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Canada signs on to U.S. "war on drugs" weeks before legalizing weed

Drug policy experts are blasting the surprise decision.

by Tamara Khandaker
Sep 25 2018, 4:07pm

Drug policy experts are blasting the Trudeau government’s surprise decision to endorse a U.S.-drafted declaration, which commits to renewing the deadly “war on drugs” as a way of combating the “global drug problem.”

The non-binding declaration, released on Tuesday by the White House, commits to cutting “off the supply of illicit drugs by stopping their production, whether through cultivation or manufacture, and flow across borders,” as well as reducing the demand for illicit drugs through education, expanding treatment efforts, strengthening international cooperation in the judicial, law enforcement and health sectors.

The document was prepared unilaterally by the U.S., and the language was not up for negotiation or debate.

At an event attended by representatives of the countries that signed the declaration — the others were not allowed in — Trump said it was vital for “public health and national security that we fight drug addiction and stop all forms of trafficking and smuggling that provide the financial lifeblood for vicious transnational cartels."

The Trudeau government’s decision to endorse the declaration comes just weeks before Ottawa is set to legalize weed in Canada, and has been condemned by world leaders, as well as frontline workers, who say the policy is harmful and unproductive.

Canada was one of 130 countries to sign the statement, while 63 others did not, including New Zealand, Germany, Norway and Spain.

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“We should be extremely disappointed, frustrated and angry that prohibition policies that literally kill 1000’s [sic] of Canadians each year — and actually promotes drug use — is supported by our leaders,” tweeted Executive Director of the BC Centre for Disease Control Mark Tyndall.

Zoe Dodd, a harm reduction worker from Toronto, echoed the sentiment.

“Weeks before cannabis legalization Trudeau signs on to this agreement with Trump. This racist classist war that incarcerates millions and destroys millions of lives!” she wrote. “@JustinTrudeau signing death sentences and joining up with tyranny.”

Some have suggested that both Canada and Mexico, whose president-elect has been critical of the war on drugs in the past, signed on because of the ongoing NAFTA talks in Washington, which have a deadline of October 1.

“I know some speculate that Canada, like Mexico, has been coerced to sign this declaration in exchange for a more favorable outcome on NAFTA negotiations,” said Hakique Virani, an Alberta-based specialist in public health and preventative medicine and addiction medicine.

“But as far as trade goes, re-upping the ‘war on drugs’ benefits the drug trade more than anyone else. When you double down on investigation, interdiction and enforcement, you see more toxic, synthetic drugs sold for higher prices.”

“The big fish in the drug trade get richer and remain untouchable. It's the low and mid-level dealers from socially disadvantaged groups who go to jail,” Virani continued. “Meanwhile people who use substances suffer more health and social complications. Or they die.”

Virani also pointed out that while it’s easy to say Canada’s decision to sign such a “draconian” declaration is hypocritical, given that cannabis legalization is less than a month away and because there’s been some progress in Canada on treating substance use as a health issue, the Trudeau government has still refused to listen to drug policy experts who have made the case for decriminalization of all drugs.

“I'm a public health doctor, not a politician. So it's not my job to understand what all the considerations are in a situation like that,” said Virani, referencing the possible diplomatic pressures Canada was confronted with before signing. “To me, though, it seems important that here at home, a Canadian is dying every two hours because of the very policies our government just endorsed."

Cover image of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit during the 73rd session of the General Assembly of the United Nations at United Nations Headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 24 September 2018. Photo by Justin Lane/EPA

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