Here’s why it’s time to le­gal­ize all drugs

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - OPINION - TYLER DAW­SON tdaw­son@post­media.com

Pic­ture this: You’re an in­jec­tion drug user in Ottawa, and, you’re wor­ried the next time you use, you might die. So, you head for the Shep­herds of Good Hope, where there’s a spe­cial trailer. There, you can use your drugs – and some­one will save you if you over­dose.

Upon ar­rival, though, there’s a po­lice cruiser out­side. Ap­par­ently it’s there a lot, ac­cord­ing to Ottawa In­ner City Health, which runs the site, and of­fi­cers ques­tion staff and clients.

And so you turn around and take your chances in­ject­ing else­where, to avoid be­ing ha­rassed by po­lice.

Maybe you’ll over­dose and there will be no­body to save you. So it goes.

With be­tween 130 and 170 peo­ple ac­tu­ally us­ing the in­jec­tion trailer daily, it’s got to be asked: How many are not show­ing up be­cause they’re afraid of the po­lice?

This sit­u­a­tion is a dan­ger­ous one. If in­jec­tion sites are pro­vid­ing life­sav­ing med­i­cal care — and they are — then any­thing that keeps peo­ple away risks in­di­rectly caus­ing death.

And so, a so­lu­tion: It’s time that drugs — all drugs — are de­crim­i­nal­ized, then le­gal­ized and sold like al­co­hol or tobacco or (soon) mar­i­juana. De­crim­i­nal­iza­tion would re­move crim­i­nal penal­ties for drug use. Le­gal­iza­tion would al­low reg­u­lated use and sale.

The ar­gu­ments in favour of pot le­gal­iza­tion ap­ply to other drugs, too, in­clud­ing im­proved qual­ity, the end of the black mar­ket and a re­duc­tion in crime, des­per­a­tion and over­doses.

It’s also the right thing to do. It’s up to each of us to de­cide how we treat our bod­ies.

What the Shep­herds strug­gle shows is that hu­mane drug pol­icy re­lies too much on po­lice ac­qui­es­cence. A safe-in­jec­tion site works only if po­lice abide by a gen­tle­man’s agree­ment to not ar­rest or ha­rangue peo­ple com­ing in and out.

Ap­par­ently, it worked fine for the first lit­tle while that the site was open. But some­thing has gone wrong — fu­elled, no doubt, by the fear of a no-go zone where cops can’t ar­rest drug deal­ers and users smash and grab ev­ery­thing they can to fi­nance their habit. (Such a no-go zone does not ex­ist in Ottawa, says the po­lice force.) The ev­i­dence that crime goes up around in­jec­tion sites is weak at best, but that cer­tainly hasn’t stopped the pro­mul­ga­tion of this fear.

If po­lice aren’t go­ing to play ball with su­per­vised in­jec­tion, which has the po­ten­tial to save those who are in the same sit­u­a­tion as hundreds and hundreds of peo­ple who died from fen­tanyl over­doses in Canada last year, then it’s time po­lice are re­moved from this equa­tion as much as pos­si­ble.

De­crim­i­nal­iza­tion and le­gal­iza­tion would kill many birds with one stone. In De­cem­ber, Dr. Theresa Tam, chief pub­lic health of­fi­cer of Canada, de­scribed “a very toxic drug sup­ply” in Canada, with fen­tanyl ex­pected in a ma­jor­ity of all opi­oid-re­lated deaths. This is not a prob­lem that polic­ing can fix. It make it worse — cer­tainly po­lice do by keep­ing peo­ple away from in­jec­tion sites.

If drugs are reg­u­lated, they’re safer. If they’re bought in stores, it elim­i­nates seedy ar­eas or deal­ers. If drug use isn’t crim­i­nal­ized and the stigma goes down, it be­comes eas­ier to get peo­ple into treat­ment, if they want to.

Jag­meet Singh, the new NDP leader, has floated de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion. While this would be the right thing to do, it’s not likely to be a vote-get­ter, so it’ll stay on the out­skirts of Cana­dian pol­i­tics. It’s a shame, re­ally, but per­haps Singh will change our po­lit­i­cal cul­ture.

It’s more of a shame that drug users and the peo­ple who care for them feel the po­lice in Ottawa are en­dan­ger­ing them.

Even if the po­lice think they aren’t re­spon­si­ble here, that doesn’t make it so. The con­se­quences, even if un­in­ten­tional, re­quire the po­lice to do a se­ri­ous re-think about how they’re polic­ing near in­jec­tion sites.

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