Saturday, September 21, 2013

Law, Legislation and Liberty - Free Heroine - Drug Policy

This was sent to the Conservative Party in response to a bulletin circulated via email. I felt compelled to respond to some comments. Progressive Conservatism or Compassionate Conservatism or Middle of the Road Liberalism really is Canada's Political home - we are, in the main, an educated and open minded lot.  

RE: Conservative Party Emailed Update: September 21, 2013 – Free Heroine

Let me premise comments by saying that I have supported your government, and specifically Steven Harper’s leadership, for some time. My support is born of the conservative planks of accountability, prudent fiscal conduct and greater provincial control. Some inroads have been made on these fronts, more is left to do. May I say that abolishing mandatory gun registration was a most welcome event in Canada.

I am concerned however, that a government that holds accountability as a paramount concern, has failed to examine the effects of past drug policy or is simply choosing to ignore the facts in an effort to through red meat at the base. This sort of inflammatory rhetoric in no way serves to inform rational discourse on the subject, it serves to support old biases.

I want to end up in a place where drugs are no longer ravaging youth’s health and science, as opposed to emotion and unsubstantiated dogma determine action. The conventional approach of criminalization and punishment started some hundred years ago with what amounted to the “war on drugs” approach, there are more varieties of drugs used and a greater volume of drugs used today than 100 years ago – and the challenge is growing. WE HAVE FAILED – IT IS TIME TO REGROUP AND REDIRECT.

With respect to your comments peculiar to free heroine; addiction is a disease – it may be a disease that is a product of poor choices, but a disease none the less. It costs an addict approximately $200 / day to support their addiction, most steal to support themselves, stolen goods when fenced to the market capture about 10% of the face value of goods – this translates into a $2000 / day in crime! Worse, the addiction drives extreme behavior, as people become more desperate they tend to become more violent. The judicial processes have a difficult time managing the volume and we end up with a “revolving door” court system, where breaking & entering in effect becomes a misdemeanor. When you examine these realities rationally, set aside the desire to punish, the benefit of the provision of heroin to addicts to society becomes clear; a benefit because less people are subjected to violence, addicts come into the ambit of care givers, police & courts are free to focus on reducing violent crime and it is just cheaper.  

Switzerland and other jurisdictions have enjoyed success with these sorts of programs. When an addict is brought into treatment, you have a marginalized, jobless – often criminal – human being with a heroin addiction.  As time progresses, you have a non-criminal, healthier human being with a heroin addiction. Now less marginalized and healthier, and because heroin when properly administered leaves people highly functional, you now have someone able to contribute to society and pay for their own supervised treatment. Perhaps now, with all the other social challenges in hand they are better able to work their way out of addiction. The old methadone treatment programs or the really old cold turkey treatments have extremely high failure rates and are in some cases punishing in their execution.

It is safe to assume, addicts represent the lion’s share of the revenue stream for the peddlers of heroin. The totality of our present approach constrains the supply of heroin – constrained supply always translates into increased price for the product. Heroin is the ideal product, with highly inelastic demand, the dealers know this; they know the value of a customer. In a circumstance where heroin has a very high value, the incentive to garner users is very high; our present modality of approach is failing to recognize this fundamental economic reality and our young people are paying the price. With the government, “treating” heroin users, the income stream dries up for the dealers and with it the desire to sell heroin and to mutilate the lives of, what are most often, vulnerable young people.

It is tempting when seeing the brutality on the affected, to respond with brutality, or at least with brute force; we have to begin to work smart, to use what we know about economy and apply science to that task, and paradoxically, to set “morality” to the side to get a moral outcome.

From a political perspective your government needs to remember Canada is in the majority a “progressive” nation, stray too far away from companionate conservatism and you do so at your pearl. More effort on accountability, more effort on fiscal responsibility, more effort on constraining the growth of government and more work on reducing the red tape that makes government the world’s biggest transaction cost.  No little girl ever dreamed of being a heroin addict prostitute, no little boy ever dreamed of being a heroin addict thief – they've arrived there by a combination of circumstance and poor direction, no one ever chooses to ruin the life of friends and family and their own – compassion is warranted here and a new path is needed. This is a humanitarian concern, partisanism has no place here, what works has a place here -  let people work to find solution, make policy AND TRACK THE RESULTS, government needs to manage based on solid data as opposed to rhetoric.     

For more discourse on drug policy please see my blog –
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