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


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.


12 Steps To Environmental Sobriety

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over our consumption and that our lifestyles were environmentally unsustainable.
  2. We came to believe that our participation in neoliberal capitalism has led us to this insanity.
  3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the planet.
  4. We made a searching and fearless inventory the needless stuff we’ve bought from Asia through Big Box stores.
  5. We admitted to ourselves, and to other human beings, the destructive nature of our consumption.
  6. We are entirely ready to renounce all these defects of mindless consumerism.
  7. We humbly asked the Third World to forgive us our shortcomings.
  8. We will make a list of all Third World countries we have harmed, and are willing to make amends to them all.
  9. We will make direct amends to aboriginal peoples’ cultures, wherever possible, with no exceptions.
  10. We will take a personal inventory of our daily energy consumption and promptly reduce it.
  11. We will seek through meditation to improve our contact with all humankind as we have offended them.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will carry this message to western consumers and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Steps can be found on Wikipedia.

Immoral Drug Addicts?

“Addicts choose to take drugs and are responsible for the harms caused by their decisions. Why should I or society pay for their actions?”

The sentiment that blames addicts for their own misery is pervasive in social media, especially in the comments sections of news stories which speak to the rise in overdose deaths caused by fentanyl and carfentanyl.

Let’s assume for a moment that all people who abuse psychoactive substances are responsible for the harms they cause themselves and others. Our publicly expressed resentment should require that we keep in mind that tobacco smokers, the obese and physically unfit pose a greater economic burden on Canadians than all other users of criminalized drugs.

Lifestyle Choices that Cost Canadians

According to research in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, “the economic burden attributable to excess weight, tobacco smoking and physical inactivity in Canada in 2013 is $52.8 billion“. Two of the three preventable health problems are seen as addictive behaviours (smoking and excess weight from over-eating) and physical inactivity is a “lifestyle choice”. Here’s the breakdown:

  • $23.3 billion (44.1%) attributable to excess weight,
  • $18.7 billion to tobacco smoking (35.4%) and
  • $10.8 billion (20.4%) to physical inactivity


Costs of Legal versus Illegal Drugs to Canadians

The Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse reports that legal substances make up 79.3% of the total costs of drug abuse.


To assign to one group of drug users our moral condemnation and stigma while remaining largely silent about the majority who abuse more harmful but legal drugs is an exercise in cognitive dissonance.

We can reduce our irrational reactions to users of illegal drugs by recognizing that while drug addiction occurs as the result of choice, it’s little different from the “choice” made by those addicted to tobacco or high carbohydrate foods which cause obesity and heart disease. Hopefully this realization will make us more understanding and avoid treating illicit drug addicts like social pariahs deserving of our moral indignation.