Drug Policies to Support Healthy Communities

After reading too many bad arguments in social media on both sides of the drug debate (prohibitionist and anti-prohibitionist), I respectfully propose a few “dialogue guidelines” for these kinds of conversations. Irrespective of their arguments and information used to support them,  the common denominator is that members of both sides want to live in healthy communities.

Progressives and Prohibitionists

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Drug Arrest

If Canadians can be roughly divided along a continuum of progressives or prohibitionist sentiments, it’s possible to analyze most arguments along common themes.

By way of illustration, the definition of what constitutes a “drug” is argued by progressives to be problematic itself. They frequently point out that legal substances (alcohol and tobacco) cause far more harm than all criminalized substances combined.

Prohibitionists might counter-argue that this is a logical fallacy (a tu quoque argument), insisting that smokers and drinkers don’t kill each other over turf, nor they are responsible for the slaughter in cartel-ravaged Mexico. But even that argument is flawed because it invokes a faulty comparison.

How can we get past endless, polarized arguments about drugs which are often based on faulty reasoning and begin working towards creating policies which foster healthy communities?

The following guidelines are proposed for encouraging dialogue among stake-holders who hold various perspectives on drug policy.

Policy options for consideration

  1. Recognizing our common humanity, we share a desire to live in healthy communities. Drug control policies which foster healthy communities

a) are characterized by low or non-existent levels of interpersonal violence and predatory property crime;

b) have few or no black markets for contraband commodities;

c) are engaged in reducing demand for tobacco, alcohol and other potentially deadly substances through regulation, education and other non-coercive means;

d) employ practices which reduce or eliminate the profit motive for contraband sales;

e) employ the least restrictive means on personal liberty for drug control.

2. We agree that the rules for responding to the use of psychoactive substances will be based on the results from scientific inquiry, therefore

a) we affirm that science, as a means of knowing the world, is provisional and open to continuing exploration, findings and revision. We agree that

i) anecdotes do not qualify as evidence, no matter how numerous or apparently compelling;

ii) single-finding research outcomes are rarely definitive. Wherever possible, meta-analyses (research outcomes from a wide range of available studies) will inform drug policies;

iii) the funding for scientific research into drugs and their effects will be transparent and self-declared.

b) Where scientific findings differ regarding drugs or their control, attempts will be made to determine disparate findings by using peer review from qualified experts.

i) Where scientific consensus on important policy issues cannot be reached, the principle of “least harm” to individuals and communities will prevail, whenever possible.

c) If asked, participants in drug policy dialogues should be prepared to address the question, “What evidence will I accept to revise my beliefs on drugs and their control?”

  1. The body of science which informs drug policies must

a) include knowledge and perspectives from those most affected by these policies, including but not limited to

i) viewpoints from a range of current drug users, including self-identified addicts;

ii) former drug addicts who have “gone straight”;

iii) “rank and file” peace officers charged with enforcing drug laws;

iv) Crown prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges;

v) provincial and federal correctional staff (community and institutional) who are charged with executing the sentences of courts;

vi) progressive and prohibitionist public activists;

vii) public health agencies, provincial and federal;

viii) peer-reviewed academic research (meta-analyses).

  1. As peace officers, law enforcement agencies have a role in helping to shape healthy communities, therefore:

a) police leaders who give preeminence to research on policing strategies for informing drug policy have a key role in supporting healthy communities;

b) every effort will be made to support new roles for police to contribute to the development and maintenance of healthy communities;

c) peace officers will be professionally rewarded for outcomes which show their contributions to supporting community health in constructive ways.

5. Drug treatment policies and interventions for individuals must be

a) informed by science and “best practices” from around the world, and

b) shared within a professional community with its own criteria for certification of “treatment personnel”;

c) non-coercive with the full consent of participants, and as much as possible, non-stigmatizing;

d) promote abstinence as a desirable but not a necessary goal;

e) allow for interventions which are, but not limited to, opiate maintenance supervised by qualified medical staff;

f) supported by all levels of government;

g) recognize and address the relationship between healthy communities and safe, affordable housing for low income families;

h) publicly promoted through the media by provincial and federal agencies

That’s a start, and the list is by no means exhaustive. I’d like to hear more from others who have a stake in moving drug policies in the direction of creating healthy communities.

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