fentanyl, marijuanaOver 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.


3 thoughts on “Drugs

  1. I assume addicts have a genetic propensity to crave their additions. In the normal course of Darwinian selection, they would self-eliminate from the gene pool. By keeping them locked up and “treating” them, they remain in the gene pool. I can’t help thinking our Victorian ancestors had the right policy when they made narcotics widely available, and at the same time, wrote about the evils of “opium dens.”

  2. derek says:

    The proliferation of pot shops will sort itself out via competition. In BC there are very large numbers of experienced pot growers and purveyors trying to find a way to monetize their expertise as the US market shrinks with legalization. I view this as another destination for people looking for a low skill job purchased through investing their savings or housing windfall. Eventually the realities of a business will eat up the money and many will close.

    As for fentanyl, it would be far easier to prosecute the producers. How much of the opiate addiction problem in North America comes not from shady asian sources but respectable listed corporations? It fits their business model to a tee; a product that is required over one’s lifetime. I expect them to get into the legalization business so as to make their market distribution more rational and profitable.

  3. peterodonnell says:

    I’m no expert on drugs as an abstainer, but since I lived through the 1960s and 1970s it gives me automatic insights. Just two points to add to the mix …

    The SDA consensus about Vancouver is based on the fallacy that we who live in that general area designed the city to be the way it is. Actually Vancouver is an inevitable testament to the libertarian nature of western Canadian society. It is, along with Vancouver Island, the only place that you can survive the winter outdoors. So we get all the people who in the very best libertarian tradition did whatever the hell they wanted to do with their lives, crashed and burned, and turned to drugs. If you ask most on the DTES, you’ll find that they hail from points east, all the way to Ontario (leaving that paradise? I know, I did). So really (brace yourself and go to the conservative equivalent of a safe space) Vancouver is just Canada compressed to one smaller zone of winter survivability.

    The other point, and a scary one, is that fentanyl represents more than a moderate risk, what if some terrorists decide to militarize it and dump it into generic drugs or the food chain?

    This is something we should hope that our government health and safety experts are proactively monitoring day to day.

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