What we are doing now is not working. It is killing people and safe injection sites are a band aid at best.
That’s where my comment ended. The idea that addicts might be subject to compulsory treatment seems, at first and second glance, profoundly anti-libertarian. However, we have very little difficulty in requiring the mentally ill, after appropriate medical certification, to be confined and treated if they are deemed to pose a threat “to themselves or others.” A position we justify because we believe that at a certain level of cognitive impairment, an individual loses agency. They are no longer functionally responsible for themselves.
I think much the same argument can be made about addicts. While there are certainly addicts who are very good at managing their addiction and the rest of their lives, there are also addicts who are simply incapacitated. It is a determination which can and should be made by doctors and tested before a judge before any compulsory order is made. And such an order should be routinely reviewed.
The infrastructure to treat addiction is pretty piecemeal in Canada. There are a few public beds, a few secure facilities (mainly for alcohol issues) and a significant, for profit, sector. To treat addiction seriously would require big commitments at both the federal and provincial levels.
Might be a good idea to earmark the revenue from recreational pot – as much as a couple of billion a year – to getting the addiction rehab initiative underway.