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Reassessing the war on drugs: Patrick Basham

While a policy analyst with the Fraser Institute, Patrick Basham presented the following speech at a conference in Edmonton in 2000 entitled “Reassessing the War on Drugs." Basham’s remarks are part of a growing body of intellectual work opposing the war on drugs from a conservative perspective.

Patrick Basham - September 30, 2009

But viewed in comparative terms, the respective risks attached to these drugs don't appear quite so alarming. For example, according to the French government's medical research institute, alcohol is far worse for your health than is marijuana. This study confirms a recent World Health Organization study, which concluded that marijuana posed less of a health threat than either alcohol or tobacco.

If drug prohibition were rescinded, there would remain no logical basis for the different legal treatment of these different drugs. For the medical dangers of alcohol and tobacco would exceed those of legalized heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.

A related issue, of course, is that of so-called "medical marijuana," that is, the use of marijuana for medical purposes. It's been conclusively and repeatedly demonstrated that marijuana may serve as a tremendously helpful appetite stimulant, or pain reliever, and so on, to patients afflicted with, for example, AIDS, or cancer, or multiple sclerosis.

Although, at present, the courts are showing some tolerance of medical marijuana, our legislation remains both anachronistic and cruel. I share the observation of Canadian Alliance MP Jim Hart, who commented, "To process, charge and convict people for medicinal use of marijuana is a blatant waste of limited resources."

When it comes to the health care aspect of this debate, as former Vancouver police chief Bruce Chambers observed, "Filling prisons or hospital beds with substance abusers doesn't make any public policy sense." On this side of the argument, the contention is that, if we ended the war on drugs, drug addicts could be treated as patients, not as pestilence.

On a day-to-day basis, the most tangible cost of the war on drugs is criminal behaviour. Most drug-related crime is, in fact, prohibition-related crime. According to the American Research Triangle Institute, 90 percent of drug-related crime results, not from drug use, but from the illegality of drugs.

Let's be candid here -- whether it's drugs or alcohol, prohibition stimulates crime. Prohibition stimulates violence.

In downtown Vancouver -- where 10,000 addicts roam the streets -- 90 percent of property crime is drug-related. Across Canada, there are 64,000 documented drug offences committed each year.